Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is one of those beautiful games that make you murmur "oh, wow," when you load it up. It draws from a vibrant palette of deep, rich colors that successfully evoke the romance of a fantasy Africa.
When the game's developer Kiro'o Games ran a Kickstarter for Aurion last year, it attracted interest both for the game's unusual looks, and the fact that it's one of the few non-mobile games to be developed in central Africa. Kiro'o is based in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon.
As I discovered when I reported on this game, it speaks of a desire among its developers to create a game that reflects their culture and their stories, rather than yet another game that draws from European or East Asian mythologies.
"Games can and should carry the seeds of wisdom that Africa can offer," offered the Kickstarter video. "We want to create an inner awakening through video games."
Playing Aurion, it's clear that this mission has found its way into the final game. The story is about summoning inner strength, creating power through spirituality. This is all wrapped into a narrative of African royalty fighting for independence against usurpers.
"The power in our game is mainly a consequence of an inner path, not just your physical training," lead designer Patrick Hervé Meli told me. "To fulfill your own goal you must count on the connection between you and your ancestors."
Playing through the first few hours, it's clear that Aurion has a delightful story packed with compelling characters and a worldview that feels both universally familiar (a reverence for liberty, duty and familial connections) as well as distinctly African, as portrayed through the characters, the world they inhabit, the music they play and the stories they tell.
Players take on the role of Enzo Kori-Odan, the prince of a country called Zama. Following his wedding to Erine, he is deposed by a power-hungry relative. Enzo and Erine travel to surrounding countries to raise a rebellion. This gives the character plenty of time to level up stats and to collect stuff.
In fact, these RPG elements are fairly light. Collectibles are generally used to boost health and other combat gauges. Leveling up feels somewhat rote and disconnected, at least in the early stages of the game.
But these limitations don't get in the way of the fun. Much of the game is spent in 2D combat against large numbers of fairly low level enemies as well as much tougher bonuses. The combat mechanics feel solid. They take a little while to practice, and feel satisfying once mastered. The player must learn special moves, and decide when best to implement these, as they are limited by a power gauge.
Combat drives the story forward, which takes us to a cast of interesting, filled out characters who defy many of the conventions of familiar role-playing games created in Europe, North America and Asia.
In terms of its core mechanics, Aurion is heavily inspired by classic combat RPGs like Tales of Destiny. But it pays tribute to its inspirations by delivering a satisfying experience that feels original.
There are some quibbles. The translation from French to English feels incomplete, and there's a roughness to over-world movement that you generally don't see in games created by larger, more lavishly funded productions. But Aurion is a game that stands apart from other action RPGs, in terms of its beauty and its narrative originality.