Minimalism is a hard concept to translate into a video game. While meaningful and able to express a feeling of loneliness, it has the unfortunate effect to come across as lazy or empty to some players. (They are missing the big picture, but we’ll get to that.) Shadow of the Colossus is an example of a game that does minimalism well, although the concept only really comes through in the form of vast land areas separating the player from the colossi of the world. Everything else in the game is visually complex, and even the climbing and combat are intricate and integral parts of the game. So when a game uses this simplistic choice throughout the game, it makes for something entirely different. AER: Memories of Old by Forgotten Key (published by Daedelic) is this game. Aside from the flight mechanic in the game (which I will be mentioning frequently), everything about this game is a minimalist dream, and it is one I can say I thoroughly enjoyed playing.
The mythos of AER is vast and, if the player puts the time into it, very fulfilling in a very metaphorical way. Messages of respecting the land we live in and refraining from succumbing to dark thoughts and actions ring true in the narrative, all done in a world where large animals speak to you on a regular basis and, if you’re very special, grant you shape-shifting powers (the shape you shift matches the spirit who grants the power). This feel like it is especially relevant in a time of such tumult about the environment and climate change, but seeing how this game is not new by any means (except new to the Switch), it is merely coincidental (although climate change has been a problem for a while).
The title, AER, is said like “air”, so between that and the imagery used to display the game, you can take a wild guess as to what you transform into at the main character.
Becoming a bird is incredible and AER provides the most satisfying in-game flight mechanic I have ever experienced (Feather is another game where this is done well, but the transforming aspect makes AER stand out more to me.) A pinned tweet from the company from back in 2017 states it took the company almost two years to perfect the flight mechanic in this game, and it is a triumph in and of itself. For nothing else, play this game to feel just how satisfying it is to fly past floating islands and soar through the clouds.
The game really is all about this mechanic, as the puzzles in it are simple but effective and there is no barrier of difficulty. It’s a game of quiet contemplation and exploration, not combat, where right from the beginning, the player could fly across the map if desired. The lack of a quest pointing arrow or some other kind of guidance (outside of light pillars) further push the minimalist aesthetic, never blatantly guiding the player to a destination (rather suggesting points of interest and giving only an on-screen compass). The music is another way this game does a subtle job of pulling the player right in. (I would suggest grabbing it if you’re into ambient beauty, which you can get here for $3)
The minimalism continues in the visuals, as there are bright and varying colors and shapes making up the characters (as I guess all things are) without having expressly defined features like faces on the character models. This sounds creepy or off-putting, but I assure it is in the game’s best interest and creates a world where the inhabitants of the world represent more, acting as symbols because the are so loosely defined. This is also a title from an independent developer who was clearly spending their time perfecting traversing the sky, so they are excused.
Games like AER: Memories of Old serve a great purpose of displaying how one central mechanic can define a game, and when done correctly (and as perfectly as it is here), can become minimal masterpieces that don’t have to necessarily follow exact tropes of games that are similar. I will reiterate that there is nothing quite like this game, however, and that is is worth the playthrough to experience the flight mechanic. I am disappointed that I couldn’t continue to fly, as the game was pretty short (even for someone who explored every nook and cranny).
It comes as a sad reality, then, that there are demos from Forgotten Key, now since disbanded, that display this same amazing flight built into a game that dives deeper into the action/RPG genre with crafting and cooking and collection (among other things). This game, Vind, is also worth checking on the dev’s itch.io page, although it is very much an incomplete piece. It is unfortunate that AER was not met with more welcoming arms from players, as there seemed to be some great things in the pipelines for Forgotten Key.
AER is definitely on a list of games I would recommend anyone interested in flight games or games with a message to pick up. It won’t take many sessions and it will provide the best clouds-between-your-knees simulation one could ever hope to experience.
I give AER: Memories of Old an 8/10
If you’re interested, feel free to download here or on the Nintendo Switch store.