Do you hear the call? The process of change is inevitable and often unenviable. Is something new emerging or is it merely an illusion; finally revealing what always was there? Can you escape who you are or who you were meant to be? In Aka, from publisher NEOWIZ, your character’s journey is one of introspection and inner peace. Putting the importance of these moments over the immediacy of your past or those that other video games offer.
Developer: Cosmo Gotto
Available On: Nintendo Switch: Microsoft Windows
Aka’s adventure begins on a sandy beach that bears the markings of a recent battle. The destruction in this scene is a reminder of what you look to leave behind. In contrast the rest of the sights in this game are bright, full of cartoonish colors – with a cute, chubby panda as the lead. But this moment, with a side scrolling view, coupled with Aka’s access to a weapon from the opening – unlike other heroes/games – might compel gamers to prepare for combat. However any urge to engage should by now. The cinematic opening of the game consists of a powerful statement.
WAR IS OVER
In one ominous, black and grey mist filled screen, Aka introduces a mindset to help players embrace the game’s pace. A later statement about your katana confirms developer Cosmo Gatto’s character comes in peace.
As you move down the shore Aka’s story starts to unfold. Your character is looking to put the past where it belongs. An invitation from a fellow warrior, Thom, offers your character a new day on Pine Island – a magical land full of life, mystery and hope for someone needing it – like your character. A quick mission to make a rope is an early taste of the crafting element this game contains.
Aka, like many games recently, finds use for just about every part of the console’s controller. With the Nintendo Switch, movement is done with the left stick, while the right navigates the two interfaces. There is a jump button, though it is not often necessary plus your character isn’t really built for platforming. You access them via the L/R buttons, while selecting the item with the A button. One menu offers the crafting options currently available, the other has items in your pockets. Selecting the tools is done from the Z buttons and pressing Y uses the item. Navigating the menu takes time but you’ll have no shortage of time (or opportunities) to master Aka’s controls, as well as the inventory system.
That’s because much of the early activity in Aka revolves around the horticulturist lifestyle. Regardless of which early “Quest”” a player chooses, they all lead to dirt. It’s here that you begin to feel the emphasis to slow down. The games somber soundtrack shares this sentiment. The lullaby atmosphere it creates is quite soothing. But you may notice because you’re battling your basic gaming instincts. From Thom’s journal, which details a lot about each crop, all the way to the cycles of the day you begin to feel the urge to stay calm. There is no rushing each action takes time. Aka is looking for a new life; leaving blitzkrieg behind.
But this isn’t only a farm sim. The early objectives the panda pursues will have players mixing potions and disposing of animal traps – which are useful in crafting, as well as farming. After all, you can’t garden without a hoe (or a watering can). That’s just the start since a quick train ride to the city side of Pine Island leads to the discovery of the library. Soon you’ll be making everything from shelters and sandwiches. Each animal or entity in need of assistance also offers a chance to change your ways; your perspective.
The city side of Pine Island features two characters with mini games to distract you while you wait for your garden to grow. An inventor mouse challenges you to best a few mazes. Meanwhile, the cat lounge has you attempting to play your cards right in a strategy card game. There is no Quicksilver in this deck but you do get The Wanderer – the snail being one of the characters you will meet on Pine Island. Helping and speaking with individuals adds their card (each with desirable boosts) to your deck.
While there is no direct combat in this game there is a struggle. Aka faces the consequences of actions taken during the war, which leads to confrontations with ghosts – adding a bit of darkness to an otherwise serene game. These additions to the objectives allow the developer to add depth to the story without distracting from the game’s tone or narrative direction.
Aka, though set in an paradise-like, lovely island, is about vocation not vacation. This isn’t an escape or an escapade. It’s about expansion and becoming something more, maybe better. While the early chapter introduces Pine Island, which on it’s own has an abundance of life and interesting individuals to meet, there appear to be other islands around. And a boat to repair seems to offer a way to see more. Of not only this island chain but from your character. What you can accomplish and are capable of overcoming and creating on Pine Island, and beyond.
Becoming something different, but that maybe was there all along. The same but something is different.