Developer: Kiro’o Games
Publisher: Plug-In Digital
Like how Dr. Dre kept his ear to the streets to sign Eminem, so too am I actively searching for the next new hotness on the often-overlooked indie scene. I first encountered Aurion: Legacy of the Kari-Odan while surfing on a certain infamous message board where a user brought its Kickstarter to the attention of the general population. I repressed my excitement, aware of the possibility that the Kickstarter would fail, being several thousand dollars short of its target goal upwards of 48 hours before the deadline.
With a huge push surging from the unknown corners of the internet, Aurion became fully funded. I then waited, knowing that no matter what, I would play it DAY ONE if only to make a political statement to support projects coming from the Motherland no matter the quality. Ideally, Kiro’o Games (“Kiro’o” means “spiritual vision” in Swahili) would deliver a product twelve years in the making that would not require concessions to be made. Thankfully, none are necessary.
Violence: Blood-smeared faces and bodies (corpses) are relegated to infrequent backgrounds and cutscenes for the purpose of setting the mood of a post or pre-battle event.
Language: Aurion does not get more vulgar than this.
Sexuality: At the beginning of the game, one invasively friendly villager suggests that she can teach the King of Zama how to please his wife-to-be on their wedding day. He declines.
After a (quite difficult boss) battle, the Prince of the Bojaas offers the King and Queen of Zama a house as a sort of trophy. They oblige, and the Queen suggests to her King that they take the time to consummate their marriage, and he agrees with the idea. This scene fades to black.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Having doubts about his purpose in life, the King of Zama stops by a tavern to drown his sorrows in spirits, and the Prince of the Bojaas joins him for some inebriation. This scene actually ends in hilarity, yet it would not have been possible if the two heroes were not under the influence.
Spiritual: Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is set in a idyllic version of Africa that has never experienced (post)colonialism. Thus with Christianity absent, the fictional world of Auriona is deeply rooted in a blend of African mythology and a composite of several African religious systems; it is fair to say that Aurion is thoroughly pagan.
Enzo Kori-Odan overlooks his kingdom-to-be just before his dual ceremony of marriage to Erine Evou and coronation as the King of Zama, the “land without walls.” After taking a lap around a village and fraternizing with its denizens, Enzo arrives at the palace for the festivities. Unfortunately, the ritual is interrupted by an invasion of a foreign army on Zama’s soil, and as king, Enzo steps into action, fighting to save it. To their surprise, Ngarba, Erine’s brother and Enzo’s brother-in-law, leads the coup d’état, (apparently, coronation and wedding gift from hell). The usurper claims that Zama has been too insular and isolationist, ignorant of the world and events surrounding it, and that the land should be lead by one with a broader vision. The men clash, and Erine “married for the best, facing the worst,” supports her husband, and the two sides clash, concluding with Enzo defeating Ngarba.
However, Enzo exhausts himself and faints, failing to remember that Ngarba brought an army while Zama has none. After regaining consciousness, Enzo’s Ju’u (teacher/trainer), Nama, informs him that he is unfit to reclaim Zama, and must first take a pilgrimage to awaken his Auronic Pillars of self-awareness—establishing an astral connection with his dead ancestors who will in return grant him elemental powers present during the game’s version of creation—before he might be worthy again of his short-lived tenure. Little does Enzo’s know that acquiring these Pillars will require both trauma and enlightenment and trauma—balance. Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan proceeds from this point as an adventure that is more concerned with the journey than the destination.
What a journey Aurion is, indeed! Here, I struggle with exercising restraint to not spam this review with excessive screenshots of the gorgeous hand-drawn environments or the profound revelations unveiled through character dialogue. To begin with the environments, I must confess that while I am well aware that Africa is a continent with many countries and climates, I am not immune to the inundation of negative imagery that modern media circulates, and I, too, forget the diversity of…well, everything that Africa offers. The Cameroonian-based developer borrows cultural inspiration in fashion, architecture, and even food illustrated in Aurion from many sources, such as the Touareg (Mali), the Yoruba (Nigeria), the Peulh (Cameroon, Chad, etc.). For those who ever desired to know what was going on in Africa during the Middle Ages before The African Kingdoms expansion was added to Age of Empires, the fantasy world of Aurion is inspired by such a vision, and it is sublime.
The bildungsroman that is the journey of both Enzo and to a lesser extent, his wife Erine, across Auriona could not sustain its splendor through appearances alone. The story is stellar, painting a world full of discordant ideas coming to a head and requiring Enzo to consider the merits of them all. Aurion neither forgets that he is an exiled king, nor that he and Erine are newlyweds, and they likewise find themselves growing with each other in both discord and in harmony. The time invested in resolving their internal and external conflicts is wonderfully proportioned.
While I am by no means an expert at African proverbs whose core meanings might have undergone modification due to translation from French to English (for those who skipped the link earlier about Cameroon, it is a francophone country), I was still able to capture some of the humor and wisdom therein. While getting a chuckle out of me is impressive alone because I do not laugh easily, I am more amazed at how Kiro’o Games was able to integrate longstanding politics of Africa into Aurion without becoming overwhelmingly melancholy in tone. The motivations of the people, factions, and entire nations are diverse and vast. Few games have successfully maintained the balance between exposition and entertainment in this way.
As beautiful and intellectually stimulating Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan may be, it is an action RPG. It is here where the luster of the game dims slightly due to both conventions of the genre, and also developer direction. While not on a 3D landscape, Aurion strikes me as similar to a Xenogears if the latter were in HD due to the resemblance of sprites during the perfunctory exploration, puzzle solving, platforming, and combat sections. Items can be found hiding in plain sight if curious players bother to deviate in any way from the thoroughly linear paths—and make no mistake, I sincerely welcome Aurion’s linearity among the deluge of modern “open world” games. That said, for the majority of the game when a fight is about to take place, there is a transition from exploration to combat mode via a loading screen complete with a change in music. However, during a penultimate battle, the exploration and combat maps are one and the same with no loading between rounds and platforming. I wish this were not the exception, not the rule, because the transition violates immersion.
During the early stages of Aurion, I did not find the button-mashing required to execute attacks problematic. In fact, I initially enjoyed the combo throwback to beat-em-ups of the past. However, as enemies (especially bosses) became stronger, I found myself mostly spamming Auroinc (special) attacks to fill my legacy meter in order to unleash an Ultimate Legacy attack for major damage, foregoing regular attacks altogether. This was especially true once enemies became resistant to stuns, and could dodge attacks as effectively as Enzo.
Combat variety in Aurion:
the Last Airbender Legacy of the the Kori-Odan compliments the story by serving as a conduit for players to discover and utilize new Aurions as Enzo pursues the establishment of his four Auronic Pillars (see animated .gif above) during his pilgrimage. Of course, from the beginning of the game, choices are limited. However, players interested in maxing out their Auronics (skills) will actively combine the elements to form new abilities. The interface above where Enzo combines his pillars to form a new is one of my single favorite features of the game. Every time I discovered a new combination, I felt like I had further ascended as an Super Saiyan, or unveiled an exclusive elemental power in Avatar such as bending lightning as an expert firebender (both of which are in Aurion) or metalbending for an earthbending guru.
As an aside, one particularly cool mechanic in the game involves when Enzo fights a tough opponent (boss), it is a fight to see who will blink first and enter in an Auronic state. Once I realized that this was a “sign of respect,” I made sure to begin almost every battle ready to cheese some auto-attacks and elemental assists from Erine. Indeed, Enzo’s wife effectively serves as the “mage” in this two-person party, with her own skills and meters that must be managed. It would certainly behoove players to be a good husband, because her more powerful skills are unlocked depending on how “compatible” she is with Enzo. Using Erine frequently will increase her “love” for Enzo over time, and this process can be expedited through the stereotype of bribing her love via gifts of jewelry and food. (As a man married for 11 years, I can confirm that this is not a stereotype, but some readers may disagree.)
Still, the frequency in which I wanted to fight in my 30 hours of play paled in comparison to the intervals in which I was required to. Being able to evade enemies during the exploration phase certainly helped, as do the Ultimate Legacies—I caught myself walking around the house yelling “KORI-ODAN!” because Enzo says this while casting the Honor Ultimate Legacy, and it sounds almost identical to Ryu’s “Hadoken!”
If readers cannot already tell by the animated gifs that I have included here, Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan makes for fantastic eye-candy. I cannot stress enough the excellence of the cutscenes and how Enzo and Erine rotate positions while in combat, covering, attacking, protecting, countering, and so on. At least for 3/4 of the game, it is possible to build combos to feel like a Z-fighter, with Enzo even being able to “charge” his “ki” (action points), and overcharge it like a kaio-ken x1000. Combined with an outstanding soundtrack composed by Jean Yves Bassangna (I wish I could link some of my favorite tracks from YouTube, but alas, brand spanking new indie game), what Kiro’o Games has accomplished here stands right alongside games like Star Ocean or the Tales series. Small issues like translation problems and crashes aside—almost entirely negated by Kiro’o Games’ hyperactive bug-smashing on the Steam forums—Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is a masterpiece that everyone should experience, especially DBZ, Avatar, and (A)RPG fans…so that means that the sum total of geekdom should play it, right? Right!
The Bottom Line
Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is a game that should be played because it extends itself into an epistemological paradigm that no other game has dared to venture: African Fantasy. Its other commendable merits of resplendent environments, captivating story, and adept gameplay are complimentary, but secondary to the fact that this game's very existence is (gaming) history.