Aka Impressions: Unrefined Beauty

Weary of war and ready to start a life where the only thing his sword cuts is grass, Aka‘s red panda hero leaves an empty battlefield to farm, craft, and collect hats on a peaceful island. The premise is practically designed for me, but the execution has its hiccups. The art direction is confused, tasks requiring precise movement can be frustrating, and tiny design flaws pop up regularly. And even though I picked up on all of these within the first ten minutes of playing, I couldn’t put the controller down for another six hours.

Aka is the kind of game that hooks me and doesn’t let go. A game where I am constantly throwing myself into a vital-seeming task. My plants need watering or they’ll wither. Without those crops how can I feed the pigs I freed from a dilapidated pen? I need to collect wood to rebuild my broken boat. How else can I honor my friend’s request to spread his ashes over a nearby mountain? And of course the land needs to be clear of metal traps, because one animal has already fallen victim to them.

These and many, many more are the day-to-day (or night-to-night as the day-night cycle moves very quickly) objectives in my new, tranquil life. But the game, by and large, doesn’t point me towards them, which I like. Exploring the countryside, traveling into the city, and poking into mysterious caves are the only ways to stumble on actual quests. I can do all or none of them; it’s up to me.

Overall, the game is gorgeous. However, it nibbles at my brain that the aesthetics are so unfocused. The cutscenes are done in water color. The characters’ dialogue avatars are hand-drawn. In-menu items look like they popped out of an early 2000’s flash game. And gameplay is almost a blend of everything. To be clear, most of these aesthetics are a feast for the eyes, but all of them in one game feels like a lack of clear vision.

There’s still more for me to explore, and narrative threads I’m excited to follow. So, I’m looking forward to see how the game wraps up. For now, I’ll say that, despite its flaws, I’m thoroughly engrossed in Aka‘s world.

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