Aurion feels like an African shonen manga, in the best possible way

One of the best things about the recent surge in indie game development is the chance to hear stories from so many different voices; voices that are all but locked out from the traditional, AAA route. The relative accessibility of game creation tools, running the gamut of complexity from Twine to Unreal Engrine, means that just about anyone who wants to can make a game.

One such person is Madiba Olivier, a Cameroon native who began work on a game Aurion with some friends way back in 2002. Since then, the game has gone through a number of iterations, and the development team has grown to 21 full-time staff, all Cameroonians. And now, finally, a public release of what’s now called Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is on the horizon.

I had a chance to play a work-in-progress press demo of the game, and I’m even more excited about it than I was before. It’s not unusual for people to draw comparisons to well-known games to try and give their Kickstarters a push, so while Kiro’o Games’ claims that Aurion is inspired by the early, 2D Tales games (Tales of Destiny in particular) piqued my interest, I was at least a little bit skeptical.

Playing the demo put whatever concerns I may have had to rest. The Tales influence is immediately apparent in the fluid, fast-paced combat, and even if Kiro’o hadn’t drawn the comparison already, it’s one I’d be making. Like Tales and Guilty Gear (another cited influence), the action is frantic and fast-paced, and even though you’ll be pressing buttons near constantly, mindless button mashing is a good way to get yourself killed. Guarding and dodging are fundamental skills, and being mindful of your positioning, that of your enemies, and the trajectory of your various attacks is key.

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The combat is quite simple on a purely mechanical level, but with depth that I imagine will only become even more impressive in the full game, with the true extent of the RPG systems available to explore. When it all comes together perfectly, the flow and kineticism of the whole affair becomes stark – yes, it’s a fight, but with the beauty and artistry of a carefully choreographed dance.

Like any good JRPG – and yes, this is a JRPG through and through, even if it’s not made in Japan – story is a big factor in Aurion, and what’s on offer is fascinating. It has the feel of a shōnen manga, but with a setting, plot, and aesthetic design that’s decidedly African. Kiro’o have drawn on a myriad of African mythologies to craft the story of Enzo Kori-Odan, the recently-crowned King of Zama, and his Queen, Erine Evou. What should be the couple’s happiest day – their wedding, and Enzo’s coronation – turns into a disaster when Erine’s brother decides to try and take Zama for himself.

Enzo, Erine’s brother, and a number of other characters are “Aurionics” – fighters able to channel the energy of their ancestors to power up in combat. It’s like an African mythological take on turning Super Saiyan, complete with rivals stopping mid-fight to talk to each other while they charge up, and Enzo pushing himself beyond his limits and hurting himself in order to draw enough strength to overcome his brother-in-law. It sounds cheesy, and I guess on some level it is, but presentation is a fresh and fascinating take on familiar ideas.

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Speaking of presentation, Aurion looks and sounds amazing. The character designs are particularly impressive; they’re detailed, unique, and interesting, and beautifully brought to life with 2D sprites. Like so much of the game, the music has a strange and wonderful mix of Japanese and African influences, with traditional African instruments giving the poppy, upbeat tunes typical of JRPGs getting a new spin.

Like I said, what I played was a bit rough around the edges, which is to be expected of a pre-alpha build. There’s a ways to go yet as far as optimization goes, the occasional bug, and the English text could do with a proof-reader. But these are minor things that are easily fixed over time, and the core of Aurion is solid: an African-influenced JRPG, developed by one of Central Africa’s first game studios, that does a great job of channelling its Tales influences.

Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan  has already met its initial goal on Kickstarter, and is working towards stretch goals that include a PlayStation 4 version. It’s due out next year, and even with 2016’s jam-packed JRPG schedule, this is a game that’s right up there with the big guys, at least for me.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.