Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings is the latest attempt at adding a twist to the classic top-down shooter genre. It’s a worthy effort given how rare it is to get a new release for this genre.
It tells the story of young Amelia that lives in a rather unusual floating place called Granaria, where many of its inhabitants dream of making a better life for themselves. As someone who last saw her father at a young age, Amelia meets the criteria of someone who desperately wants to make it. In order to do so, she needs to make use of her initially bare bones plane to collect a valuable living resource called skyfish. She does so by flying higher up layer by layer and gathering as many skyfishes as possible. Each new layer within this land contains more danger as a group of pirates have their heart set on spoiling the hard work of those like Amelia who dream of improving their lives.
Fortunately, Amelia’s plane is equipped with weapons to shoot down these rascals that have nothing better to do than terrorise honest workers. This might seem like a simple concept, but Airheart unfortunately doesn’t do a particularly good job of making it seem like so. The tutorial isn’t that useful when it comes to helping players get used to the controls and it takes a couple of attempts in the proper level to get the hang of the tricky movement controls. Given the top-down perspective, it also means that shooting is confined to moving the right analog stick in a direction and pressing a button.
The idea of moving up layer by layer is actually interesting and makes a refreshing difference from just completing individual levels one at a time. It’s an idea that is unfortunately ruined by how the game makes it so hard to enjoy playing it. Rather than being given the option to start from the last layer where the plane was shot down (or plane was intentionally returned to base) by the many enemies that Amelia must face, it’s necessary to start all the way from the bottom. Sometimes the game even sees fit to make players have to literally start all the way from the beginning with nothing but Amelia’s basic plane. When her ship is downed, Amelia and the player must attempt to move it so that it will land on the base as it continues to lose altitude. Failing to do so will result in crashing in the world below and losing everything.
Life in Granaria is already tough enough without having to worry about the loss of all resources and currency. Even if the downed ship is returned to the base, it will still result in having to go up each layer to the one where it was downed. A boss will appear after going up a certain number of layers and not even the amount of damage dealt to it will be kept if downed. In a way playing Airheart can feel like playing a game version of Groundhog Day. Only those skilled enough to not be downed often will avoid being constantly punished.
Being able to purchase new equipment feels like a privilege because of how expensive most of it is and how difficult it is to save up for it. The worst aspect of this is that purchased equipment like weapons has a limited use and will break after being downed a certain amount of times.
Not that equipment has to be purchased in order to be able to make use of it. There is a clever crafting system which makes use of parts obtained mostly from destroyed enemies. The idea is to use these parts to make new parts and so on. It’s confusing though that there seemingly isn’t any way to easily find out what combinations of basic parts will make new parts without resorting to using the Internet to search for help. Also, once the novelty wear off, it soon becomes clear how tedious it is to have to constantly create parts to create other parts and then even more parts to then create some useful gear for the plane.
It makes sense that a game where the character is struggling to just get by in a highly competitive environment would present itself as challenging to say the least. Yet it also makes it very difficult to enjoy playing it when it is constantly trying to make itself so unlikable.
Not that there aren’t moments where it’s fun to play Airheart. The initial moments where players are exploring the less dangerous layers and concentrating on catching airfish and just enjoying looking at the background actually make it seem like a promising experience. The art style is easy on the eyes and is one of the few highlights found in the game. Unfortunately, the increasingly overwhelming amount of enemies and tough conditions Amelia must face will soon make it more of an endurance challenge.
Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings’s tendency to make playing it as tough as possible ends up being one of its biggest weaknesses.