8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure

I did not complete 8Doors.

I’m a huge fan of metroidvanias, as anyone who regularly reads these reviews knows. I may have gotten into them a bit late, just a few years ago with Bloodstained, but since then I’ve made a concentrated effort to play just about every metroidvania that gets at least some attention, and even some that haven’t.

8Doors all but surprise dropped in May, and it looked pretty cool. It utilizes a fairly unique art style that seems to draw upon Chinese culture for inspiration. Most everything is done in greyscale, including main character Arum and most of the enemies. They throw in splashes of red to make certain elements pop. The overall experience is fairly striking, though at times the actual play graphics feel a bit stiff and look almost like a flash cartoon.

Characters often have a world of personality: the gatekeeper here is one of my favorites. He sits in the dark and turns on that light switch next to him whenever you enter, eager to just chat with you.

It’s obvious where 8Doors gets its inspiration. It looks on the surface like the standard Hollow Knight clones we’ve seen come out in force after that game’s success. At it’s my favorite metroidvania ever, I’m willing to give games that use it for heavy inspiration a chance. Plus 8Doors had an initial discount, and I was starving for a metroidvania at the time (now I’m drowning in them: a review for Blasphemous is coming up, and I have both Deedlit’s Labyrinth and the original Shantae sitting on my Switch).

The controls feel a bit off as you handle Arum. She moves and runs and jumps like many a metroidvania protagonist, but everything just feels a little off. This again draws comparisons to various flash games, where sometimes the graphics might look good, but the game just doesn’t feel right.

Many reviewers have pointed out that the issue may be with the weapons. Arum has seven unique weapons to switch from, and they vary in usage. Some of them, like the bow, become essential parts of your toolkit that you’ll probably regularly use. Others, like the awkward staff or the club, I barely used at all. I literally forgot I had the club until I was cycling through weapons late in the game: there’s no mandatory part to use it, and I already had the sword, a weapon I was more comfortable using.

Oh, and you ride a giant frog. He’s literally only useful for traversing a few sections

This leads to some awkward moments, and it’s a bit of a downfall of the game. Part of the joy of a metroidvania should be uncovering new moves and growing, so it’s a disappointment when a weapon doesn’t quite work out that way (and yes, I have the same complaint about much better games like Axiom Verge).

All in all, the gameplay is just sort of average here. It’s serviceable, and if you’re looking for a metroidvania, it works well enough. But there’s really nothing new. They have bosses that are clearly built in the now traditional manner of being just a little tougher than they should be (which is odd, as there’s not much of a soulslike setup to the rest of the game). I only really struggled with one boss, because he wouldn’t let me use my usual strategy of hitting a boss a few times and dodging around them.

There is an upgrade system. You find various tokens that can then go toward purchasing upgrades. What’s weird is that some of those are the simple ones: you attack a bit faster or you automatically pick up currency. But others literally let you access new areas: there’s one that makes your frog immune to poison water. I don’t understand why they’d put these both in the standard upgrade tree. There’s also one branch of upgrades that I just never used throughout my playthrough.

They also borrowed the soul mechanic from Hollow Knight. You gain soul here from killing enemies, though you can buy others. This can allow you to use each weapon’s special move. Hit a boss with a special, and you can actually see their health bar for a brief moment of time. Why only when you hit them with a special? Because the game decided so.

However, the bow uses the same special meter. There’s literally no reason not to just use it, as it is the only ranged weapon in a game that’s clearly more built for up close combat. Again, it feels like the developers didn’t think this through.

Speaking of: the health potions are a bit janky. You get a few at the start, and when you use them, they just automatically refill a portion of your life. There’s no animation, no time, nothing. Just get a chunk of health back. Why even have health potions then? Every other game has some sort of delay or something. On top of that, the health they give back is pitiful, even when fully upgraded.

Don’t think that upgrade is easy to find though. It’s presented in the shop in such a way that I thought it was buying a consumable potion, so I didn’t touch it through probably 60% of my playthrough. This is poorly communicated, and it’s a crucial upgrade, even if it’s a fairly pathetic one.

All this prompts the usual question at this point: what about the story?

One of the fairly cute, and fun optional cut scenes

It’s all told through silent talking text, which will get to some people but is perfectly fine with me. Arum’s father died in an unexpected manner. She heard a legend that you can enter the afterlife, and so seeks out a way of doing so. Everyone there assumes that since she’s alive in the afterlife she’s come to be a reaper, someone who helps find lost souls who either are confused about their situation or refuse to move on to the next life.

Arum uncovers a conspiracy that’s fairly obvious, and works against a bureaucrat who wants to take over the current King’s duties. Said king is sad because his child is missing. Not really a huge surprise what’s going on there. What’s more interesting is the world itself, which combines spiritualism and fantasy with modern additions: the spirits have satellite TV and video game consoles.

The plot, I’m talking about the plot. Get your head outta the DS and pay attention.

It’s actually fairly well told, though we spent far too much time with the bad guys, either watching the main villain stroke his chin and contemplate his plans or his sidekick discover that something’s up. It’s got some interesting ideas, and I honestly thought the world was pretty engaging.

So why didn’t I finish this game?

Simple: I was at the very last area when the game glitched and completely deleted my save, taking with it my 8-9 hours of play time. Gone. Just like that.

There had been a few issues with it, about as many as I’d seen for a few other poorly optimized games (looking at you, Ruined King). But in this case, it was your standard, run away from this thing or it’s going to eat you. The thing ate me, because they’d taken away the abilities I spent the game earning (a horrible sin in a metroidvania, and one I’m going to address again soon). I sat and stared at a black screen for several minutes, before deciding I’d just close my game and open it at my last save.

But my last save was gone.

If I didn’t have those problems, I’d actually say Arum is perhaps slightly above average as far as these games go. The gameplay was interesting, the exploration had some rewards to it and was kind of fun, the world drew me in. Nothing amazing, but enough to make it worth checking out for fans.

With the glitches? I can’t recommend a game that will literally eat your save file 90% of the way through a playthrough. I may try it again to see if I can get the rest, but I’ll settle for watching the ending on YouTube for now.

6 if your copy is glitch free: above average and worth looking at for an interesting world, if you’re interested in this genre

2 with the glitches. It literally ate my save on the verge of completion (and I was on the path for the best ending, btw, which requires extra stuff)

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