Vernal Edge is easily one of the most intriguing Metroid-likes I’ve seen in some time. The combat is clearly influenced by Devil May Cry of all things, and the areas are different islands accessed via an airship on a 3D field. Combine that with strong pixel art and an above-average level of challenge, and you’re left with a game that easily surpassed my expectations. You play as Vernal, a girl (or young woman? It’s not entirely clear) whose pregnant mother was abandoned by her husband. And Vernal literally wants to kill his father for walking on out on them.
In the intro, Vernal meets Chervil, a human soul her father placed into a mechanical shell. He has no recollection of most of his previous life, but wants to help her locate her father to get answers. What follows is an adventure where the two track him down. And for good reason. Her dad is attempting to commit mass murder in order to merge reality with Unreality, which is basically another dimension of some sort. The dialogue is fairly well written. Its story is also better than the average Metroid-like, even if Vernal’s bad attitude can get annoying at times.
That took a turn
After the game’s introductory stage, you’re thrust into control of an airship and can fly it to any available islands on the map. Many of these are optional, and there’s no way of knowing what’s mandatory or not until you complete them.
Naturally, you’ll find a plethora of upgrades that can increase your health bar, magic meter, and equipment capacity. In classic subgenre fashion, many of these can only be obtained when backtracking and using new abilities. Vernal becomes significantly more mobile as the game goes on. She never gets a literal double jump, but instead is able to wall jump, jump out of air dashes, run up walls, and can eventually launch herself in any direction in exchange for some mana.
Where are you going?
The islands are decently varied and feature a good amount of varied design focuses. There are a couple of optional islands that are large puzzles and you’ll even find optional boss battles. Having to travel via airship can make backtracking a bit more confusing than need be, but it’s still perfectly manageable. Most islands have their own maps you can find and you won’t have any idea of an area’s layouts without one. Some areas don’t have maps at all, which can create issues.
There are two towns to visit. The first is rather small and straightforward, but the second is rather labyrinthine and could have really used a map. As could the Unreality hub you’ll reach via portals, which opens up more as you progress. The controls are precise but they’re a bit rigid, which can be obnoxious. When utilizing air dashes and trying to carefully control where you’re landing, it can feel a bit harder than necessary to hit the mark.
The platforming isn’t extremely hard or anything, but it can often demand above-average levels of skill. Spikes and other traps will reset your position upon hitting them, which really amps up the required level of precision. Honestly, I thought some sections had difficulty spikes that make them mesh strangely with the rest of the game. That being said, you can’t actually die from anything but enemy attacks, even if falling into pits or traps lowers your health. This was a particularly good decision seeing as Vernal Edge‘s fight is actually quite challenging.
Come on and slam
Vernal uses a sword called the Pulse Edge (not to be confused with Dante’s Force Edge) and doesn’t directly learn new attacks. For the most part, she has a ground combo, charge attacks, and an air combo. Combat is quick and satisfyingly responsive, even if Vernal’s regular sword strikes can feel a bit underpowered. Using certain attacks (mainly charge attacks) will remove blue stamina orbs from below enemy life bars. Once depleted, enemies become stunned and open to you being able to smack them around. Think Devil May Cry by way of Super Smash Bros. and you’ll get the general idea.
Hitting a stunned enemy with your combos will send them flying forward or upward and you can juggle them for the entire duration of their stun. You’ll pick up items called memory points that allow you to equip things called memories that grant Vernal new attributes. These can change up her moves or enhance the effectiveness of certain capabilities. My favorite memory allows you to use your dash to inflict a very small amount of damage. The benefit is that it makes it even snappier to juggle enemies. It’s immensely satisfying to chain together attacks while knocking enemies to and fro, even if I wish the rigidness of the controls didn’t hold this back somewhat.
In addition to basic attacks and memories, Vernal heightened Pulse. With enough of this, you’ll throw your sword into an enemy and use a pulse attack to heal yourself. This is a robust system that has a risk-versus-reward component, as Vernal is vulnerable to enemy attacks as it’s performed.
Then there are spells. You’ll find spell discs all over the place and you can assign four at once. Many of these aren’t all that useful, but some of them can be game-changers, such as the bind ability that can be used to hold down an enemy for a set time. There’s also a super mood where Vernal’s hair gets brighter and she attacks everything onscreen.
Flock off, featherface
Most combat sections are of the Devil May Cry variety as opposed to being encountered directly during exploration. You’ll enter a little arena, the walls will close you off, and you can’t leave until you defeat everything. The bestiary is interesting and threatening, but it can start to wear somewhat thin by the end of the game, as it doesn’t take all that long for you to meet most of its members. Regardless, even less threatening enemies still pose a problem when you have to fight several waves one after another.
The boss battles are often reminiscent of the ones from souls-likes, as tougher bosses can do an enormous amount of damage. There are a few fairly difficult fights in Vernal Edge, with a couple verging on cheap. But even the hardest ones can be taken down without a huge amount of practice. Still, the tough fights are an excellent reason to be thorough while backtracking. Plus, there’s so much optional content that’s well worth seeing, so you may as well seek these out regardless. I reached 85% completion after about 11 hours, so there’s a decent amount of game on offer here.
I truly enjoyed Vernal Edge, even when I find it irksome or somewhat repetitive. This is an interesting, creative Metroid-like that actually tries to do its own thing in a lot of ways. Plus, mastering the combat is quite rewarding, even if you’ll be fighting the same handful of foes time and again. As far as the subgenre goes, this is easily one of the better entries I’ve had the pleasure of playing as of late and I’m going to start frowning when I realize I can’t air-launch and juggle enemies in the next one I play.