I love the incorrectly named “Metroidvania” genre. But ever since Dark Souls, many of the genre’s entries have taken to aping the FromSoftware series, whether stylistically or mechanically. Elderand does a little bit of both, but mostly the former. This isn’t a Souls-like, though. It’s an admirable Metroid-like that doesn’t last too long and isn’t particularly original, but the game design and controls are good enough that it’s not much of a big deal. It doesn’t do much differently than many other games, and unlocking the final boss requires some of that vague Dark Souls stuff. But at least it isn’t a Souls-like.
Elderand starts by letting you pick from one of three character heads and their hair color. You play as, uh, some guy who’s special and destined to remove a great evil from the land or something. I didn’t care about the story and I can’t imagine you will, either. You’ll find notes full of lore to read while playing, but it didn’t take me long to stop paying attention. All you need to know is that there’s a guy named Amon who lords over some evil people who want to remake the world in an evil way and it’s up to you to stop them. Or become the new head evil guy, or something.
The game’s general aesthetics are like every other over-serious Metroidvania that’s heavily inspired by Dark Souls. The pixel art is decent enough but also looks kind of generic. There’s just not much that’s memorable about the way the game presents its characters and world.
Elderand does not take any experience away when you die. Instead, you have to reload your last save. Killing enemies grants you experience that levels you up once it reaches a certain threshold. You then get a character point that you can put into a few stats that dictate how you play the game. Strength scales with heavy weapons, Dex scales with lighter ones, and Magic scales with magic weapons. You can also put points into HP if you want. There are a variety of potions and you’ll find new weapons and gear in chests and rarely from defeated enemies. Attacking thankfully doesn’t use stamina, but dodging and blocking do.
I put my points into strength. Heavy weapons let you equip a shield that blocks any frontal damage at the cost of stamina. If you equip daggers, the block button instead lets you gain a few invulnerabity frames, which is a fun way to play the game if you like timing those attacks. And stamina lets you quickly dodge forward or backward. As unimaginative as much of this is, the controls are kind of awesome. They’re very snappy, fluid, and responsive. However, the combat in general doesn’t have much depth. It just gets the job done.
The exploration and level design are where Elderand shines. The map isn’t all that big, but the environments are nicely focused and varied. The most important thing for a Metroidvania is how enjoyable the exploration is, after all, and I was kept glued to this game for its duration. You get a few bog-standard abilities that up your mobility. Double jump, air dash, grappling hook, you know the drill. A lot of the enemy designs are pretty cool, though. One of the map sections is an awesome Castlevania homage, complete with a staircase leading to the big bad.
There are multiple endings to discover which will let you experience a few boss battles that you wouldn’t get to see if you go for the obvious conclusion. The boss battles can be somewhat challenging, but you can spam healing potions if you want. The obvious big bad is the only hardish boss fight. Mostly, that’s because he’s kind of cheap since he can attack you from offscreen and does an enormous amount of damage. One boss fight is a very obvious Symphony of the Night callback that had me smirking. Elderand‘s difficulty itself is honestly right where it needs to be: it’s challenging enough that you won’t relax too much, but you won’t get bored either.
Elderand is a game that doesn’t really try to do anything different from its peers, but it’s fun to play and satisfying to explore due to the simple fact of how well designed and paced it is. My file says I got 99.70% completion at about five hours of playtime, so it doesn’t last that long. But my Steam time count says it took me a good deal longer, so there’s enough meat to chew through. Plus I’ll take a shorter game that’s just as long as it needs to be over one that doesn’t know when to stop. I wish it had more of its own identity, but it does everything well enough that it’s easy to recommend to Metroidvania fans.