The character action genre has mostly been restricted to the AAA space since the term first emerged. Games like Kingdom Hearts, Devil May Cry, and Hi-Fi Rush have deep, expansive movesets for players to express themselves with. There have been smaller titles that fit into the genre, like Ultrakill and Assault Spy, but not as many as I would like. Well we can add one more to that list in Vernal Edge, a 2D platformer and Metroidvania inspired by DMC and KH.
In Vernal Edge, you play as Vernal, a girl out to kill her father after he left her and her mother to die before she was even born. Along the way, she meets Cherval, a robot housing a human soul, and the two steal an airship to find Vernal’s dad. Story’s not really the focus here, but it’s a decent tale of revenge that’ll see you to the credits. The game is instead mostly about combat, exploration, and platforming.
To start off, Vernal can use her sword on the ground or in the air for basic combos, strike up for a launcher, slide for a ground attack, throw a spectral blade to prepare a pulse attack, block, dash, and dodge. Pulse attacks are the only way to restore health. Pressing the pulse button will have you throw a spectral sword in whatever direction you’re holding, which will boomerang back to you if it doesn’t hit an enemy. Upon hitting an enemy, it will stick on them for a time. Pressing the pulse button again will perform a special pulse attack depending on what direction you’re holding. The up version is ranged, left and right have Vernal spin towards the enemy in the air, while down will perform what’s essentially Dante’s Million Stab move on the ground or a diagonal stab in the air. Up heals the least amount of HP but is safest since you’re not locked near an enemy during the animation, while down heals the most but puts you in danger the longest. Pulse attacks are the only moves you can’t cancel out of with a dodge, so you need to be mindful of where foes are and what they’re about to do.
By finding minor and major memories, you can learn magic and new moves. You can set up to four spells used by pressing a direction (Up, down, left and right, and neutral) and pressing the magic button. In particular, I really liked the Barrage and Timebomb spells. The former is rapid fire shots over a wide area, useful for juggling enemies or just dealing damage from a safe spot, while timebomb is extremely helpful for breaking a foe. In addition to a health bar, most enemies have blue dots representing their poise. You can reduce their poise by hitting them with a combo finisher, charge attack, or a counter. Timebomb will also reduce poise when they explode, but as the name would suggest they take a bit to do so. Only once an opponent is broken can you juggle them, so you may want to time it so you can have multiple enemies in the air at once.
The combat already has a ton of depth, but when combined with your platforming moveset you get something really special. You start off being able to jump and dash, but as you find major memories hidden throughout the world you’ll unlock new and interesting abilities like a wall kick, enemy step, dash jump, and… the ability to read. (Illiteracy is no joke. However, this is hilarious.) I really enjoyed how none of the movement abilities were traditional – I fully expected there to be a double jump but this is far more interesting. Getting to grips with your moves and pushing them to their limit to skip certain sections, sequence break, and just get around levels is a ton of fun.
Vernal Edge takes place on a series of islands floating in the sky, with you free to fly around in your airship and dock on any island. There’s very little direction given, especially near the beginning, and it can be annoying to feel like you’ve searched everywhere and haven’t found how to progress the story. A hint button or something would have been appreciated, because the general structure here is still great. This is a fun world to explore, especially once you unlock the ability to traverse Unreality, which connects to hidden or normally unreachable islands. There’s more stuff to find than you would first think, and in trying to beat the game I ended up doing quite a lot of optional content like the second arena or helping some guy find his missing slimes. It’s especially nice to have multiple avenues to explore since this game is very hard.
I played on normal, and died very frequently, even in normal encounters. Enemies hit hard and recovering health is difficult. You really need to master your moveset and know every enemy inside and out, and even then you’ll probably still make mistakes. The bosses take this idea to the next level, requiring you to know when it’s safe to hit them and the split second you need to dodge or block. You need to be able to adapt on the fly and know every correct response to their attacks, which makes for a very fun challenge. Of course this can be frustrating at times, but that’s part of the appeal.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
Vernal Edge is a thrilling character action game mixed with an intricate, connected world that’s a joy to explore. The story may not be anything to write home about, but the combat and platforming more than make up for that.