While it seems like an eternity ago for some, the peak of the “lockdown- era” of gaming was arguable during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many titles were released and video games were once again used primarily as a stress relief tool. Very few games had catapulted in popularity like Animal Crossing New Horizons did, sweeping many Nintendo Switches like a whirlwind. Many people from around the world found solace in tending to an island, meeting their neighbors, and collecting bells. Aka, developed by Cosmo Gatto, was one of the few games in a genre often saturated that captured how it felt during that time two years ago.
Before diving into my first impressions, I wanted to thank the publisher NEOWIZ for allowing me to cover this game. I’m no stranger to life simulator games, from the standard fare Story of Seasons to the outright whacky Epic Chef. Aka is a non-linear narrative game that never outright tells the player what they should do next but nudges them in the right direction so that they will figure it out themselves. The story centers around the titular character who had lived a life of war. During the war’s aftermath, Aka decides to settle on a distant island to live in peace.
Some of the island's inhabitants are friendly towards Aka and willing to aid him in his quest for peace. Others have had run-ins with Aka in the past, or people like Aka who sprouts friendly banter yet contradictory wields a katana. In Aka and the player’s defense, there are no acts of violence in this game. The katana, which Aka once used for war, is nothing more than a weed cutter for example. The island is littered and none of its inhabitants are capable of cleaning it, so it’s up to Aka to do so himself.
Aka can also befriend the residents, convincing those who are skeptical of him by earning their trust via quests. Some are as simple as freeing animals from a fence while others involve saving a wolf from a bear trap or curing a cat’s illness.
The only nudge toward’s Aka’s life is an urn he keeps around that contains his comrade’s ashes. Aka then remembers a promise he made that he would take him to the peak of the mountains and spread his ashes. Only one problem — He is without a boat as the boat which took him to the island is in need of repairs.
Fortunately, there’s a ferryman that can fix the boat but on top of the materials needed, he wants food as compensation. One of the required materials is metal, which can easily be obtained by melting the various wolf traps that are collected. Not only are you helping the environment by cleaning up the traps, but you’re repurposing them for material used to craft tools.
This is what I enjoyed most about Aka. You’re presented with the primary goal of reaching a destination. In order to reach the destination, you need to craft a boat. To craft the boat you need materials and to gather materials you need to craft tools. The materials you’re gathering to help the island folk are used to craft tools that open more possibilities. Even the soup the ferryman wishes for is made by growing crops. Aka rewards the insightful player by unraveling more of what the town has to offer via its multilayered approach.
Aka can also participate in mini-games, including a rhythm game, a maze game, and a card game that’s based around resources. The player can even gaze at the clouds should they wish. In the span of ten in-game days, I never saw anything similar to a “fatigue bar” or any “currency.” Everything the player needs to succeed in Aka can be earned from the start and it plays off as a “choose your own adventure.” For players looking to find the same joy in "playing a game for the first time" as they had with titles like Story of Seasons, Aka does a good job of offering a calming experience, while also providing a powerful anti-war message.
Aka is available on the Nintendo Switch and Steam. This review was made possible by NEOWIZ and other supporting partners.