The roleplaying game is liminal. Stats are individuality, but stats are codified, they’re unweighted essences. Symbols lacking in subtlety. Signifiers to recreate a person. Language of the literal to abstract and represent the unreal. A person is intensely rendered, a specificity and depth that is unlike reality. A roleplaying game is existential, being a measured container of existence. It also imbues each agent with inconvertible purpose. The roleplaying system doesn’t pose questions, it answers them.
Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan inhabits this contradiction. It is a deeply existential roleplaying game, that still declares rules of existence. By inhabiting Enzo Kori-Odan, I know exactly what he can do and who he is, even when Enzo does not. As a player I’m his confidence and will, in times when he might not have enough. I feel a nurturing role as I guide him through roles and events that lead him to an increased understanding, in an actualization of himself. In turn I’m inspired when he understands his ideals to stay absolutely true, facing and contradicting violent seekers of voids and seers of goodness alike.
Enzo is the king of Zama, an isolationist island, unknown to world politics. On his coronation he was to be finally married to his betrothed, Erine Evou; the king and queen were to be crowned the same day. Ngarba Evou, brother to Erine, crashes the double ceremony and declares a coup. He says Enzo is too naive to rule, that Zama is too idealistic and needs to adapt to the world, lest it perish. He is stronger than Enzo. The young couple is forced to recognize the truth of his words as they’re forced into exile.
Fighting strength is determined by a person’s Aurion, stones that amplify one’s connection with ancestors in the afterlife, known as the Great Veil. Each person has four pillars, four aspects of self that resonate the strongest with feelings and ideologies that still affect the world. These pillars awaken when a person’s convictions are pushed or brought to a new understanding. There is no easy secret to mastery, to being strong enough to save others, besides living in tune with the self. Aurion’s intro is thus a very empty feeling, being stripped of purpose, of never having a chance. The lack of an urgent hook may be off-putting to someone who needs to be convinced, but it’s accurate to burgeoning selfhood. The specific anxiety of starting a new life with a vague endgoal, milestones of living, can be felt.
There’s emptiness, but not loneliness. Enzo and Erine have each other. Though they bicker and argue over split second decisions, over opinions, over sharing duress, they still concede to each other, support the other, listen to wants and needs, and encourage positive expression. A relationship is not compromise, it is a respect that believes in someone’s best aspects, and a trust that will carry decisions through. That permanent, loving ground between two people is rarely navigated in fiction; here they grow together visibly and wonderfully.
They stumble through reality. Isao, the neighboring kingdom, turns even nobility away without proper documentation. When trying to get a visa, they discover a kidnapping ring. An organized sect of Isao’s senate has been forcing refugees to work in their privatized mines. This reduces the strain of accepting legitimate refugees, while purposely tanking their forward facing economy by selling ore on the black market, forcing horrible conditions under the king’s rule, with the ultimate goal of ousting their king. Isao being a primary source for Aurionite, stones used for domestic and war technologies, these developments have reverberations that are felt on a world scale. Zama’s idyllic issues feel small. Ngarba’s harsh judgement feels ever true. Enzo and Erine are listless.
Aurion is a story of selfhood in relation to community and politics. Elitism between tribes and a general instability in the wake of reparations, discrimination, and genocide preface much of the armed conflict. Because of established motivations and a consistent world building, there is no trace of definite evil. Truths as ideology clash consistently, most criminals have justified relations, though still with harmful conclusions. Aurion probes at what fundamental questions and answers drive human institutions. It comes down to fighting for beliefs. Enzo and Erine believe in harmony, though it takes their travels to put a name on what they fight for. They fight against authoritarians; they trust that people make their best conclusions on their own, and that the diversity of many fills out and strengthens the whole of community.
Battles are instanced like the Tales series, though action is freeroaming and combo based similar to a Vanillaware action rpg. By default Enzo’s fighting style feels like a taut bow to be pulled and released. Combat lurches but in a way that snaps at each stopping point. Ultimately satisfying, though it is really playfighting. Real fighting is done in an Auronic stance, based on combinations of awakened spiritual pillars. Through channeling his aurion, Enzo fights in stances that reflect aspects of himself, called things like Honor, Ardour, Empathy, Anger, Repression, Ambition. It’s a tonal consistency that is very blunt: existence, selfhood, beliefs, are your means to communicate, convince, and pacify others.
Aspects have unique movesets and cost SP to attack with. They’re flashy and uncancelable, they feel sticky and solid. It’s possible to combo between aurions, but most have decent start up and cooldown, so they don’t flow together. Some moves don’t even flow on their own, having very specific hurtboxes and travel arcs. It feels appropriate when aurionic states such as Ardour and Repression are difficult to handle, though because there are so many states, I instead gravitated to ones that were smoother and more consistent. SP drops fast, I don’t think even a dozen attacks can be done before Enzo runs out. If items are used to restore them you’d promptly go broke, so after a flurry of attacks, a safe spot must be found to recharge. This makes for very frantic, dynamic, endurance based boss fighting, but is absolute drudgery during random battles.
Levels are sprawling and vertical. Curves of rock, chaotically jutting and floating terrain. Busy worlds, sometimes foliage is like a collage, entrances and exits are angular. These are foundations for the pillar-like mazes, cut-aways that go left and right. I get a feeling for little details and the extreme importance of each part making up the whole. Visually Aurion is assembled like its geopolitic: a chaotic appearance with an underlying harmony. A harmony which is denied by various antagonists, but proof of it seeps in from the places inhabited, the relationships held, and different aspects of self morphing together.
It took awhile for these aspects of the game to click. Feeling uncomfortable and confused at the outset is important for the game’s overall arc, with the unfortunate side-effect of those feelings being difficult to shake off. Aurion is not overtly appeasing. It’s a presentation, a model of existence, that asks for your attention. Played in small doses, this feeling comes through strong. Self actualization resulting immediately in more confident interpersonal performances is a straightforward concept, but the deabstraction of self-improvement feels incredible to me. Striving to be better is my favored coping response. I cling to life to define and become a better person. Aurion represents and defends that right for everyone. The ideal leader rules in abstract only and makes no demands. They’re defined as someone who inspires others to find themselves, as protectors and examples. Change exists by representing the best, while facing the worst.