Genre: Farming Sim, Puzzles, Adventure
System: Steam (Windows) (also available for Nintendo Switch)
Developer | Publisher: Cosmo Gatto | NEOWIZ
Age Rating: US E | EU 3+
Price: US $12.99 | UK £10.39 | EU € 11,49
Release Date: December 14th, 2022
Review code used, with many thanks to Team Critical Hit.
Aka is a game about rebuilding after a war. Our main character is a red panda who has given up being a warrior to pursue a more peaceful life as a farmer and help the local residents of their new town. They have a long history of pain and loss, but they hope to make something better now that they have moved on.
The Story of Aka
Aka appears to be a story of anti-war. Players must go about their lives, planting, fetch questing, watering, feeding, and making bread all while living with the memories of all that has happened. One of the many quests players get early on is scattering a friend’s ashes over a mountain. This friend was lost in the war, and you spend a lot of time looking for the spot they wished to be laid to rest.
You also meet many people whose lives have been impacted by the war. Your friend and new neighbour invites you to stay at an abandoned house near his; the original owners never returned from war. There is an orphaned young kitten, an injured wolf, and many other NPCs with sad stories of what happened to them. Aka is filled to the brim with a combination of hope and melancholy, of life and loss. It was surprisingly deep for a cute farming sim with a red panda as the main character.
The Gameplay of Aka
Like many farming sims, Aka has a day-night cycle that limits what you can do. There is, thankfully, no stamina; players can do whatever they need to get done while it is still bright outside. To finish quests and visit all the different islands, players will need to forage for ingredients for potions, fix boats, and make food. It doesn’t appear necessary to feed Aka during play, but there are other critters that will need food to progress quests.
There are no barriers to the world; players can abandon the first island to wander around the other three or the city whenever they please. There is a lot to do, from helping ghosts and other NPCs, knocking down dead trees and getting rid of the ancient ruins to ensure no one gets hurt.
It seems that to make up for their years at war, players are destined to grow, help, and take care of the islands as repayment.
Aka is So Relaxing
There is an emphasis in Aka on taking the time to live. Players can sit by the pond and meditate while watching the fish, lay on the beach, study the stars or clouds, and do other relaxing activities. You can collect hats, decorate your home, or plant carrots all day. There are no time limits or blinking quest boxes trying to force you to do a specific thing.
There are several minigames, but players don’t have to interact with any of them if they choose. I found a couple while playing: there is a music one as well as a card game. I’m sure there are more though.
Once you factor in the soft, cartoon, and watercolour-like artwork and relaxing tunes, Aka gives players the feeling of complete relaxation and meditation while playing. It’s a super relaxing, build-your-own-fun game with no pressure, no combat, and nothing to get in the way of having a good time.
Except for a couple of things…
Why is This So Hard to Control?
The world of Aka isn’t all sunshine and roses, however. There is a floatiness to all the interactions that make some things weirdly hard to click on. Sometimes, it takes several tries just to water a plant, and there are a couple of times I remember that I couldn’t interact with one thing because it was too close to another interactable item. There is one instance where a creature is locked behind a door, and there is a ladder nearby. While the creature is behind the locked door, climbing the ladder is impossible.
When walking along the dock or trying to get a black flower off the cliff, players will learn how difficult Aka is to control. There is a kind of wobbliness to the way they walk that makes it difficult to stay up on the stairs, ladders, and edges that don’t have walls to keep you from falling. While there is no falling damage, it’s really frustrating to battle against the controls when you’re just trying to get from one place to another. This may be better with a controller, but I only played with a mouse and keyboard.
Another thing I disliked in Aka was the lack of mini-game instruction. For example, there is a card game that players can challenge other NPCs. It’s pretty simple, but Aka never ever explained to me how to play. I fumbled around and guessed a lot, but I eventually got through my first game with a win. Somehow.
Aka is Real Silly at Times
To be perfectly clear, this is not a downside for me. I like silliness in my games. There’s a joke about your “car’s extended warranty” spam calls, funny characters, and Aka can wear a bear slipper on their head. It matches the gentle feel and the cartoony nature of the game in general.
This sort of helped to counterbalance the depressing anti-war stuff going on, the deaths of friends, and the sad stories of ghost friends you meet worldwide. There is still a seriousness to these moments, and it’s nice to have, for example, a giant capybara to cheer you after hearing about the death of a shy ghost who you could have saved in life.
Aka is cute, smart, clever, and sad. It’s beautiful and a kid-friendly introduction to loss. Players can choose their own adventure here; there is no pressure to get anything done in this game. You can do as you like and take as much time doing those things as you want.
That being said, it has its issues. I think this game just needs a little more love, and it could be a perfect relaxing game for the whole family.
Final Verdict: I Like it.