There’s something unique about hand-drawn animation, an almost magical element. Be it movies, TV shows or video games, if a title adopts a process that requires a meticulous level of care, intricacy and dedication, you know it’s going to be a tale with heart and emotion at its core. And Greak: Memories of Azur from Mexican developer Navegante Entertainment is one such tale that radiates heart.
This Metroidvania puzzle-platformer opens in the enchanted realm of Azur, home to the elf-like ‘Courines’ who colonised the world and made it their home. Dark times have befallen them, however. A plague has begun to infect the world and, using it to their advantage, the evil Urlags have invaded and all but conquered. The only hope for the few remaining Courines is to escape by airship to an unknown, faraway land. In the midst of all this is Greak, a young Courine searching for his lost siblings and helping to build the airship before the land falls to ruin.
From the outset, the care and dedication that went into Greak shines through with brilliance. The graphics are breathtaking, the animation so exquisite it wouldn’t be out of place on the big screen. The bold lines and distinct character designs meld perfectly with the painted scenes of withering marshes, cascading waterfalls and crystalline caverns. And it’s impossible not to fall in love with the expressive Courines; emotion radiates from the cutscenes and conversations even without speech, and every character is unique in personality and body language. This is only enhanced by the spectacular soundtrack, ranging from grandiose orchestral tracks to close and quiet ambience. The player is called to adventure, invited to share an emotional moment, welcomed into another world in just a few bars. The fantastical world of Azur lives and breathes through both sight and sound.
Like all good Metroidvania platformers, Greak’s gameplay centres around traversing platforms and obstacles, finding items and cutting down enemies along the way. But as the titular hero is reunited with each of his siblings, they must all work together and use their strengths in order to overcome the challenges ahead—the player controlling all three of them, sometimes simultaneously. Each sibling has unique abilities: Greak can jump the highest and crawl into small spaces, his sister Adara wields powerful magic and can levitate for brief periods and older brother Raydel is a hardy warrior that can deflect with his shield and use his grappling hook to reach higher ledges. The puzzles are very well designed and creative, engaging players to consider how best to utilise the characters’ skills and progress. The difficulty is also perfectly pitched: tricky enough to test the player, but not so obtuse as to have players begging for a walkthrough. And as tempting as it is to constantly control all the siblings at once, sometimes patiently guiding them through one at a time is more prudent and won’t have one of them suddenly plummeting out of view with a loud splash or worse!
The few minor downsides of this beautiful title rear their heads when combined with the other aspects of gameplay however. RPG elements come into play as the Raven’s Road Camp acts as a hub area with fellow Courines bearing quests to complete, a shop to buy and sell items and a cooking pot to craft food. True to form, quests generally involve searching the different areas of Azur to locate items or characters within them. However, while the areas are not as vast as other Metroidvania titles, some are a little more complex to traverse and there is no area map to help keep track of which parts of each area you have explored. While it does admittedly add to the puzzling side of gameplay, some quests would benefit from this Metroidvania staple and save a lot of unnecessary circling and backtracking.
Talking to other Courines can yield both valuable information and lore, the response being slightly different depending on which sibling interacts with them which is a nice touch. Unfortunately some of the dialogue is very long-winded and it is easy to lose focus and miss key information through impulsively skipping ahead. This is in stark contrast to the evocative and stirring cutscenes that convey so much without a single word spoken. Being the protagonists, Greak, Adara and Raydel’s bond is the main focal point (as it should be), but there are elements of lore quite integral to the narrative that can easily be overlooked due to padded-out dialogue. Conversely, a simple trade with a merchant can become quite a drawn-out endeavour when all you need is to nab a couple of elixirs before heading off again.
But these are drops in a beautifully illustrated ocean. Greak: Memories of Azur is a wonderfully picturesque title brimming with heart and irrepressible charm. Metroidvania fans will find the forking paths and platform-traversing they love, puzzle fans will have their brains teased and tested, and animated fantasy fans will find a delightful world and protagonists to immerse themselves in. Like the ethereal Courines themselves, it’s positively glowing!
Greak: Memories of Azur releases 17th August on PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch.