PEGBRJE: Luna and Aerannis

Well, there’s certainly some emotional weight in here.

Not only is this game beautiful, but it lets me help make it that way.

Luna is an interactive narrative created by Funomena, an indie studio founded by Robin Hunicke and Martin Middleton who both worked on the game Journey. This title was originally partnered with Intel, but later partnered with Oculus to release the game to the Touch. While I don’t have a VR headset, it was shortly released afterwards for non-VR PC which is the version that came with the bundle. This information will be important later, trust me. So, what exactly happens in this title? Well, after being persuaded by an Owl, the small Bird swallows the remaining sliver of the moon in an attempt to not be lonely, causing a great storm to ravage the land and hurdle the Bird to an unfamiliar location. Without much of its memories, the Bird must attempt to make its way home, and perhaps bring back the moon.

That important information part about VR that I said would be later, is actually right now. Luna’s gameplay is divided into two sections, both utilizing the 3D space that comes naturally to a virtual reality. Players will be putting back stars to their rightful place in a constellation, first starting in 2D before moving into their more ‘correct’ representation of being in a 3D space. This relies a lot on perspective to understand which stars need to be placed where, and what the constellation is actually attempting to represent between a variety of vegetation and animals. The other half, seen in the picture above, has the player attempting to fix a snowglobe of flora and fauna as due to the Bird’s actions each place has now become desolate. In regrowing the plants to the area, Bird hopes to reconnect with the animal that resides there and bring back the life that had been taken.

This is not only the fundamentals of the gameplay loop, but of the entirety of the game’s core theme of repair. At first, I was greatly confused for the first bit as the game actively advertises itself as “a game about forgiveness”, to which I couldn’t understand what it meant as I was putting together constellations and attempting to repair an ecosystem. However, upon finishing up the first area and meeting the turtle, the entirety of the game clicked as the turtle arrived. This was a journey not just for the Bird to return home, but moreso to understand what had happened to those around it and see what it can do. The Bird’s memory is hazy thanks to it finding itself in an unfamiliar place, but by piecing together the constellations it understands where it must go. Every area the Bird visits has been destroyed by a simple action that it had done; not out of malice, but it was still caused by it’s actions. The regrowing of the environment is an attempt to bring peace to its friends through actions, not simply through vague statements — after all, they cannot speak. Even still, each animal friend it encounters handles the Bird’s attempts at reconciliation differently because they are individuals. There is no ‘correct’ way to accept attempts of forgiveness, nor is there an improper way to voice frustration at one. Yet one by one, the actions of the Bird are what allows each friend to come to grips with the Bird’s attempts to make amends and subsequently, understand the Bird and the Owl.

This beautiful message is only matched by the sheer beauty of the art within. I’m almost jealous of anyone that was able to play this in VR, as they would be able to immerse themselves further in these little pocket worlds. The songs of the Birds and other animal friends layer with each other while our eyes get to watch the growth of the planets and the colour changes between the animals and the world itself. There’s so many little things going on in each location that it would be hard to cover them all, so I’ll just summarize my thoughts as ‘softly serenading my senses’.

Together, this beautifully intimate narration brings everything together for Luna. It feels almost like a child’s fable lost to time, one that I could’ve been read to as I fell asleep in order to learn life lessens. It’s visually a treat, and one that truly wants to help show the world what forgiveness can do, while approaching it from the avenue of action and maturity. If you have any time to try it out, please do.

Fancy seeing you here, Turing.

Aerannis is a Metroidvania stealthy action title made by itch.io member ‘ff’, who previously went by ektomarch for the game’s launch back in 2015. Players follow the life of Ceyda Farhi, an assassin living in a bizarre world in which men cease to exist and monstrous shapeshifters have infiltrated every level of society to control it, even though their existence isn’t even known by the masses. At first Ceyda isn’t troubled by what is right or wrong, only by achieving her goal; but slowly it becomes a little harder to avoid the truth that looms over this society.

(Mild notice here, but I guess it needs to be said: this is my first time playing and hearing about this game, so the discourse from its launch — which I researched extensively and will get to later — was not something I was aware of at the time of playing).

In this Bulgarian city, Ceyda takes contracts from Elsa that take place throughout the city, ranging from assassinating targets to destroying items to shutting down operations. The city of Plovdiv has many places to visit, and much of the game will be spent exploring the city either looking for the next contract location or simply wishing to soak up the world itself. Finding the proper place to start, Ceyda will have an icon near the top to remind her as to whether or not this is a stealth mission. Non-stealth based missions follow a relatively simple Metroidvania experience of multiple paths, the need to come back at different times to reach certain areas, and shooting up scores of enemies in a 2D environment. The stealth missions, on the other hand, are where Aerannis gets a little more funky; getting caught even once means execution. To avoid this permanent fate, Ceyda will use some key elements from stealth-centric titles to flesh out its gameplay. Stealth involves ensuring that Ceyda never appears in the line of sight of humans and cameras, although robots seem to not care much. Humanoids can also be taken hostage if grabbed from behind, using them to negotiate with another humanoid or as a shield in order to take out both of them before any alarms are raised. This is where the fun really lies, tricking enemies with sounds and ‘kidnapping’ their allies in order to take them out silently without so much as a peep. Of course, boss battles can’t really be done this way, but hey it’s the journey that counts.

What makes Aerannis so… intriguing to me is the setting and world building that the developer decided to create, for not only are there no men left in the world but everything is run by terrifying post-feminists in an Orwellian lockdown. I’m not going to lie; I thought this was a massive satire. The sheer absurdity of all men being ‘replaced’ mixed with little quips about the testosterone ‘reverse-soy’ and the ‘TERF turfs’ just came together to create the perfect storm for satire that I couldn’t help but find myself giggling and wanting to learn more about this weird world. What else would these ‘evil feminists’ do next? Turns out, hate trans-women was next on the agenda as (spoilers I guess) Ceyda came before the great male purge had begun, so she was considered a second-rate citizen for some reason. Hence the assassin employment, as she cannot get a job anywhere else. Even the revelation of shapeshifting monsters was hilarious nonsense compounding with the rest of the plot, leaving Ceyda with nowhere to go but take on this absurdity head on to free everyone.

The deeper I went into the title the more I realized that there were actual discussions attempting to be made, and it was here that I decided to do some digging. For those that knew of Aerannis from its launch, this comes as no surprise the amount of discourse that was being made around the title. After all, it came out in 2015, which was smack dab in the middle of gaming’s ultimate dumpster fire that was GamerGate. Not to mention that many of its conversations still are extremely relevant today — I mean, this game was in the literal ‘Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality’. This somewhat clouds my judgement on the title, yet also shows how interesting context can be while highlighting how time can alter things. On the one hand, I still view it as a satirical look back on some bizarre people’s fears of a women-run world. On the other, it does seem to put forth some good faith arguments, especially surrounding TERFs and their absurd hatred towards trans-women. Unfortunately, as I’m not really the group affected by this discourse, my feelings on the matter aren’t really as important —if you are looking for an actual breakdown of the arguments by those most affected, best to look elsewhere from this overview.

This makes Aerannis a bit of a conundrum to me — it’s a solid title filled with interesting characters, solid artwork and a banger soundtrack, but takes on many discussions at once which makes it hard to fully dissect its meaning. I do believe that ektomarch came to this title in good faith, especially based on the discourse had by the developer with others about the title and its opposition to TERFS and the need to keep up activism regardless of whether or not the goals have been achieved. If you are looking for a fun Metroidvania title that isn’t afraid to try to tackle themes that shouldn’t feel real but can, then this might be the title to try out. Again, however, your mileage may vary and your thoughts will definitely differ from mine. If you’re unsure, look around at others in the LGBTQ+ community that have played this game recently and see what they’re thinking.

Regardless, best of luck with those contracts — you’ll need it.