Aspire: Ina’s Tale Review
Our Score: 8/10
In my review of Aspire: Ina’s Tale I won’t be revealing any plot spoilers. I’ll only provide a brief synopsis of the story and I’ll discuss the plot and characters featured in the first half hour of the game. I’ll also explain game mechanics introduced later in the game, but I won’t be spoiling how the protagonist obtains these powers.
In Aspire: Ina’s Tale you control Ina, a young woman who needs to escape a mysterious area known as the Tower. Her goal is to get back home, to a town called Kamiura, where she lives with her father. Ina is a priestess and she learned the profession from her father. She had a lot of responsibility in her hometown, from performing prayers, conducting ceremonies in front of people, and even fasting all day.
As she journeys through the Tower she meets a wide variety of characters. You can talk to these NPCs as you travel through different areas, and there are branching dialog options that allow you to respond positively or negatively. Your dialog choices don’t change the story, but it is certainly interesting to see different kinds of responses.
One of the earliest encounters you’ll have in the game are with two NPCs named Thief and Joker, who help explain more about what the Tower is exactly and how Ina can escape it.
These NPCs have a lot of personality, from their artwork to their animations. For example, the Joker acts as flamboyantly as possible and his artwork and animations reflects this. On the other hand, the Thief is extremely reserved. The Thief prefers hiding and not giving away any unnecessary details. As you interact with them more and more, they both slowly open up more to you. There are many other characters you meet along the way, but I’ll leave them all as a surprise for you to meet.
Where the game really shines is in its artwork. All of the characters have very colorful 2D designs. The 2D animations are also very well-made, and you can feel the weight when Ina swings on a rope, as well as when she jumps and lands. You need to take your time when swinging on a rope because you need to build up momentum to jump and land on the next platform. In fact, you need to be careful when jumping from tall heights, otherwise Ina will take extra time to recover which can be dangerous if an enemy is chasing you.
The game is not trying to have the latest graphics of course, it’s just a small indie title. For the scope of what the game is trying to achieve it has a surprising amount of details. One small detail I really liked was how Ina has a reflection off of many kinds of surfaces. There’s areas with dozens of crystals, and as you walk or jump by them you can see Ina’s reflection off of each crystal.
The game has very beautiful backgrounds. As you progress through the game, there are three major areas: the starting area which looks like a utopia that was destroyed, a beautiful garden area which is now unkempt, and a mechanical area meant to feel very cold and industrial. Each of these different settings have their own hazards to watch out for too.
The soundtrack of this game is also very well done. The main theme of the game feels very mysterious, but also relaxing at the same time. The soundtrack really reflects the atmosphere and mood of the game and it kept drawing me in more and more. Many of the tracks in the game feature Asian instruments as well which go well with the cherry blossom garden environment.
Don’t mistake this game’s colorful appearance and fun soundtrack with only happiness though. The game features a lot of lore and backstory, and the game does have many serious plot events and somber moments.
Both Ina and the NPCs have a lot of internal conflict that they need to overcome and you’ll actually get a great plot out of this game.
The gameplay is very addicting, and is also easy for newcomers. Aspire features no combat at all. It’s a 2D puzzle platformer, so a lot of the gameplay involves avoiding obstacles and enemies. You can move around and jump like any other platformer. Sometimes Ina will need to swing on a rope to jump across platforms and Ina can also climb up ladders.
What makes Aspire unique is that you can absorb blue energy to deactivate machines, and you can give the energy back to reactivate them. Many of the puzzles involve finding energy and giving it to a particular door.
Although Ina starts out using blue energy, she will be able to use green and purple energy later in the game which allows her to do different actions. Ina can give energy to certain platforms, which can either increase the size of the object (green energy) or move it vertically or horizontally (purple energy). When you put all of these elements together, the result is very fun puzzles that you need to solve to get through the game.
The game starts off with easy puzzles to get your feet wet, and they get harder as you progress through the story. Even so, the puzzles near the climax of the game don’t get too hard at all. Even the worst puzzle would only take me 5-10 minutes of thinking, and the puzzles in this game are easier than similar indie platformer titles. The puzzles are made in a way such that you can’t permanently mess them up and there are only so many things you can do. It really is meant to be a relaxing game most of the time with a few sections in-between that’ll make you scratch your head.
The game also features plenty of checkpoints that you return to if you die. I’d typically see a checkpoint every 5 minutes or so which was very reasonable. You’ll likely die many times from just exploring, be it from pitfalls or enemies attacking Ina, but it’s easy to try again using the nearby checkpoint.
My only criticism with this game is that it’s a tad short. My playthrough of the game took only three hours and it certainly is possible to beat the game in one sitting. There are a few optional memories of the NPCs you can find throughout the levels (referred to as Stone of Memories) which also contain information regarding lore of the world, but otherwise there aren’t really any collectibles or optional content in the game. Although all of the NPCs were extremely well-made and nuanced, there are only one or two NPCs per region which some people may find to be underwhelming.
As well, the route through the game is very straightforward, with only one branching path per region to collect the optional memories. I do like that the game has a small scope and that it features tightly-woven gameplay, but at the same time there is a lack of substance and there isn’t any reason to go through the game again except to experience the plot again.
Although my criticisms may sound harsh, don’t take it to heart because the game is very charming and fun. I’d say to definitely give this game a try if you like other 2D indie puzzle platformers. Aspire: Ina’s Tale definitely stands tall among other similar games such as Limbo, Inside, or Little Nightmares. If you enjoyed any of those titles I can guarantee you’d enjoy Aspire as well. Aspire is brimming with great artwork and animations, and is really worth a playthrough despite having a few shortcomings.