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This page includes some jargon that hasn't been added to the site's glossary yet. I'll be around to fix this later, but sorry for the inconvenience in the meantime.

Review: Aquaria

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Ages 13 and up
Genre: Metroidvania
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2007
Reviewed Version: 1.12
Review Published On: August 27th, 2016
Played on: Martha

Available from:

Steam, Aquaria's Homepage

Save System:

There is no autosave feature. Instead, you need to find and interact with one of the many large red crystals found throughout the game's world.

To pause your game, bring up the inventory menu by pressing ESC.

Summary of
Major Issues:

Creatures in Aquaria regularly eat one another, as you'd expect in a ecosystem or food chain.

However, the real offensive content comes from the game's story, which includes things like cannibalism and blasphemy.

Screenshots

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A peaceful day in Naija's home waters

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Some fleshy growths in Mithalis

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Naija (in Nature form) and Li exploring the Kelp Forest



Game Overview

The Verse flows throughout Aquaria; Through each ripple and wave, through every living being.
The Verse binds us all as one; The Verse binds us, Narrator and Explorer.
My story will become your own; And yours will become mine.
You will live my life through my eyes, and you will learn the Truth.


With those opening words, we enter the world of Aquaria, one of the more interesting Metroidvanias I've come across. In this game, you're not controlling some powerful space marine, nor are you wearing some ability enhancing exosuit. You control Naija, a fragile and relatively innocent mermaid. Her curiosity is what led to this grand adventure, and it's also what ultimately takes away that innocence.

Now, I've decided to label this game as a Metroidvania because it fits the general theme of that sort of game. One of the hallmarks of a Metroidvania game is that you explore a world, and as you gain new abilities, you can open new pathways to explore. This is exactly how things work in Aquaria, but unlike nearly every other Metroidvania out there, Aquaria isn't a platformer. Since this game takes place underwater, you can have Naija swim in any direction or simply float in the current. Being able to move in any direction does have its drawbacks though: since you can swim wherever you want, so can anything else in the game. That means threats can come from any direction at any time and you'll need to be prepared to swim away quickly should something unfriendly pass by.

Of course, Naija isn't entirely helpless. She can manipulate the world around her by harmonizing with the Verse. Each song has a unique effect, and in some cases, you can affect the world around Naija by holding a specific note. Several of the more important songs manipulate the Verse in such a way that it transforms Naija's body, giving her a new form with new abilities. Three of these are extremely combat-oriented, so you'll be seeing a lot of them. But, should you wish to, there is also a song to restore her original form.

It's worth checking this one out, especially if you like Metroidvanias in general or games that are driven by their stories. However, as good as this game is, it does touch on some very dark topics, including things like cannibalism and blasphemy, making it unfit for younger gamers.

Points of Interest

Impressive graphics and soundtrack
Everything in Aquaria is alive. All of the environments are teeming with fish and other marine life. In fact, each area has many unique creatures living there. Some of the animals inhabit more than one part of the world, and they frequently take on attributes of the local area. The sea horses are an excellent example of this, as they are fairly large and therefore harder to miss.

The music is particularly worth mentioning. Since this game is heavily focused on a magical song, it stands to reason that the soundtrack was given a lot of attention by the creators. In addition to being incredibly atmospheric, there's a remix of a key sequence of notes (the Verse itself) found in nearly every song.
Learn to read and write Aquarian!
If you want to have a little extra fun, try translating the ancient glyphs written on walls, signs and structures throughout the game. While these appear to be random scribbles, they are actually readable English phrases that have been written in a strange and alien font. Most of the time the written words just echo what Naija will discover in the game's cutscenes, so this is entirely optional.
Plenty of collectibles and secrets
There are dozens of treasures hidden throughout the world. When you find them, they'll be teleported to Naija's home, where they can be seen as furnishings. A few of these secrets are alternate costumes that she can wear in her normal form, and a few of those even have useful side effects!

And there's even more out there. If you keep looking, you'll find many hidden places, bonus bosses, and even an underwater race course. Finding every hidden place isn't easy, but there is a surprise waiting for the more thorough explorers: if you can find three lost memories, you'll unlock a secret ending. Unfortunately, because there was never a sequel to follow up on this epilogue, it becomes something of a mindscrew that was totally unnecessary.
Many achievements to earn
As one would expect from a game on Steam, there's a number of achievements you can earn. A few are the typical achievements you get from progressing in the game, but some involve unusual actions like eating a parrot, jumping from a very high ledge, or poking a monkey in the bum with a cactus. Completionists beware though: some of these achievements become impossible to earn if you do the wrong things during a playthrough!
It's easy to end up in bad situations
Thanks to the number of bonus bosses and the fact that many of them are hidden in areas you're likely to explore, it's likely that you'll accidentally trigger some deadly fights that you weren't expecting, leading to a prompt game over. One of these can even be encountered before Naija has learned any offensive abilities.
Denied sequel
The secret ending opens a lot of questions as it sets things up for a sequel. While one seems to have originally been planned, it doesn't look like it'll ever happen as the team that made Aquaria broke up and went their separate ways long ago.

Concerns and Issues

Mildly suggestive outfits
Naija's default outfit is just a bikini with a cape. It does cover everything, but some parents would probably prefer something more modest. A costume found near the end of the game is a more revealing bikini, though like the default outfit, it still covers everything without being too questionable. On the other hand, there's a wearable suit of armor that can be found near the beginning of the game. That outfit covers just about everything.
Kill or be killed
Despite how much Aquaria looks like an underwater paradise, something will always be trying to kill Naija. Since she can be killed pretty easily, you need to keep healing items around, and you get those by killing fish or other creatures. Basically, everybody needs to eat, and everybody else is on the menu.
Magic by another name
The Verse is basically an all-encompassing energy field that can be manipulated to create magical effects. These include lifting objects, transforming Naija into various new forms and eventually even grant a human the ability to breathe underwater.
Interspecies Romance
Speaking of the human, over the course of the story, Naija will meet and fall in love with a human named Li. Their bond ends up being a key part of their victory in the end, and in the game's ending it's revealed that they will living together happily ever after with their son. Don't over think it.
Special crystals interact with spirits
Throughout the game you'll encounter two types of crystals in the world. The larger red crystals are the more common ones, and Naija's narration explains that these store the spirit of anyone that touches them. This is just weaving the save feature into the game's lore, but it's a bit creepy.

The other type of crystal is blue and allows Naija to project her spirit outside of her body for a short time. Which is also creepy.
Mild gore
Some areas, most notably the areas around Mithalis, are covered in organic, fleshy growths. Learning why this is actually makes it more disturbing. Check the screenshot above for an example of what it looks like, and move on to the next item for the explanation.
Cannibalism and sacrifice
A previous civilization sought to grant themselves eternal life. Their method of choice was to drain the life forces out of people they declared to be "heretics". Once that was done, they force-fed the lifeless bodies to their god. This eventually led to their god becoming little more than an animal, and as it became corrupted, so did the area, as growths spread forth from his prison.

For an extra helping of disturbing thoughts, consider that in this game every race was brought into existence by their respective god. This means that this god was being forced to eat his own children, and in the end he became so corrupted by the practice that he began to enjoy it.
There's a reference to drug abuse
Most of the time, different foods heal Naija's injuries or provide her with a buff of some sort. However, there's a rarely found rainbow colored mushroom that basically causes her to experience a bad drug trip. The place where the mushroom is found has some writing on the wall, and translating it reveals that the person that gathered the shrooms could only find release through the mushroom's hallucinogenic effects.

Obviously this won't help you progress in the game (the effects even leave you wide open to any attack), so the only reason you'd actually cook with these mushrooms is if you wanted to see the freaky result or earn the achievement for finding every recipe.[/]
Slaying "gods"
As you might have noticed from the above paragraphs, there are a number of gods in Aquaria. To progress in the game, Naija needs to defeat the gods of the four major extinct races. Ultimately, she'll confront and kill the higher god known as the Creator. This isn't framed as an anti-religious message, as she is either fighting for her own survival or cleaning up messes that resulted from some severe hubris. In fact, the god that was corrupted by evil followers actually blesses her for ending his misery.
Naija begins to fear for her own soul
As she becomes increasingly powerful, Naija begins to openly worry that her new and destructive powers will corrupt her, stripping her of the innocence and purity she originally possessed. This is emphasized by the way she'll start to giggle to herself if you use certain power to kill a lot of things quickly.
Anti-Christian thread in the plot?
One of the key elements of the overarching plot is that the Creator made a number of intelligent beings, gave them free will, and then turned around and punished them harshly for using it. This is also a common complaint about Christianity; specifically the nature of sin and Hell.

I doubt this was the intended interpretation of the game's story (as it's overly simplistic and ignores may other points) but the similarity is there.