AIKODE reveals a paradigm shift in indie game development and the demo has me reeling

I’m a simple man. I’ve come to take a strange kind of solace in knowing what to expect from the gaming scene. Behemoth studios pump out slick, albeit somewhat predictable works of graphical splendor, while indie studios provide a more experimental approach to projects on a smaller scale. Oftentimes, they draw on more personal ideas too, rather than cookie-cutter, low-risk ventures. Occasionally I am taken by surprise by a gem from either side of the line, but at the end of the day, I’ve come to know what to expect.

A paradigm shift in indie games

As of late however, there has been a paradigm shift in the industry where hungry gaming fans are provided with unexpected but juicy new developments. Several indie studios have outsold giants in terms of sales numbers. Palworld is one such example, and even though it’s left much controversy in its wake, with its resemblance to Pokémon, it shows us that the industry never really grows stagnant and keeps finding new ways to surprise us. Where droves of new indie devs join the rat race to compete with AAA gaming, AIKODE by developer ACE provides us with the next wave in this ever expanding paradigm shift.

I recently had the pleasure of booting up the game’s demo, and the words “this is not a work of fiction” drifted across the screen. But if it’s not a work of fiction, then what exactly is AIKODE? It’s a game that refuses to be put in a box or labeled a certain way. It provides a vexing but captivating experience unlike most others in its space. Were I forced to define it anyway the phrase “three indie games in a trench coat disguising themselves as a triple A game” comes to mind. 

The game’s demo is dazzling

As the busy streets of Shibuya materialize around me, the remarkable graphical fidelity is dazzling. It bears all the hallmarks of a high budget game, yet aside from some translation work, it’s developed entirely by one person!. AIKODE follows the story of Aiko and her mysterious guide who we only know as “The Puppet”. She is an artificial human who bears the memories of her deceased creator. Players will control her – as well as a variety of other mysterious characters – on her quest. What that entails, however, remains to be seen as the narrative in the demo paints many more questions than answers at this point due to its philosophical nature, but ACE has been drip-feeding us new information since the game’s conception in 2020.

AIKODE is ambitious as hell

Despite this, the more gameplay we are presented with the more the aforementioned trench coat slips off and we see what the indie game underneath is all about. AIKODE wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and at its core it is a Nier Automata inspired game, complete with its sense of mystical pseudo science. Peppered throughout its lengthy screen time AIKODE implements flashy Hack and slash combat interjected with a pseudo-philosophical story that will leave you both confused and delighted. So far, the aforementioned combat segments are interjected with beautiful cutscenes advancing the story.

Having uncovered the game for what it is brings back that strange feeling of solace. I once again know what to expect, even though most of my playthrough was pretty trippy. That familiar yet experimental approach to games that we’ve come to expect from the indie scene asserts itself here through a variety of strange, but intriguing gameplay mechanics. So far we’ve seen our character soaring through the hills on mystical wings of light, racing around on a motorbike and hacking and slashing her way through hordes of enemies. We’ve also been presented with slice-of-life elements such as decorating a house, getting a part-time job and engaging in romantic relationships with NPC’s. It shares many of the same hallmarks of games such as Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, and adding such a wide variety of content could prove tricky to get right – especially for a one-man team – but it’s not impossible. 

In the end, whether AIKODE succeeds in its lofty aspirations will remain to be seen, but we at Indie Game Mode can’t wait to see what the final product will look like, and how it will change the future of indie games.

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