Solid Aether

If you missed the last post, I decided to start doing weekly masterposts pointing at games that were sent to my inbox that I thought were worthwhile but didn’t have the time or competent enough computer to play.

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And Solid Aether was one of them! Solid Aether is a shoot em’ up by FAL Works (or just FAL), aiming to be a bullet hell with minimalist aesthetics. Characters and bullets are represented as simple black shapes, there is no complex scoring system –  just the core, shoot em’ up experience.

The difficulty of Solid Aether is in an interesting place. As with many bullet hells, the game starts out easy but becomes harder as the enemies get more relentless and boss bullet patterns turn more intricate. In stripping game elements down, there are no bombs or any readily available form of bullet canceling, so you’ll have to be dodging bullets by pure skill alone.

That said, the game is generally easy. Health, represented by a series of shield like sigils around your character when you get hit, is easy to get. When you shoot a number of enemies and at the end of each boss phase, assuming you haven’t maxed out your health, another sigil gets added on. As such, unless you’re stuck on a boss, it’s easy to pick yourself back up. Initially, I honestly thought that you had unlimited lives with how generous the game is.

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If you dislike the generosity, you can try your hand at endless mode, where that health doesn’t regenerate. A contemplative piano tune sets the stage as you go through a never ending gauntlet of enemies with increasingly dangerous bullet patterns, making for a strange meditative experience as you try to kill as many enemies as possible.

I’m not sure how expert bullet hell players would approach this game, as its minimalist design takes away a lot of the depth that players may look for, since the scoring systems are pretty much just “how many enemies you killed” and “how long you survived/took to beat the boss.” However, what the game feels perfect for is newcomers to the genre. With the generous life system, new players could get acquainted with the core bullet hell experience in a low consequence environment. Sure, it doesn’t have fancy power-ups or flashy bosses, but when you’re getting into something new, you sometimes just need the basics.

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The screenshots is pretty much all you can expect from the visuals: minimalist and clean, bullets impossible to miss. As for the soundtrack, I went in expecting a whole bunch of calm songs to go along with the visuals, something along the lines of Space Moth. It actually defied my expectations, because while there are a few subdued songs, there’s an upbeat variety chosen for the soundtrack.  Like Stage 3, which has this club song while the boss for that level has a jazzy piano remix of it. In general, a lot of the songs act as an energetic contrast to the looks, which I feel unifies it with the bullet hell action.

“But wait, Dari,” a longtime reader might ask, “you didn’t like Danmaku Unlimited 2‘s style, why do you like Solid Aether‘s?” See, while Solid Aether has a simple style… it actually is a style and it commits to it. Danmaku Unlimited 2 in the meantime is pretty much an archetypal spaceship shooter and has no style, as okay of a game as it is.

In fact, despite the minimalist looks, Solid Aether‘s levels have some degree of personality to them, enforced by music choice and enemy attacks. The second level, for instance, has the theme of a rainy day, the level starting up to the sound of rain and the level proper having calming music; the enemies attack in short streaking lines like rain and fire circular patterns like water ripples, with the boss (shown above) firing a downpour. Honestly, props to FAL Works for managing to give the levels personality within this style.

Solid Aether is a bullet hell game stripped down to the core experience while offering a generous life system, creating something accessible to newcomers of the genre. However, for those very reasons, I’m not sure if long time fans would be into it beyond as a passing curiosity. As for me, I enjoyed it, because I’m still just alright at these games and I appreciate the game’s style.

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