It has been a year since I first saw 8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure (8Doors) during PAX Online 2020. That seems like such a lifetime away, and we have all experienced our own puzzles and adventures to reach this point (including a city-wide COVID-lockdown that has left me struggling to form a coherent thought). But I am glad I have caught up with my games because 8Doors was worth the wait. My mind has been buzzing with questions: Does it live up to the memory? Is the story complete? Have I inadvertently stepped on the threshold and remained trapped in the world between life and death? And where can I find a talking frog to guide me through 2021?
What is 8Doors?
8Doors is a 2D action platformer based on Korean folk tales of the afterlife, touching on legends like Princess Bari and her search for the flower of resurrection. In 2020, Rootless Studios released a demo to tantalise us from beyond. And it worked. Regular readers may remember 8Doors from my list of Best Video Games for Halloween (2020). It definitely deserves a mention on the upcoming list of More of the Best Video Games for Halloween, with the release of the complete game in 2021. For those who missed my previous article, here’s a quick summary:
Meet Arum, a brave young girl who travels to the Afterlife to find her father’s soul. Arum’s village has been decimated with the mysterious deadly phenomenon, taking the life of her father amongst others. To solve the mystery, and possibly save her father, Arum must venture through the eight (8) different areas of purgatory in the Afterlife to find her father’s soul and escape back to the land of the living.
8Doors fits solely into the Metroidvania genre, combining its 2D platform side-scrolling with a complex multi-level labyrinth to capture the ‘Afterlife’ feel. There are plenty of signposts to guide you, however, you don’t want to miss the hidden sections scattered throughout the game. It’s easy to navigate through with the standard controls responding quickly and precisely. Arum can attack, jump, roll, dash, double jump, and wall jump. There are also a bunch of weapons to collect, each with a range of skills and special features. If you love Metroidvania-style games, you are going to love the gameplay for 8Doors.
The levels themselves are a bit trickier to review without giving away too many spoilers. The general exploration of 8Doors is fascinating, enticing, and enjoyable. Individual levels and areas of the map are fun to work through, giving you plenty of opportunities to build your skill base. There is a range of weapons collect as well, with a slight dungeon-crawler style of “here’s a level to practice because you will need this to…” But (and this is a big one) the Boss-battles are ruthless.
This is not the kind of game you go in, smash a few buttons, and hail yourself as the hero. You need to be paying attention. You need to spend a few minutes watching your opponents and learn from them. Note their timing, watch their placement. And then DESTROY THEM with your SKILLZ!! It takes a bit of time but the prep-work in the levels beforehand are designed to help.
Okay, so not everyone wants to play a game where you have to think and fight. Personally, I think the rewards from this are great. I’ll be honest: I am not the greatest gamer in the world. In fact, my gaming life started at age 4 when my GP doctor advised Evil Genius Grandma to buy an Atari 2600 to help with my hand-eye coordination. Yes, I was THAT uncoordinated (and it was the 1980s). It helped a lot but almost 40-years later I still suck. Nevertheless, I enjoy the challenge of mastering timing and coordination with games, like 8Doors. And while I am not going to speedrun the game in 6-hours, I gained some happy hormone boosts when I finally defeated Daredemian, the spirit tree in the burning garden (watch out for the seed pods it shoots–those things hurt!)
8Doors Looks Gorgeous
Now on to the graphics. This game is visually stunning to play. All of the characters are drawn by hand using frame by frame animation. I love the black/white/red palette and the ink-painting style. It adds a real folklore legendary feel to the graphics. The caricatures are a little more on the cartoonish side but this softens the blow from the graphical violence, which there is a fair bit. Maybe it is the splash of red making the kills really stand out but I’m definitely not letting the 8-year-old play this.
Set in the Afterlife, there are various levels of darkness and mood settings. While there are some great tools to help alleviate this (including a big lightstick thing which I felt came a little too late in the game), the majority of the time it is a reminder that you are in Land of the Dead. It also makes it easier to hide some cool secret passageways and treasure troves. Exploring this underworld is possibly the sweetest joy of this game. A sudden door here could lead to a new weapon; a chance encounter there has upgraded your skillset. It is worthwhile taking the time to venture around–don’t worry about dear old-dad and his cursed soul. He’ll wait.
Each of the characters is based on Korean traditional folk tales (Rootless Studio is located in Seoul). Arum’s adventure includes catching a number of fugitive souls who have escaped the usual confines and need to be ‘redirected’ back to the hotel, where they wait for judgement and their transit beyond. Many of them will share secrets and valuable information. It’s not necessary to catch all of them but there is a real sense of completionism when you do–plus they each give a bit of insight into Korean legends of the Afterlife.
Of all the characters, my favorite is still the talking frog–Ducroak, a frog familiar with a floppy hat and a wicked attitude. Ducroak is a great partner for Arum, helping out with travel, extra strength and the essential teleport into set checkpoints. He’s cute, he snarks, and I love him.
8Doors – The Eulogy
8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure takes no prisoners and is not afraid to remind you of that frequently. It is a beautiful game and a challenge (in a good way), without being a lengthy game requiring endless hours of playtime. However, it will demand your attention and your time before it releases its secrets. The rewards are worth it, with multiple endings depending on how you complete the game. What, you thought the Afterlife would be easy on you? Even the frog is not that naive.
If you’re a fan of Metroidvania and willing to put in the work, 8Doors is definitely high up on the list. It’s right up there with Hollow Knight and Hades, if you don’t mind dying a few times to get there (a common theme across these three games).
8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure is available for around $20 on Steam and Gog.
4 out of 5 talking frogs