This may well be called a replica, as the term ‘inspired by’ is more than a little tame. If Airoheart were on the SNES, it would be comparable to Link to the Past the same way Secret of Evermore is to Secret of Mana. Capturing the retro feel, this game is pretty much exactly what it looks like.
In some ways this has expanded on the game it is heavily based on, while it starts with someone talking in your mind it’s clear this has much more story to it, and considerably more dialogue. It feels like it delivers a story that isn’t much deeper than Zelda’s, but definitely takes a lot longer to tell, though I can’t really say that’s a bad or good thing and may be up to the individual. Without talking about late game story, the early part has you collecting pendants to prevent your brother from resurrecting an evil sorcerer, while it’s implied that the voice in your head is trying to seduce you with their power and may not be looking out for your best interests.
There are several other characters, a war with some bigotry attached, draft dodgers, a love story and your grandpa goes missing though these are very much on the side and are largely ignored throughout the main story which has you going through five dungeons on the map initially… but yes, that does basically mean the story’s about stopping an ancient evil sorcerer from being brought back to life by collecting pendants, I wonder how they thought that one up.
In combat, you have a sword and shield, the latter of which is actively used for projectiles which are a regular threat in the game between foes and traps. You also have the ability to cycle easily between your items, which include bombs, bow and arrow, and your magic staff. Unfortunately, while there’s a left and right cycle for these abilities, you still have to go to your menu to cycle through your spells and it feels like one of the cycling buttons should have been used for your spell types, as they include utility spells used for dungeon traversal, such as one which behaves like a grapple hook.
As well, there’s a dodge roll for both combat and for crossing small holes, all in all the combat feels well evolved and there are definitely the traps, puzzles and battles that take advantage of these options. Provided you are able to spot the offending projectiles, as the game is a bit darker and it’s tougher to see these things. While the game being either easy or challenging will be up to the player, compared to Zelda I think this is a pretty objective spike up in difficulty; as hit boxes seem a bit bigger than models, foes tend to be more numerous and faster, and perhaps most importantly objects like bushes tend to drop only angry wasps and never hearts, and foes rarely drop items too. Health in particular being nowhere near as generous is extremely noticeable, and attrition in dungeons is far more of a threat.
Visually, this feels like a knockoff, even things like heavy rocks look almost the same as in Link to the Past, but it feels like it’s through a filter that make things darker and dirtier, not having anywhere near the vibrant crisp colour of the earlier game. That isn’t to say the game looks bad, and perhaps this bit of differentiation is a good thing in some sense as the overall similarities may appeal to some, but be a complaint to others. Both dungeon rooms and overworld areas are often fairly large and don’t fit to one screen, which makes everything feel a lot larger though not necessarily more dense, and it also means for some puzzles you don’t get all the information at a glance while travelling and exploring this can become inconvenient. Overall, this feels fairly minor in terms of gripes, and if you want something similar to Zelda but new, this is the game that does that. It does seem at a glance to be shorter, but dungeons and side areas are fairly large and provide enough to make this a decent length game, I could easily see being 10-20 hours depending on completion.
Airoheart is a solid SNES retro game, a must play for those who have a craving for that era. Tougher, with a bit more story and with much less light, most of the differences will appeal based on individual taste and most areas that differ might be worse or better depending on the player. Personally, I prefer the original, and at the very least I can say Link to the Past’s soundtrack is far more memorable.