The African continent doesn't show up in video games a lot. And when it does, it's often shown in an exoticized way that makes it seem foreboding and dangerous. But an indie development team from Cameroon is going for something different: an action-RPG that draws on African fashion, music and myth for a saga aiming to be epic.
Created by dev studio Kiro'o Games, Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan focuses on Enzo and Erine, a newly crowned king and queen out to defend their fictional homeland of Zama from a coup d'etat. With its focus on mystically augmented combat and increasing power levels, the plot unfolding in Aurion is pure fantasy. But, as Dragonball Z as it all feels, Aurion is clearly drawing on cultures and beliefs from the continent, transmuting them into a fictional universe all its own. You can see me play through the public demo of the game in the video below.
Kiro'o means "spiritual vision" in Swahili and the sense of mission comes across strongly when studio founder Oliver Madiba talks about Aurion. "In Aurion, with the story scenario, there's a symbolic analogy between the trials of Enzo and Erine and the common history of Africa and our place in the stakes of the world," he told me over email his week. [Note: Madiba isn't a native English speaker and I've edited his responses for clarity.] "There's a universal wisdom to be found in the fact that trials like these show the real humanity of people. For example, Enzo's battle gear is a [re-imagined] Masai tunic. When you look at some Aurion's NPCs, you can identify various clothes inspired by many people: the Touareg (Mali), the Yoruba (Nigeria), the Peulh (Cameroon, Chad, etc.). There are a lot of examples but the game's history remains a fantasy."
Madiba also said that influences from outside Africa were part of the creative process for Aurion, too. "The idea was to create an RPG with a 'shonen-like' story," he offered. "The Aurion energy was already based on linking with ancestors, which is something very common in most African traditions." The game takes place on a world called Auriona, premised on the idea of an Africa that evolved in a different way.
"Auriona is based on a fantasy view of what Africa may have been if we weren't colonised, but it is really another world with another cosmogony (not a Big Bang)," Madiba offers. He says they imagined another world based on the Middle Ages: no electricity, no Industrial Revolution and a lot of magic. "The main idea was to create the lore of the game with another set of mind. We wanted the team not to focus on technological evolution but on 'artisanal evolution.' The goal was to imagine the kind of problems a world based on African countries' inner conflicts and philosophies may have, while keeping it interesting for non-African players too."
Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign this week and Madiba went on to say that Kiro'o wants to help foster game development on the continent with the aim of becoming a publisher by 2025. He'd love to have Africans playing, making and exporting Africa-made games, as well as helping titles from around the world find footing in the region's markets.
When I asked Madiba if he felt like it was his duty to dispel any misconceptions about Africa, he said yes. And no. "Yes, because we really want people to see Africa not as the "land of problems" but as "the land of challenges"," he replied. "You know, if reality were a large MMORPG, then Africa [would be] for the hardcore gamers. But, seriously, we want people in Africa and around the world to get inspired by our story as developers." Kiro'o operates in a part of the world where power outages are common. Madiba wants people to know that their efforts in creating Aurion come from overcoming difficulties that many other game-makers don't face.
The 'no' part of Madiba's response speaks to a desire to first and foremost make a good game. "It is not a duty of [one] game to change [how people see] an entire continent," he said. "The duty of this game is to have good story and good gameplay. That is our only purpose as game creators."