One look at Strayed Lights had me interested. With a fairly minimal approach to storytelling and a parry-based combat system, I was anticipating something unique. Whilst it does try to plough it’s own furrow, Embers’ effort has me a little underwhelmed. Visually appealing, the sparse narrative and forgiving fights have me wishing there was something more to this.
The story is incredibly minimal and told without dialogue. The game begins with your character going through a literal infancy. As a child you’re quickly shown the ropes of combat by a sibling in a tutorial which, for a short game, perhaps goes on a little long. As the game progresses, more siblings are uncovered, some who offer resistance as part of your journey. These become the main boss fights of the experience with your aim to soothe your brothers and sisters before credits roll and you reach maturity.
I would liken the storytelling to something like Journey. Whilst the combat can provide some adversity and the world is largely hostile, it doesn’t feel like it covers much ground. There’s plenty of siblings dotted around to give you company but, for the most part, the world seems pretty desolate. There is one instance of greenery but I sense a real lack of diversity in the landscape. There is a rites of passage to Strayed Lights that I just don’t think is sold as strongly as it could be.
Combat is based heavily around parries. Whilst you do have a standard attack you can dish out, the best way to gain meter is to parry incoming attacks of the correct colour. As such, combat becomes fairly passive. I often find myself standing stationary and waiting for attacks to come in. There are a few abilities you can unlock which can dish out further damage. However, these are limited and I typically only used them to get a head start on an enemy or finish a fight quickly.
On paper, the combat sounds interesting as you look to react to opponents and match the right colours but, particularly with the standard enemies, there’s not that much challenge to it. I liken it to fighting a traffic light as every fight devolves into a game of Simon Says. Boss fights don’t extrapolate things further with those larger fights becoming more a test of patience and pattern recognition. It doesn’t have the potential for frustration like a traditional souls-like but it’s too thinly constructed to really engross me.
Platforming does get a mild chance to shine. Your character has a generous jump although only designated spots can be clambered upon. They’re easily signified by overhanging moss and scratch marks are used to show ledges that can be sidled along. It’s very simple but the branching nature of the environments allow for exploration. Collectibles sometimes require some verticality to grab and that does deliver downtime between the fights.
It’s not a difficult game to master. Parries are telegraphed well and parrying the wrong colour isn’t penalised beyond not adding to your special meter. You’ll take no damage, as long as it’s timed well. I don’t see the windows as tight, although the switching of the colours means you’re probably best off figuring out patterns rather than spamming the parry button.
Enemies come in a few varieties but none of them are especially complex. They repeat fairly often and the only fodder fights I found to be tricky involved multiple enemies. You won’t get anything more hectic than a two-on-one fight but trying to manage two enemies with different parry patterns can be a handful. Thankfully, additional abilities like a charge or stun can give those encounters a lot more breathing room.
I’d consider Strayed Lights‘ combat fairly forgiving. Defeated enemies stay dead and successful parries allow for health to be regained. There’s plenty of room for error and I never felt I had too much to manage. Defeating enemies gives you upgrade points to unlock extra health and expand your arsenal whilst fallen bosses give up another currency to upgrade your special abilities. It’s a simple, small skill tree that is likely to be maxed out when the credits roll.
I find the visuals to be pretty interesting. Whilst most of the world is baked in a bleak, purple hue, there’s moments of beauty. There’s a lot of cool lighting on offer and some wispy mist that gets occasionally trotted out. I’d recommend keeping this on performance settings as the quality settings really hammer the frame-rate. In a game like this, I prefer smoothness of movements over fidelity.
Combat can look flashy with plenty of bloom burning into the screen from elemental attacks. Parries come with a satisfying audio cue and distinctive visual pop. Whilst the siblings can look rather identical, there’s a couple of flourishes used to give them some personality. The soundtrack, as low-key as it is, does populate the background with some sombre tones. I don’t get a lot of bombast from it but the boss fights have enough intensity on their own.
It’s bizarre to see Strayed Lights as something that’s committing to a style whilst lacking in punches to throw. It begins strongly enough but I suspect the minimalist narrative has turned me off. Experiences like this offer the player a chance to fill the gaps but I don’t think there’s much behind the curtain. The combat is an interesting take on parrying but it doesn’t fill me with threat or incentives to master it. The inspirations are clear to see but I’m just reminded how better executed it is elsewhere.
+ Combat is fairly forgiving.
+ Mixing parries with colour-coded mechanics is an interesting concept.
+ Runs smoothly and paced well.
- Not much enemy variety.
- Maintains a fairly murky palette with very few moments of brightness.
- Bosses can ultimately feel like you're fighting a traffic light.
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