Title: Strayed Lights
Release Date: April 25th, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox Series X/S and One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Reviewed on: Steam Deck
Embers Games is an nine person development team whose debut title is Strayed Lights, an atmospheric action-adventure with enlightening themes. This team brought Strayed Lights to PAX East 2023 and was a part of PAX Rising.
Please note: a key was provided by Embers for this review.
Strayed Lights cultivates a simple premise–with no dialogue or written objective–and yet, the game serves deep and complex meaning. You play as a being of light who battles with their inner demons and sense of imbalance. This is represented by a shadowy version of yourself that you battle at the beginning and the end of your journey as you achieve your highest sense of self. A blue or orange light emanates from your character, and you utilize your abilities to swap between the two to battle though shadowy enemies and save others who are also lost in personal strife.
Strayed Lights elegantly portrays one’s life journey through existential challenges that we all face. Everyone struggles, and although not always in the same manner, once we are consumed by conflict, we are off-balance, and when we are off-balance, we become lost to the world around us.
Graphics and Sound
I can easily say that one of the best things about Strayed Lights is the gorgeous imagery and sound. The use of certain color palettes are very much intentional, and it also allows a form of story telling that does not require words. For example, you and other beings like you are humanoid shells filled with blue or orange light. However, we also see other beings are that glisten in gold/yellow light, signifying their transcendance. Enemies also flash orange and blue; however, they also glow purple during an attack that cannot be parried. The environment is bathed in pastel colors, mostly shades of purple.
The music is composed by Austin Wintory. His resume includes work with Journey, The Banner Saga series, and Abzu, and his style is palpable during each level of this game. Austin’s style fit perfectly in Strayed Lights, and this is one soundtrack that I would pick up.
The gameplay mechanics are straightforward. You can run/dodge, jump, and use a special attack. One of the key components that make Strayed Lights unique is that the battle system almost exclusively relies on parrying your enemies’ attack. Moreover, you must match the same color presented by the enemy during the parry. This is a unique spin in battle (although you can sneak in some melee attacks too). Not only do matching parry attacks chip away at the enemy’s health, but it can also restore yours.
If you explore the levels, you will encounter rings of light that will help upgrade your affinity to energy, and defeating enemies will allow you to upgrade your abilities. Some abilities include increased health, temporarily suspending the requirement to match colors when fighting, and temporarily paralyzing your opponent. You can even add in a strong attack after a series of successful parries. The upgrades prevent the parry system from becoming stale, and the collectable rings of light motivate you to explore the world a little more.
Each “level” or area holds a theme, whether its in a forest, a canyon, or even a fantasy-like castle. Each contain a slew of shadow creatures with their unique attack styles and a multi-stage boss at the end. The twist is that each “boss” is actually another light being that is imbalanced. Struggling. Each carry their own unique struggle that we can relate to. I won’t spoil them all, but I will comment that my favorite was the one stuck in a dream. There were even NPCs that sat around, staring into what appears to be illusions. Quite an amazing metaphor. The boss took the form of a moth, and it was a delightful battle sequence.
When you whittle down the boss’ health, a QTE event will trigger–usually by mashing “X” and then simultaneously holding RT and LT. These QTEs unleash an impressive cinematic experience, although I noticed the controls are very forgiving. My timing was off on a few occasions, and I was not punished for it. While some gamers may lift an eyebrow at this, I appreciated the generous window knowing that perfect combat is not the true focus of Strayed Lights.
One thing I did notice was the lack of map. At first, I was concerned as sometimes battling with enemies would disorient me and the direction I was headed. While I praised the art style above, the various shades of pastel colors also fed into the disorientation. I really wish I had a map to track my progress, and detail places I have yet to discover. However, I will note that the level design was such that I ultimately didn’t “need” a map. I found a decent amount of collectables and never was lost for more than a few seconds. There were also subtle land markers such as hanging grass or “scratch marks” that hint at where you can jump or climb around.
Strayed Lights is steeped in deep themes on balance and enlightenment and walks the player through the experience without a single word. Sweeping colors and soul-moving music paint the backdrop as you utilize a unique parry battle system to rescue others…and yourself.
The levels are relatively short and collectables are kept simple while keeping the emphasis on overall player experience. Sometimes the simplicity did pull me from the experience at times, such as lack of map or indicators of where to go or what to do next; however, I still made it to the end and throughoughly enjoyed Strayed Lights.
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Featured Image Source: Embers