Developer: Adglobe, Live Wire
Publisher: Binary Haze Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Release Date: 7 July 2021
Price: $24.99 USD – Available Here
In the more recent years, there’s been a resurgence of action-adventure games in the “metroidvania” sub-genre. Most of them coming from indie developers through Kickstarter or small unknown publishers. It’s just natural that these game’s focus is on gameplay to the detriment of more modern graphics and sound since the budget simply isn’t there. They’ll normally use pixel-style graphics and chiptune music with varying degrees of emphasis on their art or music, like Blasphemous and Axiom Verge for example. Despite having low production values, some of them are acclaimed titles both amongst critics and players alike. With the successful kickstarter campaign of Bloodstained back in 2015 and its subsequent release in 2019, we took a good look at what a metroidvania using more modern technology and a higher budget would look like. Ender Lillies is one such game that, beyond gameplay quality, also features a more modern presentation. It uses high-resolution, hand-drawn graphics, and even a musical score composed by the Japanese group Mili. Ender Lillies is an action-adventure, dark-fantasy themed game. The graphics use dark shades of colors, and the art and animation have a distinct Vanillaware game feel to it. The developers describe it as a “dark fairy tale” which I think is very fitting; just by looking at some screenshots, you’ll be able to see this instantly. The music also adds a lot to the game’s gloomy feel with moody and sometimes melancholic themes. Ender Lilies was originally released on PC through Steam’s early access program. Releasing as a complete game on June 21 this year. A bit later it was also released for consoles.
Once upon a time… -This is supposed to be a fairy tale, albeit a dark one- there was Land’s End. There lived white priestesses, knights and mages. One day, a rain fell upon the land turning all of it’s inhabitants into undead known as “blighted”. The knights tried to fight the undead horde with help from the priestesses and mages but in the end not a single human remained alive except for a little girl… Lily awakens in a room in a church all alone, or at least she’s the only human remaining in Land’s End. A spectral knight is by her side; one of the few who still retain some manner of conscience. With his help, Lily sets out to find the cause of the rain of death and, possibly, restore Land’s End to its original glory. As you progress through the game, the umbral knight will make remarks on what happened in a given place and will also talk to Lily. Item descriptions also elaborate on the lore a bit. The main story parts are memories that are triggered when Lily meet certain characters. The story is told in a minimalistic but meaningful fashion and tries not to interrupt the flow of the game.
As Lily, the player will explore the different areas of Land’s End while collecting items, learning more about the story and dispatching enemies in your way. Things start slow and easy but the pace picks up fast with the addition of some traps and enemies doing more damage or appearing in larger numbers. You’ll also encounter other types of enemies with different attack patterns and of course huge bosses. Ender Lillies focus isn’t exactly on difficulty: throughout Land’s End, you’ll find resting places that will allow you to save your progress and recharge Lily’s life and abilities among other options. If you die, you’ll go back to the last resting place you visited but will retain all the progress you made including items you collected, chests you opened, etc. You also have the option of returning to these resting places at any time by pausing the game and choosing the corresponding option.
The game was clearly designed to be as accessible as possible. That doesn’t mean the game is a walk in the park. To counterbalance all the advantages you have, enemies do a lot of damage and Lily has a very limited number of life refills. Lily is just a child and has no combat abilities of her own; she can jump or throw herself onto the ground which serves as a dodge. She can also heal herself a small number of times. It’s with the help of spirits that Lily can summon that she is able to dispatch enemies. You begin with only the umbral knight as your ally, and as you defeat more powerful enemies, they will also lend their help to Lily granting new attacks and abilities. Think of the spirits as weapons you can equip. You begin with two sets of three slots each. In each of these slots, you can equip a spirit allowing Lily to command them to attack with the press of one of the face buttons. That means the player can potentially have six different attacks at their disposal as it’s possible to change between sets instantaneously with just a press of a button. This gives a lot of dynamism to the combat as you are able to not only customize your arsenal but also change it as needed on the fly.
The flow of the game is as you’d expect from a title like this. It combines action, platforming and light RPG elements. As you explore the game’s many areas, you’ll come across items like relics that can be equipped and will give some type of bonus. Other items will be used to level up your spirits and are normally located after discovering a secret passage or after acquiring a certain ability. This dynamic of exploration, discovery, overcoming challenges and acquiring that new skill or item so you can access a previously unreachable place is very rewarding and will hook fans of adventure and action games.
Ender Lilies uses hand drawn art. I love this type of look in videogames so I may be a bit biased when I say it’s the best looking metroidvania I played to this day. The animations follow this same standard of excellence with a lot of frames in each jump and attack. In some moments, it’ll look like a painting in motion. Not everything are lilies though; some areas can be very simple looking and the overall dark color scheme of the game may make it a little bit difficult to appreciate the finer details. It’s still a delight visually and certainly one of the most beautiful 2d games in any genre.
Audio is another department that Ender Lilies excels at. The soundtrack was composed by a Japanese group called Mili. Every area has its own theme like games of old used to have. The music, as the overall look and themes of the game also has that somber feel to it but isn’t limited to only gloominess; there’s also more varied pieces as the soundtrack tries to fit the area you’re in. The witches domain for example has a very pleasant magic adventure type of theme while the desolated village plays a calm and soothing tune, even featuring female vocals like it’s trying to lull the departed citizens to their eternal rest. That song in particular is my favorite: it elicited in me calmness and also melancholy. Changing my mood in a matter of seconds. I’m not afraid to say that it almost made me cry sometimes. I believe that any piece of media that is able to make you feel, doesn’t matter what emotion, is certainly something special but when a videogame is capable of doing this it certainly warms my soul. The sound effects also play their part well with nice weather and battle sound effects; the sounds of weapons swinging and hitting enemies are satisfying enough.
I personally didn’t expect Ender Lilies to have the impact it had on me. I had a bad habit of looking at most indie games with some skepticism. It’s not unjustified, at least not for me as many indie titles that looked promising ended up disappointing me. Ender Lilies shows that when care and passion is put in a game, something truly special might come out.
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