Traveling around a world and examining everything it has to offer is nothing new when it comes to adventure games but what if, instead of a standard human, players explored the world as a variety of animals? Long have games that featured playable animals felt like a special little addition but Lost Ember does more than simply offer it as a side-attraction, it is instead the core focus. With players taking on the role of a wolf but stepping into a variety of other creatures all while on a journey of discovery, is Lost Ember worth exploring?
Lost Ember sets the stage by explaining that the Yanrana people have had a longstanding cultural belief that when they pass away their souls move onto the City of Light. Unfortunately a wandering soul finds itself trapped within a barrier with no way to find a way to the afterlife and after attempting to communicate with the various living creatures around it, the soul manages to speak with a wolf. This wolf is also a lost soul who has seemingly been banished from the City of Light and has accepted her fate with no memory of her time as a human.
Choosing to follow the lost soul, the Wolf immediately discovers its previous name and begins a journey that shatters the barriers blocking the soul from moving through the world all while revealing more and more memories about the fate of the wolf. These memories range from heartwarming initially before breaking that heart as numerous terrible truths are revealed through narration by the lost soul and fully voiced artistic scenes. That being said, while the story does pack a solid emotional punch, it quickly becomes apparent what certain twists will occur in the latter half of the game. In fact, past the initial negative memory it will likely be clear what route Lost Ember will take and while this doesn’t hamper the story too badly, it is a bit too predictable.
At its core Lost Ember is all about exploration. There are no enemies to fight and the only puzzles that the player has to solve is how to get to the next location to progress the story and of course collecting plenty of little collectibles scattered throughout the map. To do this they will be making use of the wolf’s special ability to possess other animals that live in the world. While the wolf is fast and able to make small leaps, there are plenty of other creatures far better suited for exploring certain areas and that is where the game’s body changing mechanic shines.
While things start off a bit simple, with players being introduced to a wombat that can roll around and fit through small holes, to a duck that can fly through the air, the options begin to open up as there are numerous little places in every area that players can explore with various creatures. Tiny tunnels can be explored by smaller creatures such as wombats, moles, and more, high peaks can be reached by using a hummingbird, parrot, and others, and even the waterways are accessible through many different kinds of fish, including catfish but that is only the tip as other larger creatures can also be possessed to tackle certain areas and for the most part, players can choose to navigate around the world however they please, though there are some areas that do require specific animals to progress.
It is a bit unfortunate however that, while it is possible to explore as much as whichever animal you can find and swap into, there are some species that control far worse than others and have some odd limitations like a certain feathered fowl that lacks the ability to fly up. Along those same lines the soul-shifting from any creature to the wolf ends up having its fair share of hiccups and while the game does prevent accidental transformations when underwater, in the air, or underground there were more than a few moments that saw the wolf falling through the ground after shifting out of a creature on flat terrain and even more so when near anything slanted. Also players will need to be wary of taking some animals into locations meant for others as the camera often struggles to stay within the boundary of the map in these cases.
It is nice to note that there are plenty of collectibles for players to track down and this helps give the game’s explorative element far more weight as many of these collectibles are very well hidden, even when using the proper creature to track it down. Relics are the most interesting, and second most plentiful, collectibles, as these tend to be items from the world itself and can provide extra bits of information about the game’s backstory and tribe as well as more than a few Easter Eggs for other games, while the other two collectibles are a bit bland in the form of too many mushrooms that sprout when gathered and a handful of “Legendary” animals that are simply the same model but glow bright white when found.
Visuals & Audio
When it comes to presentation Lost Ember both excels and falters a bit depending on where players are exploring at any given time. The animals that they can control are nicely detailed using the game’s unique art style and even have a variety of different color patterns to keep things fresh and the different biomes the wolf and soul travel through are varied well enough but more than a few times the environment can look great at a distance only for it to be dull when actually traveling through it.
The voice work, which is present through the soul’s narration and flashback scenes, fits well enough with the narrator really standing out as a driving force here and the game’s sound effects for the various animals work well enough, though when it comes to certain animals they are a bit on the simpler sounding side. The background music is a mix of soothing tracks that are an excellent fit given the exploration aspect of the game, allowing players to easily relax and spend time traveling the world should they choose.
Lost Ember offers a unique exploration game that offers plenty of options to explore a world unlike what many other games in the genre have offered and although the story is a bit predictable, it still packs a solid emotional punch to keep players going. That being said, the amount of times that a checkpoint needed to be reloaded due to glitches is far too frequent and the occasionally dull environments put a bit of a hamper on what is otherwise an enjoyable and often relaxing feeling adventure game.