Nocturnal Review – A Light in the Darkness

    Title: Nocturnal
    Developer: Sunnyside Games
    Release Date: June 7, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Dear Villagers
    Genre: Action

Action games tend to reuse many elements from some of the more popular series. However, with that, I enjoy it when developers take a chance on blending genres to keep gameplay interesting. Developer Sunnyside Games delivers a unique action experience with puzzle elements that center around brightening up a world consumed by darkness.

In Nocturnal, you play as a soldier to the Enduring Flame named Ardeshir, who returns home to his native Island of Nahran and finds it under attack. The invading army is aided by a powerful dark force taking the form of a deadly mist that consumes and corrupts anyone in its path.

With the power of the sacred flames passed down by his ancestors, Ardeshir ventures across his Island to find his missing sister Arsia and bring peace to his homeland. In its opening moments, I was taken aback by the beautiful abandoned environments that led to dungeon-like temples waiting to be explored. This first impression experience was coupled with a great soundtrack that kept me pushing forward.

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Ardeshir is also a rather complex character, as the events leading up to the beginning of the game involve an attempt to understand his life. Upon his return, the townspeople slowly reveal more about who he is, shaping an endearing past I didn’t expect.

Ardeshir’s sacred flames is Nocturnal’s main mechanic and saving grace against the mist and those that have been corrupted by its dark force. Ardeshir must light his way through the Island’s dark caverns and abandoned temples as he solves many light-based puzzles. Using the flames also proves beneficial in fighting against enemies, with them being damaged more over time than using his sword in a regular attack.

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There’s a decent variety of enemies, with some carrying swords used to charge in for an attack. Others are archers and mages that use spells, each requiring some understanding of the combat system to make it out unharmed.

Fortunately, in addition to using the sacred flame, Ardeshir can also glide away from enemies to dodge their attack, which can be followed up with a charge attack depending on timing. However, the enemies do take some getting used to, and the challenge of navigating these encounters may cause you to suffer a few deaths. Luckily, a decent checkpoint system comes in handy when you have to face off against several enemies at a time. This gets you right back into the action without much time lost but with the knowledge to take on the challenge that once bested you.

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That said, the mist can also be seen as an enemy as it possesses foes to extinguish the light that helps Ardeshir survive in these harsh areas. They attack by throwing orb bombs and shooting balls of darkness, similar to the archers.

Some mist enemies can even stun Ardeshir for several seconds, which can be fatal if your sacred flame meter is running low. To heal, you must find a source of light, but you also must avoid being in the mist for too long. Without the flames, the darkness will slowly consume him, and the player must get him out or find the nearest light source to summon the sacred flames again before Ardeshir is consumed by the darkness.

Although keeping your flames on you at all times may sound tricky at first, the sacred flames themselves can be upgraded throughout the adventure, allowing him to use them longer or heal himself if he’s near death. This ability works best after some tough fights, but they do have a cooldown timer. It does take a while to upgrade the flames, but doing so requires coins obtained from exploration and breaking pots.

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Ardeshir’s journey leads him to unique tomes that provide information about the enduring flame he serves; each dungeon is more interesting than the last. I quickly found myself compelled to learn more about Nahran before the mist and the army invaded.

That said, several difficulty spikes are found during general combat encounters and some of the puzzle designs. This often led to me running around blind while trying anything I could think of to progress before realizing what to do. It padded the runtime and caused some frustration from a game design perspective.

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Nocturnal isn’t consumed by its inspirations. It’s a unique 2D action sidescroller that consistently tests the player’s skills against challenging situations. The lore and worldbuilding create an experience you can’t help but want to see through as you act as a light in the darkness of this adventure.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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