Strayed Lights Review – The Action Shines Bright

    Title: Strayed Lights
    Developer: Embers
    Release Date: April 25, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Embers
    Genre: Action-Adventure

Atmospheric adventures primarily reliant on emotional immersion can be compelling. Still, at least for me, there must be gameplay substance accompanying those facets for the package to be truly memorable. And the Embers-developed Strayed Lights is one I was hoping would embrace that notion. Ever since its initial announcement and playing its brief demo, my excitement for this title and belief in its potential only continued to soar. Now, after having experienced it, I’m thrilled that it managed to exceed my expectations by providing a compact yet rewarding journey that quickly enthralled me.

Strayed Lights is one of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve ever had, chiefly due to how its presented premise and narrative aren’t communicated by dialogue but via action and cinematics. Of course, several other titles have done this practice before, so this attempt isn’t new by any means; I just don’t have much history with these outings. With that being the case, I was uncertain about my attachment from the outset, yet, even though I wouldn’t call myself pushed to tears, I was moved at several points.

It’s difficult to detail a premise when one hasn’t been provided, but from what I could gather, you play as a sort of light creature seeking some manner of enlightenment. However, they end up confronting an inner demon and needing to restore others turned into monsters by succumbing to respective avenues of negativity.

This is a relatively basic but strong concept that is approached succinctly, with each character you meet having clearly illustrated personalities that shine through their stances and movements. If I had to nitpick, some of these sequences felt unnecessarily long, though that could have just been my impatience and familiarity with typical voice-acted cutscenes taking over.

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Thankfully, the gameplay is what Strayed Lights primarily comprises and excels at. You’ll find yourself in numerous battles, both against weaker standard foes and bosses, and the main gimmick is guarding. Every enemy attacks you while they’re coated in either red or blue, with you also able to immediately transition between those two colored states on the fly.

Then, the vital point is that guarding with the matching color will not only entirely negate damage but also moderately heal you. Moreover, foes will sometimes attack in a purple aura, signaling that they can’t be guarded against, emphasizing evasion above all else.

Every fight embodies those mechanics, and it’s all consistently fulfilling. The enemies you face all expectedly have unique behaviors. Plus, each action is cleanly telegraphed, making your eventual applied learning all the more cathartic. I’m a sucker for this specific style since my favorite gaming experiences, like the Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind DLC, essentially boil down to learning well-designed boss behaviors. Of course, Strayed Lights is starkly simpler by comparison, yet that’s not a detriment at all.

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Although the element that ensures my enjoyability in the face of that continual trial and error is how the movement feels. My preference for swiftness aside, precise and reliable inputs are essential in giving games like Strayed Lights meaningful weight to impart. And, once again, the title exudes perfection in that realm.

Your maneuvers are simple; a basic combo string, dashing, dodging, and a special maneuver, and they’re smooth as butter to perform. Granted, the combo speed is moderate, though that is undoubtedly purposeful since guarding is the clear prioritized aim here above all else. The physical strikes you can do are really just for decreasing health a few notches.

Admittedly, that does change once you invest enough points into the Skill Tree. While its scale is tiny, this menu has instrumental abilities for diversifying combative approaches, such as enhancing physical prowess. Skill points arrive in two varieties; a lesser, more common one always dropped by standard mobs and boss-only ones. These two types have their own dedicated points in the Skill Tree, too, meaning it’s nicely organized. It’s worth reiterating that Strayed Lights‘ gameplay is not particularly deep or complex, so don’t go in expecting a highly intricate time, and its upgrade system should reinforce that.

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Despite my abundantly enjoyable time with Strayed Lights, I had two major issues. The first of which is the lack of lasting consequences. To elaborate, alongside health being restored via guarding with matching colors, your entire health gauge is replenished after concluding any combat encounter.

This design choice feels overly generous to me since you can get by with quite a bit of luck instead of learning the ins and outs of the enemies, which I always felt was the conflicting intention. By no means did this ruin my time with the title; it just had me wishing for a more consistent challenge. I only had difficulty with one boss while I breezed through the rest of the game.

The other significant fault I had, which may vary heavily depending on the crowd, is the lack of a map. Collectibles are strewn about this world throughout the main story, and the lack of tracking can make finding what you’ve missed sadly frustrating. It wouldn’t surprise me if this were done to give the title a more minimalist feel, but from a completionist’s perspective, it comes off as an oversight that pads playtime. On the other hand, I can see some players appreciating the lacking map since it could make each discovery more worthwhile, so this isn’t an inherent issue.

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Strayed Lights is a strongly designed action adventure bursting with a melancholic atmosphere that is easy to get wrapped within. Additionally, the terrific boss battles, gorgeous presentation, and interpretive yet emotional narrative showcase how lovingly crafted this whole experience is. Even when considering potential issues one may have, like the low difficulty level, you’ll likely find yourself having a good deal of fun regardless. Strayed Lights is exceptional for a debut outing, and I’m eager to see what Embers works on in the future.

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

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.