Flame Keeper, the intriguing rogue-lite developed by Kautki Cave and published by Untold Tales, is now available for purchase on PC and Nintendo Switch. The game is currently in an Early Access state, with two of its planned four biomes being playable. It has a very charming presentation and interesting risk/reward mechanics, however the lack of random elements and overall repetitive gameplay loop leads to an experience that feels like it has run out of fresh ideas before it is even half over.
In Flame Keeper, you play as Ignis, a little coal creature tasked with restoring the Eternal Flame to the world of Orbis. The narrative is quite minimalist and is conveyed via charming 2D animated cutscenes which play after each boss fight. It works for the experience the game is going for, and I found Ignis’ design, from his detachable Rayman-esque limbs to his expressive eyes, quite adorable.
Gameplay in Flame Keeper is built around sacrifice and risk management. Your HP is not only your health bar, but also your central resource which can be spent to open chests, upgrade your Eternal Flame, and activate traps in the tower defence sections. While HP recovery items are sufficiently plentiful enough that it didn’t feel debilitating, it was still a mechanic which made me weigh the pros and cons of certain decisions. Investing too much HP into activating a trap, for instance, might make me vulnerable to a killing blow and sending me back to the hub village.
“Unfortunately, after its strong opening, Flame Keeper falls into its very repetitive gameplay loop quickly.”
Unfortunately, after its strong opening, Flame Keeper falls into its very repetitive gameplay loop quickly. Each of the four biomes is separated into three levels, each having 3-4 stages apiece. The first two stages of each level involve Ignis roaming around the environment to recover three lamps and carry them back to the Eternal Flame in the centre of the level.
Once you have returned all of the lamps to the centre and injected enough energy into the Eternal Flame, you then move on to the next stage. The third stage is always a tower defence section, of which each has the same defences and similar enemies.
Many roguelikes attempt to mix up each run with random elements, whether it be the enemies you face, or the weapons and abilities you have at your disposal. Flame Keeper fizzles out on that aspect as well, as the only elements which change from run to run are the exact level design and locations of the enemies and lamps, mushrooms that provide very short-lived random buffs, and equippable scrolls which give Ignis special powers.
The powers Ignis can obtain include improving his attack power, summoning a giant hammer to push enemies away, and some long-range options to fire at foes from afar. The scrolls don’t mix up the combat as well as they could have, as Ignis’ default melee moves are effective enough, and the cooldown for the scroll powers is too long, so those special moves just don’t get used very often.
There also just isn’t much content in Flame Keeper at the moment. As per the developers’ Early Access roadmap, crucial features which could add much-needed variety to the Flame Keeper experience, such as elixir crafting, upgrading your hub village, and populating your bestiary, are yet to be included. While releasing a game in Early Access can provide important feedback to direct the development of the full experience, Flame Keeper stands out as feeling particularly unfinished as of late March 2023.
The game’s core mechanics are intriguing enough that Flame Keeper is worth keeping an eye on as it approaches its full release in approximately a year’s time. That said, players seeking a more robust roguelike experience are probably better served looking elsewhere until more of the planned features are included.