Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
April 25, 2023
Strayed Lights is a game that managed to pique my interest within the first few seconds of its trailer. The presentation and art direction are simplistic and vibrant in a way that will surely turn heads for any that see it, but watching the trailer did leave me feeling a little skeptical of how well the game might play. Its combat system seemed interesting, but at first glance, entirely too basic. Whether or not my initial assessment applies would depend on how it actually feels to play.
At its heart, Strayed Lights is a combat game in a very stylish coat of paint and so its entertainment value rests heavily on the shoulders of its mechanics. The game was developed by Embers, the studio that brought us Lost Ember, and aims to tell a story with entirely no dialogue. Another very bold choice that can either turn out great or disappointing.
Strayed Lights clearly takes a lot of inspiration from Souls-like games, and this is very obvious in its key focus on both dodging and parrying attacks during combat. While it is a watered-down version of the concept, I still found it difficult enough to keep me engaged. One crucial difference between Strayed Lights and other games within its genre is that standard attacks are practically useless. The damage dealt to each enemy with an attack is entirely negligible, and most of your efforts should be focused on performing correct parries in order to deal any significant damage.
How do you parry? Well, that’s the fun part. In Strayed Lights, your character is literally made of light and is able to attune to different types of light. These are made obvious in their colours, orange and blue. Enemies in the world and bosses alike also use this system, and in order to deal damage while parrying, your character needs to be the same colour as the enemy that is attacking.
It ends up being a very rewarding system, especially with bosses, because learning their patterns and knowing exactly when to switch to the right colour feels very satisfying. A chain of attacks coming one after the other and necessitating multiple colour changes very quickly feel a lot more complex in practice than than I thought. This mechanic that the game circles around is very well executed and feels great to play.
Bosses are varied, each with different attack behaviours, patterns and designs, but unfortunately, the standard enemies all look very similar and fighting them does grow dull very quickly. It’s also an issue when you aggro more than one at once, because the colour-switching mechanic really doesn’t work the moment multiple enemies are involved. This is a shame, because it makes exploration pretty boring at best and frustrating at worst, at least from a combat standpoint.
I personally did also encounter some framerate issues in areas that had lots of particle effects; one boss fight that takes place in an arena shrouded in fog was nearly impossible with the level of lag I was experiencing. However, I will be transparent and state that my computer is sad and old and probably needs to be put out of its misery, so just keep this in mind if you have an older system.
The storytelling in Strayed Lights is very basic but conveyed beautifully through animation alone. One of my favourite details is how each boss clearly represents a different fear that each creature needs to overcome with the help of the player character and that it is incredibly clear what each boss represents through their attack patterns alone.
One of the first bosses you encounter actively tries to wave you away, clearly panicked and frightened, and only fighting back because it is terrified. It was very effectively handled and a great way to show what each character is struggling with, even without dialogue.
The game is also gorgeous to look at. The soft lighting of the hazy, dreamlike backgrounds is inviting and the player character is brilliantly bright and vibrant in the foreground. The animations are also lively and have plenty of weight, which both makes the game look good, but also means that enemy attacks are easy to predict and react to. Bosses are also well designed; while all still being the same race of creature, each boss so clearly represents the emotion that the character is attempting to come to terms with and looks just as cool as the last.
The world of Strayed Lights also covers many different, interesting areas during its short playtime, from serene forests with sunlight peeking through the overhanging canopy of trees or a dark ominous badland with sharp mountains and swirling clouds above. This manages to keep the game interesting to explore, even if the standard enemy design leaves a lot to be desired.
- Engaging gameplay loop with enjoyable combat
- Fluid animations that convey emotion
- Gorgeous and varied art style
- Framerate issues on older systems
- Repetitive standard enemy design
Strayed Lights definitely ended up surprising me, with an entertaining gameplay loop that finds the perfect sweet spot between “too easy” and “nail-bitingly hard”. Surely a Souls-like veteran might find it a little basic, but if you find yourself struggling with other games in the genre, Strayed Lights could be a great entry point. The art is also gorgeous with vibrant colours and lively animations, so there is plenty to look forward to with each new area and even though the story isn’t super deep, it’s still easy to get invested and want to meet more characters and help them on their journeys. If you are looking for an action-adventure game that provides a light, yet satisfying challenge, Strayed Lights might be perfect for you.