Demonstrating a striking visual style from the outset, Strayed Lights is an indie fantasy that opens with an abstract sensory assault. A newborn spark (a fitting first protagonist for dev studio Embers) staggers out of a cave into a vast, alien landscape. Quickly evolving into adult form and battling a shadowy version of itself, it unwittingly unleashes an evil force into the world.
Plot-wise, anything more than that isn’t quite forthcoming. This is from the Journey school of storytelling, simply experiencing the adventure is the narrative, with silent NPCs offering friendly gestures but no words. Yet, unlike that classic, Strayed Lights has an interesting combat system at its core.
Heavily inspired by Sekiro, fighting is primarily made up of parrying, with a twist. Enemies flit between colours before they hit, and our hero can meet attacks with these same colours. Successful parries add to an energy gauge, which destroys enemies with a surge of stored power. Your hits are painfully weak, and since parrying rewards health, defence is the smart strategy. A third attack type can be dodged, but this mainly serves to add salty flavour to enemy combos.
The mechanics of all this take some getting used to at first; pushing offensive striking to the back of the queue always feels odd. But once you get into the rhythm, it can be quite empowering, particularly in boss fights.
A selection of regular monsters litter the sparsely populated open world, but the real challenge comes in the form of multi-stage encounters with gigantic creatures. The big guys have unique combat abilities that will have you switching up logic on the fly. There's a particularly enjoyable encounter with a giant ape (more Sekiro flashbacks): it staggers around the arena, chasing fauna and playing with fireflies, allowing you to get a little greedy for once.
One gripe with combat is that group encounters can be a frustrating mess. Fending off more than one enemy while juggling colour changes mostly comes off as cumbersome, and belies the satisfying back and forth of single opponent battle. That said, normal encounters do get somewhat repetitive, most feeling like stop gaps to the next boss.
Embers' debut game is beautifully presented, with an interesting but flawed combat system. Lovely music (thanks to Journey composer Austin Wintory) and exciting boss battles make it worth your time.