Strayed Lights is an atmospheric action adventure title that oozes mystery and intrigue. Players take control of a tiny light tasked with restoring a world that has been plagued by corrupt shadows. Featuring a well-designed combat system that takes inspiration from Seikro and Ikaruga, Strayed Lights has a lot going for it. It is a testament that despite being the maiden title from Embers Game Studio, Strayed Lights is a thoughtfully executed and satisfying adventure.
Mysterious Vibes and an Even More Mysterious Story
Strayed Lights follows a tiny growing light that sets off traveling to multiple different worlds to vanquish corrupted shadows that have plagued the lands. During your adventure, there are hubs nestled between worlds that will help your light grow as you progress during your journey.
The storyline does a great job of creating a cycle that you will likely notice by the time you complete the game. Because the game is shrouded in mystery, there’s a lot of self-interpretation required. Naturally, this lends itself well to the enigmatic undertones that the game is going for. Though don’t expect a fully fleshed-out storyline with a diverse cast of endearing characters. The game’s narrative exists in the subtle margins. But in all reality, the true star of the game is the combat system.
Fluid and Satisfying Combat
In our preview of Strayed Lights, we commended the game’s combat system. If you played Sekiro, you’ll feel right at home. Parrying is the foundation of the game’s combat, but with its own unique twist.
In order to successfully parry attacks, you have to change your color (blue or orange) to match your enemies. It’s a simple, yet wonderfully realized system that hooked me to no end. Luckily, the parry window was wide enough that it didn’t frustrate, but tight enough to make every counter feel impactful.
To break up the color-matching feature, enemies will also dish out attacks that must be dodged, which is delineated in the color purple. This helps break up the color-switching and parrying motif and is highly effective. Every fight is concluded by raising an energy meter that will prompt a brief QTE button prompts. Sadly, the game doesn’t offer accessibility features for color-blind players that could have remedied this issue.
Fights became a bit chaotic when dealing with multiple enemies (which amounted to no more than 2 enemies at one time). The aggressive lock-on camera makes it a chore of fighting two enemies at once, that’ll require getting your bearings right. However, it was still enjoyable nonetheless. This made sure that the combat of Strayed Lights always kept you on your feet.
Eventually, you’ll notice that combat has a rhythm to it and you’ll soon master each enemy’s rhythm. Each enemy felt unique with their own attack patterns, speed, and tenacity. Though, it was a modest amount of enemy types (around 6 or so). However, given the short nature of the game, it didn’t feel like an underwhelming number.
However, I felt the over-emphasis on parry rendered normal attacks almost obsolete. This was strange at first, but it seems that the combat’s vision was to focus first and foremost on satisfying parrying mechanics. It changes the dynamic of the combat making you a reactionary almost passive force. It’s an unusual decision that felt like it removed some of my agency as a player.
All in all the game did not take long to finish. My first playthrough took less than 4 hours, and I collected most of the collectibles/skill points that the game had to offer. Going back to finish the collection has a marginal payoff. But for its price point, it’s an appropriate length.
Modest Skill Tree in Strayed Lights
Strayed Lights has a modest skill tree for you to unlock skills and attributes. Players can upgrade their character by collecting orbs that are littered across the zones and hub world. It’s a simple process that lends itself well by giving players a slight advantage during combat without breaking it.
There are skills such as stunning enemies, stealing energy with attacks, or removing the color-matching requirement for parrying for a limited time. By the end of my playthrough, I almost maxed out the skill tree. The upgraded skills came in handy and acted like a lifeline, especially during the final boss fight. But overall, my playstyle remained consistent throughout my playthrough.
Midway through the game, there was a noticeable difficult spike that came out of nowhere. The game started pairing enemies that would cause you more grief than before, which is not a problem per se. But that difficulty spike will likely hit you like a freight train at first. The same difficulty spike is also applied to the game’s otherwise well-conceived boss fights.
Enjoyable Boss Fights and Zones
Every zone has its own boss fight in Strayed Lights. Usually, you would fight each zone boss twice and they were highly enjoyable. The first encounter introduces the boss’s internal conflict and its zone’s theme, acting like a narrative mechanic. While the second fight concludes the zone. Luckily, it did not feel repetitive and it was a simple and effective world-building mechanic. Though again, the second half of the game saw the more challenging bosses, they were still fun and engaging. The last boss, in particular, stood out as it was the appropriate crescendo that tested every skill you learned in Strayed Lights.
Each boss is essentially a corrupted character that represents a specific emotion or concept according to the Ember studio’s CEO. For example, one of the bosses’ concepts was a spider and its entire zone reflected that theme. The zone was dark and felt damp and littered with spider eggs and webbing. I felt it was neat to try to figure out each boss and zone’s themes and it helped create personality in the environments, which is something I appreciated.
Audio Design is on Point
Strayed Lights offers a simple, yet, powerful soundtrack. Mainly consisting of atmospheric orchestral pieces that did well to dial up the game’s mysterious vibes. The soundtrack achieved exactly the mood it was going for. Best of all, the music would kick in at the right moments to help deliver an oozing atmosphere that will engulf you during the entirety of your playthrough.
The sound effects were all on point and reverberated well through the game.
There is no voice acting in Strayed Lights. This is understandable since the game is the first outing for Embers Studio. Instead, the game relies on vocalized grunts and sounds to portray the emotionality of its characters, similar to the Ori series. For the most part, it is effective and adds to the mysterious undertones of the game and probably met a budgetary necessity of the nascent studio.
Wonderful Graphics and Art Design in Strayed Lights
When it comes to the graphics department, Strayed Lights delivers for the most part. The environments are beautifully rendered. Especially the backdrops in the various zones. Oftentimes, I would stop and admire the vistas in the distance solely because they looked breathtaking. It’s a similar phenomenon to anyone who has played a Dark Souls game and would be engulfed by the imposing background that truly made you feel tiny.
The tiny light you control grows up during the game, which gives it different visual cues. It worked well as it helped portray the coming of age of the character. However, the enemy character models are all black silhouettes with colored flames that would change during combat. Though they come in different shapes and forms, by the end of the game they all looked samey and indistinguishable.
Solid Performance with a Couple of Hiccups
Strayed Lights is quite polished. The game ran smoothly for the vast majority of my playthrough I was easily hitting well above 144 fps on PC. The game even offers DLSS and FSR modes, but honestly, the game is so well-optimized that it seems any upscaler is overkill. However, the option is more likely intended for the Steamdeck.
Since the game was developed on the Unreal Engine, the notorious UE stutter did rear its ugly head every now and then. Luckily, the UE stutter never lasted more than a quick moment.
Character animations were smooth and responsive. Though sometimes during platforming segments, it felt that your character would float and snap to ledges. And you can easily momentarily lock the protagonist in a fall animation when jumping between the ground and platforms. Fortunately, it wasn’t enough to deter the experience.
Another issue worth noting occurs after upgrading your skill tree in the inner world. Sometimes your character would freeze and you can only turn your character around. However, a quick jump will quickly remedy the issue.
Something worth pointing out is the spider animations. They stuttered massively to the point it looked like stop-motion animation. Luckily, they did not feature too much in the game that could detract from the experience.
Final Thoughts on Strayed Lights
Despite the short adventure, I highly enjoyed my time with Strayed Lights. Its atmospheric music and unique art style wonderfully set the game’s mysterious tone from the get-go. The game’s well-executed combat and boss fights remained engaging and satisfying throughout my playthrough. Despite some minor animation hiccups and repetitive enemy design, Strayed Lights is a wonderful journey from start to finish.
Note – A Steam key was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.