Some games are made with atmosphere in mind, focusing solely on story and exploration. Others are more interested in slick combat and intense challenges. There are, of course, games that blur the lines between these two, but often it’s pretty easy to look at a game and figure out which way it’s leaning.
Strayed Lights isn’t so easy to parse. On the surface, it looks like your typical narrative exploration game. A story told without words, in a gorgeous world, with little to no combat, and maybe some puzzles to keep things interesting. That’s not the case.
Strayed Lights does tell a story without words, and it does have a visually arresting style, but its most unique element is that it brings in fast-paced, time-sensitive combat focused on parries. Does this create a hybrid experience above the other indies in this space? Let’s find out.
Superb Combat in a Shallow World
Strayed Lights is an interesting beast, and I say that for a number of reasons. For starters, the beasts themselves in the game (your character included) are quite interesting. They have an almost Disney-like quality to them that reminds me most of Ori and the Blind Forest. This is especially true of the bosses, which are bombastic in size but also have an air of innocence beneath their menacing surface.
Standard enemies are more amorphous, looking like vague shapes of creatures but built of glowing stones and arranged like golems. In either case, it’s a world that has a visual identity from the moment you begin, and color is more important than you think.
I usually open my reviews with a story analysis, but in this case, Strayed Lights leaves almost everything up to you. There is no spoken dialogue, nor are there tangible narrative threads for you to pull on. It’s clear that there’s some sort of corruption across the land that you need to cleanse, but deeper elements are cryptic to the point of being too ambiguous in my opinion.
The concept of cleansing a land, of healing broken spirits, is nothing new. It feels like there could have been more to this story here, specifically around your ability to change colors, and the symbolism that such a mechanic offers.
Despite this, don’t go into Strayed Lights expecting a story that will knock you off your feet. It has moments of genuine emotion, but it’s all too vague to ever establish a strong connection.
While Strayed Lights does a good job of building atmosphere and intrigue, but both of those things wane quickly when you realize that the environments are fairly surface-level, beautiful as they may be.
Traversal is simple, platforming is light, and alternate paths do exist (and reward you with collectibles and upgrade points), but it never goes any deeper than that. Despite this, I cannot stress enough that there are moments of genuine awe though, specifically when you’re looking at ancient ruins or watching the local fauna flee from a tyrannical creature.
Much like the game itself, Strayed Lights has a lot of bright spots, the brightest of which is the combat, which takes center stage. Fights play out often, whether it’s with basic enemy types, a group of them, or in huge boss encounters.
You begin with a simple swiping attack using the R2 button, the ability to parry with the R1 button, and the capacity to shift your color from orange-red to a deep blue by pressing L1. This last piece is crucial because your enemies will switch between these colors as well.
To succeed, you’ll need to parry while matching the color of the enemy’s attack. Doing so, and timing it well, nets you some health back and builds up a meter at the bottom of the screen for a finishing move.
Enemies will throw in purple attacks, however, and these cannot be blocked or parried. You need to dodge, which is done easily enough with the circle button (you can also hold it to sprint). Where combat gets really exciting in Strayed Lights is during the boss fights, which challenge you with fast chains of attacks that switch colors often.
Some of the bosses have widespread purple attacks that I could never quite dodge, but otherwise the fights felt fair and balanced. As you progress, you’ll also get the option to purchase additional skills that help with combat, as well as upgrades to your damage and health.
The skills offer some variety to be sure. One of them lets you launch forward and interrupt an attack with one of your own. Another turns you a gold color and allows you to perfectly parry either orange or blue.
Despite the fact that enemies mostly repeat through each area, the combat in Strayed Lights ended up being my favorite part of the experience. It’s fast, fun, and when you perfectly counter an entire attack chain, it’s incredibly satisfying.
Repetition does set in though, and that’s the only real issue I have with Strayed Lights. It has such a strong first impression, but it reveals how shallow it is early on. This creates a sense of fatigue from a title that’s already only 5-7 hours long.
Gorgeous, but Inconsistent Presentation
One of the other things that drew me to Strayed Lights was the presentation and specifically the music. Austin Wintory composed the music in the game, and his work on titles like Journey and Abzu have always stuck with me.
As I expected ,the music we do hear in Strayed Lights is excellent, but it’s too sparse in my opinion. I even went into the settings and turned other sound down just to make sure I wasn’t missing it, but it feels like there are vast stretches of silence in Strayed Lights, which doesn’t help when the environments are fairly bare bones.
From an artistic standpoint, Strayed Lights is beautiful, but in trying to make its world feel big and open, it ends up spacing out all of the things worth seeing to the point where they lose their impact. I would have much preferred a more tightly focused experience that brings all of the best elements to the surface.
A more concrete story, or at least one that brought its themes to the surface better, would have also done a lot to make me connect with the world and setting on an emotional level. As it stands, Strayed Lights isn’t the impactful experience I hoped, but it still offers some genuinely beautiful visuals and fun, if repetitive combat.
Maybe not a must-play at full price, but certainly worth a look for fans of combat that focuses on timing and rewards patience with appropriate pomp and circumstance.
Final Score: 7.0/10
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 5/01/2023