Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights


More Like “Thorny Roses”

In recent time, Metroidvanias have somewhat become one of my favorite gaming genres, given the positive experience in particular I’ve had with those that originated in the West, with the genre having originated in Japan as a combination of elements from RPG Castlevanias beginning with Symphony of the Night and Nintendo’s Metroid franchise. There’s definitely a world of difference between the Eastern and Western Metroidvanias, and under objective scrutiny, one can find major flaws on Konami’s godfather of the genre. A more contemporary Metroidvania is developer Adglobe and Live Wire’s Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, published by Binary Haze Interactive. Does it deserve high recognition among the best of the genre?

The narrative follows Lily, final surviving priestess in a world that endless, oppressive precipitation has devastated, driving living beings into dementia and transforming them into immortal undead. The protagonist awakens in a church with no memory of recent events, exploring beyond her sanctuary to find the rain’s source, along the way summoning the spirits of the purified dead to assist her. Aside from some derivative elements such as amnesia and the “white savior” trope, not to mention frequent poor direction on how to advance the narrative, Ender Lilies generally tells its story well, with endless texts Lily comes across adding superb backstory, along with the defeat of major bosses she purifies, and never feels forced down the player’s throat. The translation definitely helps, with some great dialogue, although there are occasional odd stylistic choices.

At heart, Ender Lilies is a sidescrolling Metroidvania, with Lily able to equip two different sets of three spirits between which the player can swap, with many having unlimited uses, although others have finite usages, not to mention cooldown times, players able to change and enhance them, through specific materials, at Respite Points, which serves as the game’s primary means of recording progress and fully restoring the priestess protagonist, although doing so causes all defeated enemies to respawn, similar to entries of the Soulsborne subgenre. Moreover, Lily can teleport between Respite Points and, in the middle of the vast interconnected world, transport to the last one used, as she does when losing all health, mercifully with no penalty aside from needing to retread their steps.

Lily gains experience from killing enemies, gaining levels along the way, up to a hundred, although this mostly affects her attack power, with health increases sporadically found throughout the connected world, along with occasional increases to points dictating how many relics with additional effects such as reduced damage and increased damage during ground or aerial attacks, each relic costing from zero to four of the mentioned units to equip. She further has a finite number of healing prayers she can execute to restore some of her health, certain accessories increasing her maximum number of restorations, in one case their potency.

Lily occasionally receives new abilities to enhance her exploration of the game’s world, with many discoveries requiring certain combinations of these skills, some of which can admittedly be tricky. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to accessibility in Ender Lilies is that many bosses can be walls preventing the player from advancing, often having tricky patterns, although there are rare cases where, if the player deals enough damage in succession, they can temporarily stun a few of them. Even at the maximum level and every health enhancement, the final boss was incredibly tricky for me, although the game mechanics certainly have many positives in the end.

The same one could say of control, with plentiful positive aspects such as the Metroidvania exploration that gradually unlocks throughout the game, not to mention easy interface, an in-game map of the vast interconnected world, the ability to pause and even hide the menu options, which can really come in handy during events such as boss fights, the indicator of whether chambers have undiscovered elements, and so forth. However, one major weakness is that no submaps of each area exist, and one can find himself or herself searching everywhere for whatever they have yet to find without the assistance of online maps of said chambers, not to mention the frequent poor direction. Ultimately, interaction could have definitely been better.

One of the high points of Ender Lilies, however, is its aural presentation, with great sound effects that provide good ambience, superb instrumentation, and many gorgeous tracks, not a bad tune throughout the game. However, there is occasional silence during a few parts of exploration and on occasion cutscenes, but otherwise, sound very much serves the game well.

The same goes for the visuals, which very well convey the dark fantasy milieu of Ender Lilies, given pretty environments and colors that largely emphasize whitish and grayish hues and crimson blood effects, with smooth animation by Lily, her spirits, and the enemies. The only major flaws are that one can find it difficult at a few points to remember which enemies are which, given similar designs, and platforms are sometimes hard to discern. Regardless, a beautiful game.

Finally, depending upon the player’s skill, one can finish the game in as little as twenty hours, although a near-total exploration of the vast labyrinth and several tries against the final boss took me thirty, with little lasting appeal given that players can acquire all achievements within a single playthrough.

On the whole, the verdict is that while Ender Lilies does have many things going for it, such as the ideas behind its Metroidvania gameplay, the great narrative style consisting largely of excellent lore and backstory, and the gorgeous aural and visual presentations, the above-average difficulty will most certainly deter mainstream players, one may need to reference the internet to obtain absolute one-hundred-percent completion, and there isn’t much motive to play any longer or go through the whole game again. Those who adore Soulsborne games will be the ones most likely to appreciate the game, provided that they’ve gotten too “gud” at entries of that subgenre and somehow find it easy, although my own experience I certainly wouldn’t consider a waste.

This review is based on a playthrough of a digital copy downloaded to the player’s PlayStation 4 to the standard ending with 87% of Trophies acquired.

The Good:
+Lots of gameplay variety and Metroidvania exploration.
+Great story not forced down the player’s throat and polished localization.
+Gorgeous aural and visual presentation.

The Bad:
-Difficulty will deter many.
-Guide necessary for 100% completion.
-Little lasting appeal afterwards.

The Bottom Line:
A competent but daunting Metroidvania.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 6.5/10
Controls: 6.5/10
Story: 8.0/10
Localization: 8.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 1.0/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 7.0/10

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