ENDER LILIES has finally launched on EA, so it’s time to take a look at this new Metroidvania with JOJO vibes.
I don’t want to spoil much here, in a way the story is Soul-ish but takes more of an effort to actively explain the lore. You basically wake up as the little girl depicted in the cover art who’s been awoken by the spirit of a knight. That knight effectively becomes her Stand if you’ve ever watched or read JOJO, if you haven’t, think of him as basically a phantom that you can summon to attack at any time.
You awaken to a kingdom that has basically gone to hell; there’s demons and monsters everywhere. As the game progresses, you slowly unravel the mysteries of what happened. I quite like the story thematically and how it is told.
In an era of indies pushing pixel art and horrible basic animations styles as some form of “artistic direction”, ENDER LILLIES is a breath of fresh air. There is an actual, solid, art direction here. The character and enemy designs are well done and have their own charm and identity. There are obvious budget considerations in the animations, but the scale of the enemies, the detail in them, and their overall design is solid.
The environments are also done well and set the tone of each area. While the areas are a generic affair, the actual visuals feel significantly less so. They really feel grounded in the world of ENDER LILIES and nowhere else. The quality of all the assets is great. As an aside, I really wish Bloodstained’s art style was like this and not the overly generic stock UE4 feeling it ended up being.
This is where the game shines. The combat system is based around Stands (summoning phantoms). As you progress through the game and beat the mini-bosses and main bosses, you’ll unlock new travel abilities and Stands. There are numerous types of souls as currency which you can use to upgrade your Stands and make them more powerful. There are also relics that you have unlimited space with which to store, but you can only use a limited number at a time.
These can range from standard fare like taking less damage to more unique ones that give you a parry ability, which basically nullifies an attack if timed right and gives you a tiny opening to counterattack. There’s also a general Level system, which as far as I can tell doesn’t do much except increase basic stats. There’s also a fast travel system.
The game is a Metroidvania, so it revolves around unlocking new abilities and backtracking, however, traversing these areas can be like going through a maze at times. You’ll spend a lot of time working out where to go, especially when backtracking. I’m not sure if it’s going to pull a Hollow Knight and just become too big and unwieldy for its own good, but right now it feels like it’s on the cusp of being overwhelming. I believe this is primarily due to coming across areas you cannot currently access, but with little to indicate that that’s the case.
For example, I came across one area with a lever and a door; you can operate the lever but seem to be too slow to reach the door before it closes. I worked out that you obviously need to find an upgrade, and while I do like that the game doesn’t spoon-feed, it does feel like it’s a bit too cryptic sometimes and there should be more visual indicators to convey you aren’t ready for a specific area yet.
The soundtrack surprised me. The songs are pleasantly moody and go with each area perfectly. The soundtrack was made by a musical group called Mili, who have contributed tracks to acclaimed anime franchises including Ghost in the Shell and Goblin Slayer. It’s not what I would call a memorable soundtrack per se, but when you’re in the game it transports you to the world and reflects what is around you perfectly. My only complaint is that the main boss themes lack energy and don’t feel as epic as they should. This may be an actual artistic choice, which I can respect, but it feels like the dial needs to go up a bit. They are simply too restrained for the epic fight taking place.
So far, I am really liking this new Metroidvania on the block. It has a solid art style, solid combat and level design, and its storytelling is handled well. It’s fun to play and makes you want to see where it leads, which for these types of indie metroidvanias is saying quite a lot these days.