Lost Ember Review
Do you care to go on an adventure? To explore a beautiful forest? Travel across the land in search of answers? To run through the grass? Swim through the river? Fly through the sky? Developed by Mooneye Studios, Lost Ember is a beautiful experience in both aesthetic and narrative form. In the opening moments of the game, you’ll learn about the rich history of the tribe that used to inhabit these lands. That they worshipped fire and believed only those devout to their faith would be granted access to the City of Light, and those who fell by the wayside would return to the earth in the form of animals, banished from paradise. A red spirit, desperately searching for help, encounters a slumbering wolf who appears to be the only one to notice him. Having lost much of his memory, the spirit is confused as to why he was not sent to the City of Light. Assuming that the wolf must be a reincarnated member of the tribe, he bargains with the wolf to help one another find peace. What follows is a beautiful journey of serenity, dotted with a weaving narrative of discovery and heartbreak.
The art style in Lost Ember is quite eye-catching, blending sharp edges with realism and a vibrant color palette not often seen. It’s a world that – while rather void of life – still feels alive. Environments have a lot to explore, however, textures and models on the edges of the map can be lackluster. The geometry of some trees and plants require you to view them from specific angles to be believable, which is in stark contrast to the monolithic and detailed stone ruins or the beauty of the water. I also encountered a number of locations which created a point-of-no-return, and so would have to simply restart at the last checkpoint. The Wolf is able to run at great speeds and jump a modest distance, but the true key to traversal lies in the Wolf’s special ability: spirit wandering. The Wolf is able to turn into a spirit form and inhabit the body of any animal you encounter, offering up new ways to explore and abilities to utilize. At first it appears to be a novelty, but the more animals you encounter the more freedom you experience. From adorable wombats, to incredibly fast hummingbirds, and the enormously powerful elephants, each animal brings its own unique traits to explore the wilds on your journey. They control quite different from one another and it reinforces the idea of keeping an eye out not just on the environment, but what creatures might help you find more secrets.
A Magical Journey of the Heart
Lost Ember does not feature a map, HUD, or any navigational mechanics, instead opting for a minimalist approach that forces you to pay closer attention to the game. While this is welcome for an experience so beautiful, some of the areas to explore are quite vast and it can be easy to overlook one of the games memorable collectibles. Having a map in the menu could be a great help as backtracking is often not an option, instead requiring you to replay a mission. While a number of these collectibles will be artifacts from the tribe, Mooneye couldn’t resist the chance to slip in a few cheeky gaming references as well. I have yet to uncover all of the artifacts, but so far I have found a PokeBall, Loot Llama, and Companion Cube just to name a few. Finding each of these is a neat experience, and upon completing the story you’ll be able to revisit chapters and know exactly how many collectibles are missing from each stage. After reaching the end of the game I was immediately excited to go back and see what other treasures I could find.
That brings us to the narrative of the game. The Wolf must relive memories from her past life to progress through the stages. These are told with somber music and marionette-like figures to represent what happened. The Wolf, of course, is unable to speak, and so most of the dialogue will come from the red spirit narrating what he sees. While his delivery of the lines were fine, something about his voice doesn’t quite suit the tone of the game. The other characters in the flashbacks seem great, but the red spirit feels out of place when he speaks. It isn’t until the final 30 minutes of the game that the real heartache and pathos of the story comes to light. Everything blends together in a beautiful way. When the credits began to roll and the spiritual roller coaster was over, I found myself feeling emotionally drained from how powerful and moving the tale was at the end. I really cannot stress enough how moving the final moments of the game really are.
Lost Ember is defined by its exuberant art style, musical score, and narrative. It tells a simple yet coherent story and gives you just enough at each memory to make you want to press onwards and learn what happens next. While it could use a few small design tweaks like a simple map, the overall experience was a steady climb into an emotional drop that firmly squeezes your heart. The technical issues this game suffers from can easily be overlooked due to the serene nature of exploring the wilds and the incredible feeling of jumping from animal to animal in search of the truth.
**PS4 code provided by the publisher**
- Gorgeous Art Style
- Beautiful Music
- Emotionally Captivating
- Animal – Specific Controls
- Minor Texture/Geography Issues
- No Map/HUD Guide