Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights Review – The Souls of Vania

Gare – Thursday, July 8, 2021 1:04 PM
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“Soulslike” and “Metroidvania” are probably among some of the most commonly used terms in the game industry these days, and that’s no coincidence, as both the Dark Souls and Castlevania/Metroid franchises have established templates and patterns that numerous other titles have come to incorporate into their DNAs with varying levels of success. That last bit, by the way, is probably the most important part here, as not every new Soulslike will make you feel like the cursed Undead, and not every game imitating the Metroidvania formula will invoke fond memories of daddy Alucard backdashing down a corridor filled with oversized wolves. Some do, but not all.

Now, when a game comes along that blends the elements of these two genre titans with a sufficient amount of competency, it’s worth standing up and pointing in its direction, going “Oi, look at that game. That’s a good game right there, lads.” So yes, we are here today to point at Ender Lilies and metaphorically compliment its pretty eyes, silky-smooth hair and whip-smart personality.

A land of haunting beauty

But first, back to basics. Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights (and that’s the last time you’ll see me type out that subtitle, by the way) is a 2D-platforming, monster-slaying, backtracking-heavy, Vania-inspired Soulslike extravaganza with an itty-bitty anime girl called Lily as its main protagonist – in fact, she’s the last White Priestess, tasked with the mission of putting an end to a supernatural rain that’s corrupted an entire kingdom and turned its inhabitants into mindless abominations. So that’s sort of where the Souls parallels come to the forefront, at least in terms of the game’s narrative presentation. The kingdom of Land’s End is a lonely place fraught only with suffering, and the tragedies of its citizens unfold through letters, documents, journal entries and item descriptions, as well as a few short animated cutscenes – it’s no Shakespearean masterpiece, of course, but it’s enough to make you read all the notes and go “huh, this is pretty sad” before getting back to dismembering the next monster that happens to stumble in front of you. Backed by a wonderfully moody original soundtrack, Ender Lilies also succeeds in building a heavily melancholic atmosphere that permeates pretty much the entire experience, whether you’re exploring ghoulish catacombs, abandoned hamlets or the towering spires of a snow-capped castle. There’s an adequate amount of variety to be had in terms of locations, most of which can be summed up as “Dark Souls, but in 2D” – it’s not particularly original, mind you, but it scratches that “grimdark medieval fantasy” itch quite nicely.

Danger around every corner

Gameplay-wise, you’ll know what to expect if you’ve played any Metroidvania title worth its salt. You’ve got a huge, labyrinthine map to explore in a semi-non-linear fashion, as well as gradually unlocking abilities and methods of traversal (you even acquire a cool grappling hook at one point!) that facilitate constant backtracking – either for the purpose of hoovering up previously inaccessible goodies, or just… you know, progressing with the main plot. And when I say labyrinthine, I do mean it. Ender Lilies’ map is surprisingly huge, with tons of little branching points to overwhelm the hell out of any unsuspecting player, and even more hidden secrets to unveil for enterprising treasure seekers. I really cannot stress enough how much care seems to have gone into packing the game’s areas full of optional collectibles, secret rooms and various other platforming mini-challenges that require both an eagle eye and a willingness to think outside the box. And lemme tell ya, some of those extra goodies are really quite well hidden, but that makes it all the more satisfying when do finally grab them. You do genuinely have to comb through every last nook and cranny to 100% this bad boy – and that’s a good thing, if you ask me. Just for reference, it took me roughly 20 hours to finish my journey in Land’s End, and I didn’t even track down every last secret in the game. I did, however, do a fair bit of exploration and backtracking.

Combat in Ender Lilies is a mostly Souls-inspired affair in the sense that you’ll be making sweet, sweet love to your dodge roll button, so you might as well get acquainted with it right off the bat. Most enemies in the mid- and late game can hit you with the power of a thousand suns and shatter your teeny-tiny loli bones into a million pieces, and your Estus Flask – ahem, I mean, healing prayer – only comes in limited quantities, so caution is strongly advised. Granted, most attacks are visually telegraphed by the enemies’ eyes flashing orange-red… but let’s be honest, that doesn’t mean you won’t die a lot – especially when you get to the trickier parts of the game, where either the enemies start doing rather ungentlemanly things (such as constantly teleporting behind you) or the geography of the level decides to be a total jerk. This is not a complaint, mind you. Quite the opposite – soldiering through long, checkpointless stretches of a given area certainly reminded me of From Software’s iconic series, where being able to finally reach a bonfire (or in Ender Lilies’ case, a rest spot) would often make the player heave a genuine sigh of relief.

Say it with me: YOU DIED

In battle, Lily isn’t actually the one doing the fighting – instead, the game uses an Aria/Dawn of Sorrow-esque spirit mechanic where you equip the souls of defeated enemies, which then lets you summon them to fight for you. Some of these spirits swing swords or hammers in front of you, others launch semi-homing projectiles, and so on – they’re all fairly distinct in terms of their abilities, and you can only equip six at any given time, so it’s generally worth experimenting with various different builds and play styles to find what works best for you. Certain bosses even required me to completely re-think my approach and try spirits I had neglected in the past, so that was pretty neat.

Speaking of bosses, the repertoire in Ender Lilies is one I would describe as moderately challenging. And that term – “moderately challenging” – can generally be applied to the game as a whole, I feel; it sits comfortably in the middle of a spectrum that starts at “even my cat could play this” and ends in “I’m gonna set my hair on fire and throw my PC out the window”. Ender Lilies isn’t the kind of game that will inspire viral rage quit compilation videos on YouTube with its brutally unforgiving difficulty (do note how there isn’t even any real penalty for dying), but it does make you work for your metaphorical cake at the end. It’s not exactly a walk in the park, to say the least, especially when you reach a late-game area that’s more or less the developers’ take on the first Dark Souls’ infamous Blighttown. As for some of the – admittedly fairly minor – gripes I have with the game, I guess I would’ve liked to have some better enemy variety. What’s already in the game is quite good, but I often felt like I was fighting the same things over and over again. The other thing is how overwhelmingly disappointing the final boss is, both in terms of mechanics and difficulty. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be let down.

Lovely Lilies

To conclude, if you’re interested in a competently made Metroidvania, look no further than Ender Lilies. I don’t think anyone should expect it to reinvent the wheel, because it doesn’t quite do that – what it does do, however, is take some of the best elements of both the Castlevania and Souls franchises, mold them together and give ‘em the loving care and attention they very much deserve. The map is massive and filled with countless creatively-hidden secrets to uncover; combat, exploration and boss fights are refreshingly challenging, but not to the point of sapping all fun from the experience; and the whole thing is wrapped in lovely 2D visuals and presented with a beautifully haunting, melancholic mood that will make you want to linger in this world and uncover all its secrets. And you really should, because it’s a world absolutely worth exploring.

ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights is available on Steam.


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