“As you close your eyes for the last time, you will rise into the light, like a spark from a fire. All will be welcomed who follow the Yanren ways faithfully. The others, they are thrown back into the world as wild beasts.”
Taking up the torch from the excellent Spirit of the North, Mooneye’s Lost Ember is an equally enchanting adventure that similarly explores themes of companionship, loss and man’s relationship with nature. Rich world-building, a distinct visual style and strong voice acting all help deliver an affecting, nuanced and superbly well-told story, curbed only by gameplay that falls short of its full potential.
As Kalani, a young girl rejected from The City of Light and thrown back from death into the world as a lost ember, you are tasked with resolving your earthly business to ascend. When you encounter another wayward spirit with a similar goal, the two of you head off across the land in search of redemption. Blessed with the ability to soul wander, you can project your spirit from your wolf form into the bodies of other beings, letting you travel by sky, land and river to reach your goal.
Each being’s ability lets you explore your environment differently. You can curl into a ball and roll into tight spaces as a wombat, take flight as a duck or parrot and burrow underground as an armadillo. Moving through this world can be a joy; navigating mountain peaks as a goat or swimming upstreaming as a fish illustrate the game’s often inventive use of soul wandering. Equally, thrilling set-piece sequences perfectly capture the unbridled momentum and freedom that comes with inhabiting a bird or bison as you soar through verdant valleys or charge across arid plains.
Yet, this mechanic all too often feels underdeveloped. I rarely found a reason to leave my wolf form, simply using the same few animals with the same handful of abilities when the game required it of me. That’s not to say Lost Ember’s gameplay is uninteresting but rather the ability to become any animal makes the imagination run wild with possibility, possibility which is disappointingly underexplored. Other creatures do populate the world but beyond their brief novelty, the option to become a tortoise, elephant or sloth feels superfluous.
Thankfully, Lost Ember’s story is exceptional. Your path through the world is marked by a trail of memories; snapshots of past events rendered as red holograms. Through these vignettes, you learn of the Yanren people; a great civilisation ruled by a greatly feared and revered emperor, of a rebellion, a family and a betrayal. The narrative twists and turns at a perfect pace, constructing around itself a world rich with lore that helps to ground its events, adding weight to its revelations and its moving resolution. A compelling performance from the game’s audio director Will Morton as your companion spirit brings a human dimension to this forsaken land, his warm Northern timbre providing reflective commentary as you uncover your entwined pasts.
Gorgeous visual design and a sweeping score tie this tale together. Lush wilds, snowcapped mountains and cavernous ruins play home to animals that look as if crafted by clay thanks to a charming, handcrafted art style. A dynamic soundtrack of soothing synths and plaintive keys ebb and flow with your journey, punctuated by stirring, soulful original songs “Your Light” and “All That You Are”. Beyond the story’s 3-4 hours, an abundance of collectables invites you to revisit Lost Ember’s world, with legendary animals, mushrooms, relics and some delightful easter eggs all beckoning you off the beaten path.
Lost Ember moved me in ways I did not expect. Although its gameplay falls short of fulfilling its full potential, the game excels in just about every other way. Striking visuals, vibrant audio design and a gripping performance from Will Morton bring to life a captivating and deeply moving story set within a richly historied world. Lost Ember joins the likes of Concrete Genie, Spirit of the North and Eastshade in a crowded year of must-play indie games.
Lost Ember PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8.5/108.5/10
Lost Ember tells one of the most mesmerizing and moving stories I've experienced this year. Despite gameplay doesn't quite fulfil its full potential, exceptional storytelling, striking visuals and a richly realized world make Lost Ember another essential experience.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.