Lost Ember Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
If you love animals, and if the idea of embodying various different ones while on an emotional journey across a post-apocalyptic landscape excites you, then perhaps Lost Ember from Mooneye Studios should be the next indie title on your to-be-played list. This action-adventure game sees you take on the primary form of a wolf, whose help is sought by a disembodied soul trying to reach the holy City of Light. Only you - a suspected "lost ember", a soul denied entry into the City of Light - agree to accompany them on their journey of redemption and self-discovery, and throughout the game's eight segments you must uncover the truth of both of your situations and the events that led up to this point.
Lost Ember is largely exploration-based, its gameplay involving traversing several unique environments as you break down barriers and relive memories of the past. On your journey you'll take on the roles of many different animals - such as wombats, parrots, armadillos and elephants - each of which has unique abilities and skills (such as flight, burying through the ground, or scaling sheer rock faces) that allow you to keep moving forward and immerse yourself in the fictional world of the Yanrana.
You'll continue to be surprised and enthralled by the game's story as it unfolds, and keeping a box of tissues nearby is certainly recommended if you are the type to burst into tears at the sight of incredibly cute animals (I'm talking baby wombats and elderly tortoises, people), or else at heart-wrenching narratives. It quickly becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems, and you'll find yourself continually engrossed in the stories of the Yanranan people and protagonist Kalani's revolution that shook the very foundations of their world.
The story-driven gameplay of Lost Ember means that it is largely a linear experience, though the game world can be freely explored up until a point. The completionists out there will certainly want to explore their surroundings in-depth if wanting to collect all 236 Relics, Mushrooms and Legendary Animals, and while these are not overly difficult to obtain, their locations are not always apparent, so using guides may be necessary if wanting to find everything and reach 100% completion. If trophy hunting is your thing, these collectibles are certainly worth pursuing, as there are a number of unique trophies available that reference both popular culture and other video game franchises such as Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda and Portal. Plus, who wouldn't want to earn a platinum trophy named in honour of - and represented by a line-art drawing of - Keanu Reeves?
One of the first things to strike me even before playing the game, though, was its visually stunning graphic style. This simply cannot, and should not, be ignored. The game world is thoroughly beautiful throughout, each model lovingly crafted and animated in a uniquely vibrant style, and it is clear by the quality of not only these visuals but also the game's enchanting soundtrack that Mooneye Studios invested a significant amount of time into perfecting the aesthetic of the game following its successful Kickstarter campaign. There is nothing dull, repetitive or uninspiring about Lost Ember, and it is likely that you will find yourself taking time out of your journey to capture some screenshots of your experiences to share with others - or even just to sit in the menu listening to the soothing title music.
Perhaps the saddest thing, then, is just how much Lost Ember's beautiful story, visuals and soundtrack are undermined by its constant performance issues. Throughout your journey you will come up against stuttering, crashes, freezes, clipping, and even low FPS sequences, and all of these issues serve to shatter your immersion and draw your attention away from the gorgeous game world around you. No matter which animal you are playing as or which chapter of the game you are playing through, you'll be affected, so it is worth taking that extra time to appreciate everything and move slowly through the various environments - most notably the snowy regions, which are hard to see in as is.
With such complex performance issues to worry about, it is a blessing that the controls of Lost Ember are so simple. Square allows you to take control of the animal in front of you, L1 allows you to concentrate on the animals and items around you, Triangle calls upon your companion to guide you, and the directions on the D-pad - as the game charmingly says - allow you to do "silly little things" as each animal, such as munching on the various wild foods you can forage or taking a quick nap. Though particular sequences - such as those involving swimming as a fish, flying as a hummingbird or quick-time events - present challenges of their own, overall the game is simple to understand, pick up and play. The story alone makes the performance issues worth suffering through, but for those who have little patience for such things, it may be a struggle - or even impossible - to see Lost Ember through to its conclusion.
On the whole, while Lost Ember may be a short game with little replay value, it is one that you can easily sit down and relax with (though do be aware that it deals with some complex and potentially distressing themes), making it a valuable addition to any animal lover's library. Where so many modern titles are obsessed with painfully long campaigns, it presents a welcome and refreshing change in its brevity, but that said, perhaps the story should have been a tad longer, as to allow for better attachments to the central characters to be formed. While their stories are moving, as is, little emotional investment is provoked - though some players will undoubtedly have grievances with how the game concludes, just as I did.