Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
When taken as a whole, ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights provides an interesting, deep experience. Some of the parts took me a bit longer to come around to than others, as it tries to blend the tried and true formulas of Metroidvania and Soulsborne games into a 2D action game that winds up becoming something unique unto itself.
The visuals were what grabbed my eye immediately during trailers and preview materials before this title released on PC. One of the members of our team, PY, raved about how good ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights was and said I needed to play it when it eventually came out on consoles. I have to agree with his overall assessment, though we found different things to take away from the experience. But those graphics… they are very pretty, with a sort of haunting, shadowy quality that matches the tone of the game’s narrative beautifully. The visuals have that hand-drawn look to them, with splashes of red standing out against somber greys that comes together to create a haunting visual style that we’ve seen done before, but seldom so well.
It all starts off familiar enough, with our protagonist who herself has no particular skills of her own to protect herself in a world where a mysterious rainfall has transformed all living creatures into monsters called the Blighted. In fact, many of these creatures were once Lily’s protectors, but now she must find and defeat them. So while unable to wield any weapons herself, Lily channels spirits that grant her new abilities as she explores a large map, and new abilities grant further access into the levels and the story itself. So when Lily starts the game, she does so wielding an attack, but by the end of the game she can perform a variety of new techniques that have both combat and travel applications. Seeking out and killing the lesser mini-bosses gives you additional attack types to wield against the bigger baddies when you fight them. If this feels very much like a Metroid or Mega Man style approach to things, that’s because it is.
There’s a hint of Soulsbone influence in here as well though, where there is a reliance on techniques that provide invincibility frames and expert timing to win your battles. We’ve seen this approach in other 2D games like Salt and Sanctuary, though ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights was simply more fun in my opinion. Unlocking the new skills such as dashing, double-jumping or homing attacks helped to balance the challenge. This is not an easy title, but like the best of the Souls games, if seldom felt cheap or unfair either. I say ‘seldom’ because ranged attackers could sometimes plink me from off-screen and boy that got on my nerves at times.
The boss battles are the star of the show however, because they were absolutely challenging and often came in stages while you learn their attack patterns and figure out how to counter them. There is also a fast travel to spots where you can upgrade – but visiting them via this mechanism triggers enemy respawns in that area, not unlike campfires in Souls. Still, this option for fast travelling was a big one for me, because while I love the idea of the world sort of peeling back layers one at a time as you learn new abilities, there are many Metroidvania games where having to double back and then backtrack again and then once more go over the areas you’ve already travelled… well, you get the idea. It can start to feel like unnecessary padding as opposed to clever level design after a time.
In terms of the overall presentation, I already touched on how much I enjoyed the visuals, but the audio design deserves a bit of spotlight as well. For me it was not quite as arresting as the graphics, but there are some tense, haunting melodies that managed to stick with me ever after exiting the scene. Combine that with a solid control scheme (this title released on PC but feels as though it was made with controllers in mind as it handles with precision and makes accessing abilities on the fly pretty seamless. Given how much fun I had experimenting with the new abilities when I earned them, this was a small but appreciated consideration.
While at some point all of the traveling abilities need to be used to reach new areas, the combat ones are all designed with a particular use in mind – but don’t really have to be used. There are some I barely touched after learning how they worked, simply because I was more familiar with other attacks that worked just as well for me. There is a pacing to the combat that is just a bit more intentional than many action games. You can mash your way through some of the earlier stages when Lily has fewer skills at her disposal, but the enemies do evolve a bit by the later stages as they adopt certain patterns that you’re better off learning and countering with the right attack skill. This could lead to frustration for some players who would rather go into this knocking off enemies and simply relying on lighting fast reflexes, but patience is the key in many of the stages.