Review: Strayed Lights – Parried To The Game

It’s easy to fall into an aggressive flow with many games today. Whether you’re crafting absurd weapons on the fly or unleashing the powers of a literal god, the power fantasy is very much alive and well. Even games focused on parrying, allowing enemies to almost entirely close the gap before striking back, will use that as a way to reverse momentum, and send you back on the offensive. Fun as this is, it’d be nice to slow down every so often. To still have the grand power fantasy, but not have to be so hyper-aggressive as you do so. To stray from the status quo, just a little.

Fortunately, there’s a game that strives to do just that.

More linear than you might think.


Strayed Lights is an inherently intimate experience. An odd description for a game about letting enemies take cinematically large swings at you, but an apt one all the same. Developer Embers’ debut title is a short, expressive jaunt, built around letting danger get close.

From its opening moments, Strayed Lights is engrossing. Taking on the role of a burning ember of light, I moved through a hazy storm of pretty lights, learning the controls as I slowly made my way towards the tutorial boss. The cinematic quality is there, and definitely helps build an atmosphere. That said, I was a little thrown off by the fact that I was getting Xbox button prompts. Given that Strayed Lights is also on PlayStation 5, and that I was playing on PC with a PlayStation controller, I found it a bit jarring to be given the wrong prompts. Not the biggest issue, but definitely a noticeable one.

I’m baby.


From there comes the tutorial boss. Initially, it feels a bit slow. Strayed Lights’ combat is built almost entirely around its parry. Not like other games which encourage aggression after the act—no, this game is all about the parry. Players must switch between red and blue flame on the fly to parry the corresponding enemy attack. It’s a frantic dance, and a dangerously fun time. Parrying builds energy, a full bar of which allows you to end the fight with an explosive move that leads into a series of quicktime events. From the get-go, then, you are on the defensive. Even at its fastest, combat here is a waiting game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Strayed Lights often treads the line between heart-pounding action and frustrating rhythm.

The biggest issue with Strayed Lights is its parry feedback. Any good parry relies on satisfying feedback, on managing to convey the feeling of a successful reversal. Subtle controller vibrations, visual effects, sound design: all of these elements come into play. Strayed Lights only seems to get this right half the time. For one, the feedback for a parry can sometimes feel indistinguishable from that of getting hit. Anything short of a perfect parry has no visual indicator, and is met with the same dull thud effect as taking damage. This is especially frustrating with bosses and late game enemies, whose attack chains become incredibly fast. I’d parry a chain with what felt like good timing, only to see my health half gone and my energy bar far less full than expected. Some of my parries were definitely landing, but I could barely tell which.

Parry or slap? You decide.


Embers’ short adventure quickly makes up for this frustration, though. Right after the tutorial boss, I was given an attack. Again, parrying is the focus here. Attacks don’t offer much energy build-up. They do just enough, however, to make a difference when properly paired with parries. Once I got into the rhythm and started to build that vital mental momentum, Strayed Lights’ moment-to-moment felt nothing short of sublime.

I genuinely began to relish the opportunity to get into fights, and learned the trick with bosses (hint: don’t ever attack them, let them come to you). This flow was only further elevated by the exploration. Strayed Lights is mostly linear, guiding you through corrupted fantasy lands and regular enemies to the next big boss. There are opportunities to stray from the beaten path, and these feel great. The main collectibles are blue and orange energy orbs. Collect enough, and you’ll level up your energy affinity, which lets you build more energy in less parries.



These bits of exploration are delightfully intuitive. After just a couple moments of looking here and there early on, I began to understand Strayed Lights’ design language. It wasn’t long before I was correctly guessing exactly where I might find an orb, or at least the path to one. These paths are either blocked by a quick fight or a spot of light platforming. In those latter paths, another rough edge makes itself known.

The playable little ember can run, jump, and even dash with one of its attacks. Yet, movement and verticality in Strayed Lights is only so-so. It gets the job done, and is definitely satisfying in combat with parries and dodges. In exploration, however, I feel like so much more could have been done. Walls that feel mountable aren’t, while jumps are short and take minimal advantage of momentum. This does help to tighten the scope and keep the golden path clear, which I appreciate. I just can’t help but feel this would feel even better with an improved move set for movement.

Run, run, as averagely as you can!


Again, Strayed Lights wastes no time in winning me back from what feels wanting. Moving through levels will eventually get you to a boss fight, and these are truly a treat. Boss move sets are simple enough, and easy to learn. There’s a gradual ramp in difficulty that feels properly respectful of the player, and understanding of how much they’re likely to have improved and upgraded by each spike. The combat mechanics shine, no doubt. For me, though, the biggest draw of the bosses is how expressive they are.

A lot of Strayed Lights’ cryptically-told story centres around freeing your siblings in flame from the corruption that has swept the land. Most of them retain their sentience and personality; they’re just a bit too powerful for their own good now. We’re just trying to help, and it amazed me how clear that was through just facial expressions and body language. Characters only have eyes on their faces, their vaguely humanoid bodies, and their multicoloured flames. Yet, they emote wonderfully. One of the bosses is very much just a silly little guy, and I felt it. It was playful, curious, and ultimately scared when I inevitably had to go on the offensive. Its attacks were like a child lashing out, while its eyes switched between suddenly angry and confused to wide with fear. I genuinely felt bad for the lil’ flame.

Look how little and silly he is.


The emotion is bolstered by a great score by the brilliant Austin Wintory, then immediately hampered by its pacing. Strayed Lights is comfortably short at only five hours long, but its last three boss fights each feel like a grand, climactic event. Three times I thought the game was over, and twice I was surprised to find more. I didn’t mind, really, but I was very much expecting credits more than once given the nature of these fights. In a way, that’s testament to how good Embers are at escalation. That said, I can’t deny that this sudden “but wait, there’s more!” feeling after a big fight definitely pulled me out of what little immersion the narrative offered.

With all said and parried, though, Strayed Lights is easy to recommend. It knows what it is, offers a little more if you’re into it, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Some performance issues on PC can make its frenetic fights a struggle, and there are moments where the story stalls, but these are far and few between. With its shorter length, expressive nature, and focus on patience above all else, the warmth of these flames is a joy to feel.

What are the odds he just wants a hug…


Sarim played Strayed Lights on PC with a code provided by the publisher. Strayed Lights is available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.

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