I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain (of death)?
Love it or hate it (and many do hate it!), the word "Metroidvania" is one that has become widely used across the videogame community. An amalgam of Metroid and Castlevania, this portmanteau describes a specific sub-genre of action/adventure videogames that feature 2D platforming, role-playing game elements, and vast interconnected locales that promote exploration and backtracking. Popularised by iconic genre-defining games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this style of gameplay has since become a staple of many modern games within the indie scene.
Though the origins of the genre arose in the '80/90s, this group of games is now more popular than ever. Indie titles over the last decade have solidified the Metroidvania (sorry, I'll stop using that word now) as one of the most prominent and admired: games like Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, Dead Cells, Guacamelee!, and Ori and the Blind Forest just to name a few. Any self-respecting indie studio nowadays seems intent on releasing a game to compete with the ranks of these prominent titles. And just when I thought I had seen them all, I discovered the most engrossing action/adventure game I'd encountered since exploring I delved into Hallownest...
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, published by Binary Haze Interactive, a new player in the indie scene, is a dark fantasy 2D action RPG releasing on PC, Nintendo Switch this month, and Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4 and PS5 later this year. At first glance this might just seem like another gloomy, gothic adventure inspired by the likes of those that have preceded it, but assuming that would be grossly underestimating the experience on offer in Ender Lilies. So how does a game so clearly inspired by others hold up against the source material, or sometimes even surpass it? Well, it's time to dive into End's Kingdom and the endless deluge that awaits...
In Land's End lies a fragile young girl, lost and alone; a White Priestess awakens to discover the entire Kingdom has fallen and its inhabitants now afflicted and corrupted by a fowl Blight that has scoured the entire land. Greeted with the muted, soothing sounds of raindrops, the Priestess ventures further into a ruined cathedral to discover a downpour inundating and infecting all those that it touches: the Rain of Death. Though not truly alone in this ruined world, the Priestess is accompanied by the soul of one who in life strived to protect her, a valiant knight whose spirit joins her on this journey to unravel the mysteries that await.
It is the task of the lone Priestess to explore the source of the Blight, face those who have suffered from the ceaseless rain, and purify their souls so that they may find peace. Through the act of purification, the foes whom she faces may be redeemed and join her side to aide her quest. In the style of the Souls games, snippets of story are pieces together through character dialogue, depictions, and discarded notes that lay amongst the dilapidated ruins. What initially seems like a cliché gothic storybook evolves into an engrossing, entrancing setting that simply begs to be explored.
If you've ever played one of the games that belongs to this sub-genre, you'll feel immediately familiar with the gameplay of Ender Lilies. Exploring an intricate, sprawling map with distinct locales, environmental puzzles and littered with secrets and collectibles feels as thrilling as the first time I ever played Symphony of the Night. Before you awaits a corrupted world divided into regions each featuring unique enemies, bosses, and blighted to purify, and feels as through you're stepping into a 2D Kingdom of Lordran. In a style of game with such a heavy emphasis on platforming, the controls during running, jumping and dashing feel like second nature, and both the character and enemies have a distinct weight and momentum to their movement.
Throughout the Kingdom you'll encounter the discarded corpses of those who have succumbed to the blight - some of whom may take you unaware in ambush, or others that lay menacingly in wait the end of a foreboding hallway. Defeating these foes will allow the Priestess to purify them, and in turn their soul will fight by your side. Collecting these souls will expand your repertoire of skills, adding elements like a double jump, dash, swimming, ground slam, all elements that will help unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible. It's typical action/adventure fare that offers a means of player progress, but executed cleverly in a way this does not seem dry or uninspired.
With systems that feel akin to Hollow Knight, the player may pause at benches and swap their equipped souls to ones that are more suited to particular area. Treasured trinkets may also be gathered on your adventures and equipped to enhance your abilities, though these will take up equipment slots that may be expanded by discovering necklaces scattered throughout the Kingdom. In another similarity, the player's health can be restored by pausing in a solemn moment of prayer, which is useful when exploring but leaves the Priestess vulnerable. Prayers can be replenished not through combat, but by discovering white lilies that grow in even the most horrid, desolate environments.
It is truly difficult to put into words the perfect combat of Ender Lilies, which is some of the most responsive, intuitive, and enjoyable combat available in a game of this genre. What initially feels slow and awkward becomes a fluid amalgamation of attacks, skills, dodges, and special moves that are easy to learn but difficult to master. An almost infinite combination of combat skills and attacks are on offer thanks to the souls the Priestess purifies throughout the game, each of whom adds a new weapon to your arsenal. Whether you're a player who prefers a swift onslaught of attacks, keeping your distance through ranged attacks, or a barrage of slow-but-heavy destructive moves, the combat can be customised to suit your liking.
If you want to survive in the blighted Kingdom, you'll need to be observant, as each enemy has a distinct set of choreographed moves with tells that will alert the keen eye to the next incoming attack. By watching the movements you'll be able to perform carefully-timed dodges and parries, allowing you to quickly counter and break the enemy. This becomes even more important through the inclusion of a stamina/stagger meter, which can be depleted through steady attacks on an enemy. Chaining together a series of uninterrupted attacks to tear down the stagger and then the health bar of a difficult boss is the ultimate feeling of satisfaction.
Although the environments and regular enemies can at times pose quite a challenge (especially when you are locked into arenas where blighted knights must be defeated before progressing), it is the game's bosses that capture the true essence of Ender Lilies' combat. The sheer variety of bosses and the skill required will put even seasoned players to the test, especially when the boss you thought you had just defeated transforms into a gargantuan, disgusting Eldritch abomination with twice as much health. There is no doubt that many of the foes you face will require numerous attempts, but the inevitable defeat of a boss is an experience that will have your heart racing by the end of the encounter.
Combining the magnificent and the macabre, I do not exaggerate when I say that Ender Lilies is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous games I have encountered thanks to its detailed and distinct environmental art. While obvious nods to the likes of Castlevania and Hollow Knight appear throughout the Priestess' journey, such as resting and saving at distinct benches scattered throughout the Kingdom, the game manages to create a truly beautiful, gothic-inspired art-style unlike any other game I've played. Each new region presents with it a unique visual aesthetic, while maintaining the overall art-style of the game which feels like playing a morbid fairy-tale.
The visuals are at their best when elements of beauty can be found within even the darkest, most grotesque settings. While standing upon a mound of skulls, a serene light engulfs the scene and washes over the character. A darkened and lonely bedroom offers a brief respite and moment of comfort in an otherwise violent and dreadful deserted castle. Colossal cathedrals loom in the background and frame the boss fight occurring in the foreground - you'll often be distracted to admire the sheer detail within all of these environments. Though enough of me trying to explain how beautiful the game can be, here's some screenshots that speak more than words:
The music to Ender Lilies has been composed entirely by Japanese indie group, Mili, who have created songs that feature in anime like Goblin Slayer and Ghost in the Shell and rhythm games like Cytus and DEEMO. Few words are more fitting when describing the music of Ender Lilies than melancholy. The game's sombre sounds of solo piano and haunting ethereal vocals echo throughout its disturbing environments, and sound as though they offer a fleeting glimmer of hope amongst the dark and daunting world. Songs will vary considerably based on your surroundings - heavy rain in open areas will dampen the track and remove its vocals, whereas the same song played indoors will be calming and detailed, adding extra layers of audio that were not previously present.
Overall the soundtrack features 50 tracks and a colossal 144 minutes of music, which is a massive amount for an indie game. There's a lot to love about the music to Ender Lilies and I'll likely be listening to it for weeks to months to come.
It's also worth noting that the person responsible for the game's sound effects is Keichi Sugiyama, who you might not know by name, but you'll certainly recognise the games he is responsible, notably Rez, Daytona USA, and Rule of Rose. His experience in sound design is certainly reflected in the quality of the game's audio, particularly in its frequent use of rain, water, and numerous audio cues that add to the overall experience.
Combining a bleak yet entrancing world with expansive exploration and seriously satisfying combat makes it one of the best in the genre, and in ways surpasses the games that have inspired it. Every moment throughout the 10 - 15 hour journey is captivating to say the least, and the game has taken me completely by surprise in what I can comfortably say has been one of the finest games I've played so far this year. If you consider yourself a fan of games like Symphony of the Night and Hollow Knight, you would be doing yourself an absolute disservice by not playing Ender Lilies. This is a game you must play.
So, why should you play it?
You'd consider yourself a fan of games in this genre.
Challenging and satisfying combat that never feels unfair.
Truly gorgeous art style, environments and soundtrack.
Interesting world that is intriguing to explore.
But why shouldn't you play it?
You struggle with challenging combat and swift dodging.
Not a fan of platforming games.
A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review. Find out more about Ender Lilies here: https://www.enderlilies.com/
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com