How Metroidvania is it? Perfect Fit. Ender Lilies feels a lot like an Igavania in design, being about as ''true'' a Metroidvania as it gets.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~16 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for ENDER LILIES: Quitetus of the Knights was provided by the publisher.
Buy ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights if you like…
- Methodical Combat
- Free Exploration
- Metaphor Infused Stories
- Relaxing Music
- Gorgeous Visuals
▼ Review continues below ▼
From a gameplay perspective, Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights doesn’t do anything particularly novel. It has that telegraph based combat we’ve seen a lot of by now, and its other gimmick of consumable subweapons has been around since the classic Castlevania games. The Metroidvania movement upgrades are also fairly standard, so there won’t be any major surprises for Metroidvania veterans. Putting that focus strictly on the gameplay, even if it’s not “new”, Ender Lilies pulls it off very well, and in fact in some ways it pulls it off better than the other games it can be compared to. What makes Ender Lilies truly stand out is its execution, not just with its game mechanics, but how it all ties together with its story and atmosphere. The Metroidvania genre is well-known for providing lonely and contemplative experiences, and Ender Lilies provides a new angle which that Metroidvania filter can enhance. Its main themes of innocence, sin, childhood, and legacy creates a metaphor that can be heart wrenching if you go into it with the right perspective. If you’re just looking for a good game to play, Ender Lilies has tight design and a strong enough challenge to please anyone who’s okay with another variant of “more of the same.” If you’re also interested in games as an art form, Ender Lilies is a next level achievement, and should be sought out by anyone who can handle its higher difficulty.
In Ender Lilies you play as a young girl named Lily who wakes up in what could be described as a post-apocalyptic kingdom. Immediately after waking you meet your first spirit companion, the Umbral Knight, who explains that due to an ancient pact, his soul is now bound to you. How this translates into the gameplay is that he will act as your sword. Pressing the action button you’ve assigned to the Umbral Knight will cause him to appear instantly by your side, at which point he will slash just like Lily was doing the attack herself, but from theming perspective, she’s not. In fact with every swing Lily winces as if she abhors the violence the Umbral Knight is engaging in. The fact that you’re playing as a helpless little girl is emphasized through all of Lily’s movements. Your initial dodge move has Lily literally throwing her body as if in desperation rather than her showing any kind of finesse you would find in a trained warrior. Your “hit points” in this game do not represent Lily herself taking damage. When you are hit, you see a shatter effect as if the difference between life and death is actually some kind of holy protective barrier, which if pierced would mean certain death to Lily after a single hit. In order to restore the strength of this barrier Lily must say a prayer, showing that her true strength comes from her stalwart spirit rather than her physical prowess. You get the sense that if Lily was left to her own devices, it would go about as well as a child slathered in steak sauce wandering into a den of wolves – a child’s prayer can only take them so far. All of the abilities Lily gains throughout this story thus come from the the spirits of the departed that she encounters, like a gathering of knights faithfully protecting their liege. Most enemies you encounter will have a mini-boss version of them that you can afterwards purify, at which point you can use their power to assist in combat going forward.
The nuances of combat are based on the game’s consumable system. Beyond the Umbral Knight and most of the various boss spirits you will collect, every other spirit has a limit to how many times you can use them, represented by a number shown next to the button you assign to them. Breaking barrels and boxes, or blight infected flowers, can refill the number of charges you’re carrying, and resting at checkpoints will always refill the charges to full. While using these abilities too liberally will lead to depletion and potential subsequent vulnerability, the ease of refilling your supply makes experimentation encouraged. I found that the less I worried about conserving my ammo, the more fun I had with the game, and almost every power you’ll find will have some meaningful strategic application thanks to the variety of enemy combinations placed in the level design. Flying enemies make aerial focused attacks more useful, and ground based foes are weak to a number of powers designed to dispatch them quickly. The Umbral Knight’s sword is also no slouch – it has excellent coverage and range, and theoretically you could play through the entire game using only that ability. Sticking only to the sword though you’re going to have a much harder time, and managing the six ability slots you’re given really spices up the dynamics of the combat. Especially as the enemies ramp up their HP and aggressiveness, killing things as quickly as possible becomes a critical element to your survival.
Part of what makes developing an optimal strategy so important is because of how much damage you take when you’re actually hit. Equally leveled enemies will knock out almost half of your HP every mistake you make, so staying out of the threat range of enemies in the first place is desirable. When you are directly threatened though, your dodge move provides a generous amount of invincibility assuming you time it just right. However, because the professional innocent child Lily hasn’t exactly had time to attend her fencing classes, there is a serious amount of end lag to her dodge move, so you can’t rely on these invincibility frames as a fail safe. Obtaining new movement upgrades as you progress through the game, like the double jump, can alleviate some of this weakness. If you do get hit, the prayer can reverse some of the damage taken, but it’s incredibly slow to complete and you only get three charges without equipping relics, so without mid-level refills via unblighted flowers, it can only sustain you between checkpoints so far.
The high risk high reward combat is likely the reason why you may have seen people refer to Ender Lilies as a “Souls-like” game, and in fact I made those same comparisons when I previewed this game in its early access state. Now that I’ve played the full game, there are some significant differences that make me hesitate to attribute that sub-genre to Ender Lilies. First off, when you die, you lose literally nothing other than the progress you’ve made towards the next checkpoint. Your map will remain explored with the rooms you’ve discovered still in tact, and any treasure you’ve collected will remain in your inventory with absolutely no penalty whatsoever. Unlike a “true” souls-like you don’t leave behind anything you’ll have to go back to collect, and this has the positive side effect of making it so if you find an area too difficult, you’re free to go explore somewhere else without that nagging feeling that the decision comes with a cost. Dodging and attacking is also free in Ender Lilies; there’s no stamina bar to manage, so the only resource you have to keep track of are the aforementioned consumption limits applied to most of the spirits you can equip. Ender Lilies does have animation lags that can prevent you from dodging at critical moments, so proper timing and positioning are the primary skills that the combat tests. Furthermore, Ender Lilies does have a leveling system, so just playing will make things gradually easier. Leveling is fast and the benefits are marginal, but over time it can make a significant difference. Ender Lilies thus feels more like an Igavania style game with less punishing death mechanics but a much higher risk when you’re actually out in the field. Really the only comparisons that can be made to Souls-like games is that you have a dodge with i-frames, and that Ender Lilies can get very difficult at times. You will unlock brilliantly placed shortcuts as you progress through areas, but being kicked back to a checkpoint can be fairly devastating, especially given how much damage the enemies can deal. Initially starting out in a new area can feel a lot closer to a linear platformer, and in fact comparisons to Classicvania are quite appropriate in this regard.
As with any combat focused game, the highlight should always be the bosses, and it’s a very good thing every boss also includes a checkpoint right next to them because every single one is an ordeal. Each boss has at least three phases based on how far you knock down their HP. They start out slow, and they add new attacks and patterns with each phase, with the final phase often acting like an entirely new boss. If you’re going into these fights unprepared, having to work through the first phase every time can feel like a slog. Often times though, the first phase acts as a testing ground for you to try new builds that you can apply to later phases, giving you an opportunity to figure out what combination will do damage the fastest so you can spread out your resources and apply those techniques to the later parts of the fight. Thanks to the huge variety of spirits you can collect, almost no two bosses looked the same for me – I found myself switching powers to address new patterns all the way up until the final boss fight. The Umbral Knight continues to be an effective neutral option against everything including the bosses, but especially in that last third of the boss’ health bar, blasting that blighted beast with your best stuff will really help you keep your sanity in the face of the challenge. Learning the nuances of the strategies available to you and applying them is highly rewarding and satisfying.
Switching out options adds a fantastic dynamic to Ender Lilies and consistently keeps the combat fresh, but it’s not without its caveats. Every spirit you collect can be leveled up for more attack damage and sometimes these upgrades can also increase range, add projectiles, or include other unique traits that make them better than they were before. You gather blight of three varieties that you can use to do these level-ups. Boss spirits have a special blight type all on their own, and normal enemy or mini-boss spirits use the basic type. While you can grind for paltry amounts of blight from breaking objects, most of your level ups are going to come from the more substantial caches you’ll find through exploration, putting a fairly strict limit on how many spirits you can max out unless you’re willing to do a huge amount of grinding. This becomes a problem for some late game bosses that favor specific strategic approaches, including the final boss. My main set of spirits that I had been leveling was focused entirely on ground attacks, with my secondary set being focused on aerial enemies. It was a great strategy for exploring the game’s world, but only one of these sets was actually useful in the game’s final moments. This forced me to improvise and it made things a bit more difficult than it could have been. Ender Lilies has that Umbral Knight as a fallback though, which prevents poor decision making from being too devastating. The Umbral Knight has his own upgrade material, so you can’t ever prevent yourself from maxing him out by maxing out other things. The catch is that the ancient souls needed to level him up are very well hidden, so only true Metroidvania explorers will be able to take advantage of this. Exploration also gives you access to relics and more slots to equip those relics, which are a whole other dynamic to building your character.
With so much of your power being tied to finding things in the game’s world, Ender Lilies must also be judged on its level design – and I’m pleased to say that this is another aspect where this game really sets itself apart. Ender Lilies follows that unwritten rule that every zone must have some kind of gameplay oriented gimmick to prevent the zones from feeling too samey. The old stereotype you see in most games is that you’ll have a water level, a fire level, an ice level, and some kind of poisonous place like a swamp. While Ender Lilies does include a swamp and a place where it is snowing, it twists up the usual trials of these areas to be either completely different or they’re emphasized in wholly unique ways. For example, water in general can simply ignore the natural effects of gravity, with the water often being suspended mid air like it’s some kind of magic jelly. While there are three different “castle” areas, the game manages to use verticality, separations by rooms, or enemy placement to make each one memorable. Additionally, by following its own unique physical – or magical – rules, Ender LIlies also connects everything together logically, which gives the kingdom a remarkable sense of place. There’s variety in the gameplay, but incredible narrative cohesiveness, making the game’s world a delight both for its atmosphere and for rewarding the observant explorer.
Due to this game’s strict dedication to conveying a tragic kingdom, most of the collectables you’ll find lack the bravado often seen in other Metroidvania games. Relics will be hidden in ornate chests, but one of the most important upgrades you’ll find – the slots needed to equip those relics – are often just a faint sparkle in the dust. In fact a lot of times you’ll find these relic slots or health upgrades just by breaking boxes. Blight variants, which are used to upgrade your spirits, stick out slightly more, but are found on the corpses of fallen heroes that speak about their deaths as you approach them. Many times both of these things are tucked away in hidden passages or breakable rooms – sometimes completely unmarked, but usually in suspicious places. If you decide to play this game without using the map, you could spend an innumerable number of hours scouring every corner of the kingdom and still not find everything. The map, however, is incredibly helpful. While it’s not as detailed as it could be, it provides all the information you need to save you time. If a room has an exit you haven’t explored, it shows up as a bright red beacon, which is in stark contrast to the sometimes hard-to-see gaps that you might find in other Metroidvania games. More useful still, if you’ve gathered everything there is to find in a room, it turns from blue to a bright orange color, making it really easy to find items that you’ve missed. Some rooms are pretty huge though, so it’s not like the game is just handing you the answer, especially if you still haven’t collected all of the movement upgrades you might need to collect the missing item.
“Almost perfect” is a great way to describe most of what Ender Lilies does, but I do have some criticisms. At any point in the game you will usually have at least two options on where you can go next, but of course as it always does, it all funnels into one final area where some of the game’s weaknesses start to stick out. One or two of the bulkier enemy types – likely placed there to raise the stakes – start to get slightly repetitive. If you’re under leveled, their attacks will destroy your health barrier quickly for every minor mistake, but their patterns are also incredibly predictable, making them easy to deal with if you’re alert. Having to face them one after another, especially after dying again and again as you learn the layout of the area, does get a bit old. Even before the final area, shielded enemies can often be just as tedious, making me more inclined to dash past them whenever I could rather than to deal with them. Dashing past shielded enemies is a fun alternative for me, but it stops being an option when the enemies become too large to sneak past since Ender Lilies also includes contact damage. While Ender Lilies can feel like a Classicvania game sometimes when you’re making your way to the next checkpoint, it’s the level design – not the enemy design – that truly saves the experience overall.
Another criticism I have to address is that the sound design can sometimes feel a bit incongruous . The music includes a wide array of beautiful compositions, but they’re all sad piano music pieces, and when the music does need to pick up it can feel weighed down by the somberness of it all. This can clash with action sometimes, especially during boss fights when the music changes in the third phase and it seems even less combat-oriented than the original piece that played when you started the fight. I have to admire the commitment Ender Lilies has to its mood, but that doesn’t excuse the actual sound effects from also feeling strangely absent. The shattering sound from when you get hit, or the visceral slices of the Umbral Knight’s sword are great, but sometimes a boss will look like they’re screaming while actually making very little noise. This can mess with the telegraphing in tangible ways, forcing you to rely strictly on visual cues rather than the gut feeling that comes from good sound design, which is a missed opportunity in my opinion. I can’t tell if this is a conscious choice or a limitation of the game’s production values, but I feel like Ender Lilies could still maintain its narrative integrity while adding just a little more crunch to what’s happening on the screen.
Whatever concessions were made in service of the narrative ultimately paid off, at least for me. You can call the imagery heavy handed, but I think if Ender Lilies was even slightly more subtle it would be less impactful. As you explore the world of Land’s End you will discover the repeating tales of knights and peasants grasping on to the things they hold precious as the infectious blight overtakes them completely. Most of the monsters you’ll face are far from innocent, but all of them are portrayed as people, and the very human decisions that led them to the state they’re in are completely relatable. More important to me though is the lens through which you get to view all of these tragedies. Lily is a small child who has no memory of anything that has befallen Land’s End. Even if she did, how much could she recall? Is she ten years old or even younger? How much of that lost decade would really provide her with insight? The metaphor of Ender Lilies is thus what we’ve all had to face in our own lives. Not a single human being on this planet was born into a world of their own creation; they owe every aspect of their environment to the ancestors that begat them. Scrounging through the tragic remains of a lost kingdom, the pure Lily must address the sins and filth that was left behind. Purifying the monsters is thus emblematic of what we all must do – find the good within the filth of the world we’ve entered, and embrace it. As a father of three children, and a former child myself, I felt a connection with Lily, and with every voice that expressed regret that this was the world she was forced to face. In Ender Lilies this metaphor is presented both through cutscene and meticulous environmental storytelling. You can play this game just for the gameplay, but the narrative is what makes it stand out to me the most.
There’s a lot of competition for your time these days, including replaying old classics that can guarantee an experience you might be looking for. In this environment, it’s hard to say that Ender Lilies is going to blow you away on the merits of its mechanics alone. The level design is remarkable, and in many cases it’s completely unique, and the bosses are sure to provide a great combat experience if you enjoy accomplishing hard things. Managing consumables between checkpoints has never been done better – at least from what I’ve played. There are enough viable strategies here, and enough choices on what order you do the levels in, that challenging yourself by trying new things will likely keep you busy replaying this game for a while. Even on a single playthrough Ender Lilies is a meaty offer. Changing the color of every room on the map from blue to orange as you complete them will take you long over the 15 hour mark. However, I could recommend a lot of other great Metroidvanias at this point that provide a similar kind of adventure. What can’t be replaced is the powerful narrative, consistent emotional atmosphere, and relatable humanity that Ender Lilies provides. I criticized the way the music was used, but in a very real way Ender Lilies plays out like an emotional symphony. Each movement of the gameplay and exploration leads brilliantly into the next, focusing in on the specific feelings that it wants to convey. The result is that Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights ended off more cathartic for me than anything I’ve played in recent memory. It’s like a requiem for innocence.
The consumable based gameplay offers a wide variety of strategies and the bosses are very well designed for a nail-biting challenge. There's some repetition in late game areas, but as a whole Ender Lilies is close to the top of what Metroidvania games have to offer in terms of combat
The game's platforming mechanics aren't precise enough to offer anything other than a distraction. Although getting into some of the game's secret areas can be tricky fun, serious platforming fans shouldn't regard Ender Lilies as a strong option
Ender Lilies strikes a perfect balance between quiet exploration of the game world and tense life-and-death enemy encounters, creating a natural ebb and flow of pacing. Some secrets might be a bit too obtuse for some, but the map system at least helps the game give respect to your time
Puzzles are very rare, but the ones that do exist are very closely tied to the exploration and are engaging for what they are
If you look at the entire game as a metaphor, there's some incredibly relatable substance in Ender Lilies. Even interpreting the lore in a completely literal way, it's fun to piece together the relationships between all of the characters
Almost every screen is a work of art, and it's fun to sometimes just sit still and take in the atmosphere that the imagery provides
The soundtrack itself is a 5 out of 5, but the way it's used can sometimes create an unusual mood especially in some boss fights. Nevertheless it conveys the feeling of melancholy almost perfectly
Currently there are no other other game modes to play, but with over a dozen different viable spirits, with many of them being able to replace the staple swordsman that you start with, starting from the beginning and trying different strategies throughout the game could keep you busy for many satisfying playthroughs
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