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Ember Knights Review: Straight Fire

EDITORS' RATING : 9 / 10
Pros
  • A game crafted with care and passion for details, visually and music-wise
  • Its gameplay elements will keep you busy for hours, with every run being unique and a mix of chance and strategy based on your choices
  • A perfect entry-level game to the roguelite genre
Cons
  • The story may sometimes seem predictable and cliché
  • Many Perks fail to deliver a huge effect in-game

A PC review code for "Ember Knights" was provided to Zaaz for this review. The game is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Roguelite games continue to come and go, attempting to achieve the fun and match the mark that "Hades" left on the gaming landscape. While "Ember Knights" may be a very different game in many layers, it is safe to say that it is one of the best findings of 2023. Even with big names such as "Diablo 4," "Final Fantasy 16," and even "The Legend of Zelda," "Ember Knights" shines with its own light, and does so in a very entertaining way. It is the perfect tale of an underdog, only comparable to David and Goliath. That is, if David was a sentient flame ready to ensure the survival of the universe.

You play as the Ember Knights, flames that are summoned by a wizard (of sorts) that have you battling another evil wizard in a fantasy gaming adaptation of "Catch Me If You Can." While you may not be flying all the way to France to capture the biggest fraud of the century, you will traverse through different worlds that house multitudes of enemies that will do whatever they can to secure themselves a place in a brand-new reality handcrafted by this evil wizard. It is your job to prevent this. Fortunately, you will have a lot of fun while doing so.

A spark that lights up the world

"Ember Knights" not only feels excellent to the average action gamer while playing it, but it also looks and sounds incredible. The pixel art choice is perfect for the fast-paced action and constant dodging you must put your Ember Knight through. Moreover, the detail and crafting of the characters, settings, and, of course, the Ember Knight itself screams quality (and you can even change the color of its flame!). The music also manages to accompany what happens on the screen with an outstanding and adapting soundtrack, which only makes us want to have a copy of the tracklist to listen to while driving or studying.

Each of the five worlds you come across will have its own unique design. From a forest to a machine factory, you are met with memorable settings and rooms, but also enemies. Each and every one of the enemies separates themselves from one another, providing  characters that are fitting to their world. For example, there are carnivore plants in the forest, while werewolves are ruing the hunted cemetery. Each mini-boss and main boss are completely memorable, with designs that will shock and disturb at times. You even get randomized versions of the mini-bosses — something that's awesome and potentially fatal at the same time.

Regarding the music and sound design, each stage has its theme that will adapt whenever you are in conflict or not. Each world is perfectly accompanied by its style of music, making great use of instrumentation. It isn't the usual 8/16-bit synth-inspired compositions that we are accustomed to, making way for a more mature and real composition. Each mini and main boss fight features a theme as well, which helps every fight become even more memorable.

A story told before, in style

The story in "Ember Knights," while not particularly unique, is a well-crafted tale of treason and backstabbing. In a universe under attack by Praxis, he makes an assault on Nexus — which acts as an overworld and center of all creation — and its keeper, Esper. After attacking the Ember Tree, Praxis is resolved to bring forth the end of existence to create his version of the Nexus. That's when Esper summons the Ember Knights to stop a fleeing Praxis and secure the salvation of the universe. You eventually learn that Praxis was once Esper's friend, who grew jealous and filled with hatred after the Architect, the game's interpretation of a god, appointed Praxis as the Keeper of the Nexus.

In a hack-and-slash action roguelite, the story may sometimes be subpar to the focus brought in favor of the gameplay. "Ember Knights" is a story of resentment and selfishness, one that we have seen in the past. From Cain and Abel, all the way to the first "Kung Fu Panda," we have always been exposed to the story of siblings, friends, or even master and apprentice which ends with one betraying the other, sometimes to fatal consequences.

While the game certainly successfully uses this narrative trope to its full extent, maybe taking a bit more risks would result in a more compelling story. It may just be nitpicky at this point, but predictability will oftentimes be a not-very-welcomed addition to a story. With that being said, with the content provided and taking the game's genre into account, you will be more than satisfied and entertained by the motives of each character and how the story develops each time you reach a new milestone in the game.

A very particular set of skills

Gameplay-wise, "Ember Knights" is an almost perfect game. The amount of ways you can play the game, with six different weapons to choose from, an abundance of Skills and Relics, and all of the unlockables and Ember Tree upgrades makes this title a very versatile and fitting game for every type of player. Its rogue-lite nature makes every run exciting and will always keep a specific formula: rooms, mini-boss, rooms, boss. The layout will change, and maybe some enemies will get a buff and become giants, but nevertheless, it never feels disorienting.

The game is all about decision-making. The Ember Tree acts as your permanent upgrade hub. You can choose to equip Perks that will upgrade your health, determine the number of coins you start with, and how many revives you will have before returning to the Nexus. Difficulty-wise, it is a very accessible game with enough options for the player to focus on skill and not worry about getting cheated out of runs. One criticism is that the quality of the Perks will sometimes fail to reflect any in-game effect. Yes, having an extra roll to get new randomized Perks or Relics sounds great, but focusing on increasing your health and damage output will ultimately overshadow that. However, this causes the game to remain fair and not a walk in the park by providing balance and preventing your character from becoming virtually invincible.

Will the fire burn forever?

"Ember Knights" is a game that will provide you with hours of entertainment — hours you will happily relinquish thanks to its ability to keep you in front of the screen. Whether beating the newest boss or wondering if you are going to survive the newest enemy swarm that comes your way, "Ember Knight" is an adrenaline shot that will keep you pushing forward in the hopes that the next Relic or Skill drop will feature your favorite effects and attacks.

The graphics and overall design feature a world that lacks almost nothing in terms of variety, with music that will make you want to continue moving forward across the different worlds. The story, while far from unique and ground-breaking, is a well-crafted, solid effort to tell a tale of broken relationships and their effects on the world around us.

Finally, the gameplay is impeccable, with a variety of mechanics that, while seen before, creates a very cohesive experience. "Ember Knights" will have you playing nonstop for several hours. Call that dedication — or, call that a successful and extremely entertaining game that will keep you invested. Give "Ember Knights" a try, and you will be met with an exceptionally fun and well-structured game that comes as a wonderful surprise in an already fully packed year in gaming.

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