A dark and dreary medieval world. Lots of obtuse and cliched references to dark forces and evil people doing predictably evil things. Slow melee combat with a focus on stamina management. Shrines that become spawn points when you die. Enemies that revive every time you’re resurrected. Sound familiar yet? Developer RuneHeads isn’t hiding just how much FromSoftware’s Souls’ series has influenced almost every facet of its dungeon-crawling title, but there's a fine line between paying tribute and pastiche, and too often Fall of Light: Darkest Edition stumbles into the clutches of the latter.
Thing is, if you’re going to be as bold as to imitate such an acclaimed milestone in modern game design, you need to at least do it well. At least then you’re a ‘soulless’ rip-off rather than a cheap knock-off. But it doesn’t take long for Fall of Light’s inherent problems to emerge. In the role of Nyx - an ageing knight who needs to lead his daughter Aether through a perilous set of dungeons in order to reach the safety of some sunlight at the other end - you’ll need to protect your charge and ensure the various minions you encounter don’t snatch her.
Two-man Italian developer RuneHeads has used Ico as its other big inspiration, but much like the attempt to ape the solid systems of Souls, this indie title fails to capture what made Team Ico’s PS2 classic so evocative. The game never provides a reason to care for her from a narrative perspective, and while her presence does provide helpful buffs (such as increasing the power of your attacks) her role almost always devolves into a 12-plus-hour-long escort mission. And if you die, she dies too, but while your soul is restored at a nearby bonfire - sorry, we meant ‘shrine’ - you’ll need to backtrack to where you died in order to restore her.
A majority of your time in Fall of Light will be spent swinging various weapons at an endless parade of incredibly similar humanoid enemies, so it’s perpetually frustrating to have to do so via a completely unintuitive combat model. Nyx is apparently so old his animations are glacial, leading to painfully slow swings of your weapon (even as a light attack). A big part of the problem comes down to input lag. It simply takes too long for a button press to manifest itself as an on-screen command, and considering its entire combat system is built on the ability to dodge, block with your shield and strike, you’re either cut down because the game didn’t respond in time or because your stamina ran out too quickly.
It’s a problem that has affected the game in its other ports on console, and while we applaud the fact that RuneHeads has effectively dealt with these new versions by themselves, the fact remains you can’t ship a copy of a game built entirely around Souls-like combat and have a battle system that’s too broken to facilitate any sense of learned skill. Dark Souls and Bloodborne work because you learn their ways and earn every victory. Fall of Light relies too much on chance, with enemy hitboxes often so random that every roll and swing is a lottery at best. There are 20 stances to choose from, and 10 weapons to find and utilise, but they won’t save you from the same ghoulish issues.
It should also be said that the difference in visual fidelity between the iteration on Nintendo Switch and every other version is gargantuan. Whether you’re playing on PS4 or PC, candles glitter in graveyards and glowing mini-bosses bristle menacingly like embers, but on Switch, everything just looks so dim and dull. There’s a huge amount of blurring, even on on-screen text, and it makes what is already a dark game even more difficult to navigate. These visual sacrifices wouldn’t sting quite so much if they’d been made in order to facilitate a sharp and accurate combat system, but alas, it’s a one-two punch of technical and mechanical problems.
The Darkest Edition does come with a new dungeon filled with a handful of fresh enemies designed for console versions of the game, but considering you’ll need to use the same means of fighting and view them through the same cracked prism as everything else on Switch, their inclusion holds very little attraction overall. The fact Nyx’s attributes don’t level or improve as you progress kind of just sums up the whole experience.
Fall of Light: Darkest Edition should have been the best way to stalk dungeons and experience Souls-like combat before Dark Souls: Remastered Edition finally restores its humanity on Nintendo Switch, but it’s a destiny that’s never claimed. The poor voice acting will make you cringe, the broken combat will make you rage and the visual compromises will likely make you put your console away and have a well-earned lie-down.