Just how many Metroidvanias is too many? It really feels at this point like the Switch is being completely overloaded with titles from the genre, but if we continue to receive quality experiences like Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, then that’s a-okay with us!
Despite its odd title (which is also a blatant nod to the stone-cold classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and its spiritual successor Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night), Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a strong take on the genre with a heavy focus on mood and tone above all else. It’s a sombre tale with visuals and audio to match, but make no mistake, it’s also chock full of challenging combat and vicious boss characters.
You take on the role of Lily, a Priestess who awakens in ‘Land’s End’, a dark, desolate kingdom that’s fallen under a curse known as Blight. The kingdom’s inhabitants - from brave knights to humble shopkeepers - have been transformed into grotesque creatures, and it’s up to Lily to purify and save their spirits.
On her own, Lily is completely devoid of any offensive abilities. She can run, dodge and jump just fine, but will cower in fear at the sight of the deadly ‘Blighted’; she is a child, after all. To rectify this she is joined by the Umbral Knight, the first of many spirits that join forces with Lily throughout her quest. Though invisible for the majority of the time, the Umbral Knight steps up to unleash a torrent of sword attacks whenever Lily commands it; this forms the basis of the game’s combat.
As you defeat the boss characters littered throughout the land, Lily is then able to purify and take on the enemy’s spirit, thus utilising their core ability to her advantage. This could be a giant hammer attack, a crow that fires long-range projectiles towards enemies, or simply the ability to swim underwater. You can wield up to six different spirits at once, split up into two groups of three that you can swap between at the press of a button. In essence, it’s similar to how Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night dealt with its own combat but, dare we say, Ender Lilies has actually surpassed this with a more elegant, customisable approach.
As you progress through the game you can also obtain certain items organically as you wander the twisting, labyrinthine environments. These items can be used to upgrade your spirits, boosting their effectiveness permanently. Additionally, relics can be obtained which grant specific perks such as improved attack power or an additional healing slot. These can be tricky to find but getting around the world is much easier as you progress, with an added fast travel feature to help you out.
Experimenting with different spirit sets is certainly encouraged, as Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is absolutely no pushover when it comes to difficulty. There’s definitely a certain Souls-like approach to the combat; while one enemy rarely poses much of a threat, a group of them together can easily overwhelm Lily if you’re not smart with your spirit abilities. Running in and button mashing rarely (if ever) works out; you’ll need to take a more cautious approach, wait for the enemies to run through their attack cycles, and swoop in to counter.
This is even more relevant when you come to the boss battles. Boss characters mainly follow a clear pattern of attacks, but as you chip away at their health they’ll gain additional strength as the battle progresses, boosting their attack power and shaking up their move sets. Dodging is absolutely essential to surviving these encounters, and thankfully the game places a save point near each boss, so you’re free to switch up your spirit abilities if your current load-out isn’t paying off.
Not only does the combat take some cues from Dark Souls, but the way the story is drip-fed via notes and environmental storytelling is very similar to the From Software classic. To be clear though, this isn’t a knock on the game at all; the focus on tone as you explore is absolutely exemplary, and it makes you want to go back and explore every possible nook and cranny, if not for useful items, then certainly for the extra scraps of information.
To bolster this, the game features a stellar soundtrack with a wide range of instrumental tracks, from sombre piano melodies to epic orchestral pieces. We’re not ashamed to admit that we had a track called ‘Harmonious’ stuck in our heads long after putting the game down; it’s certainly the kind of soundtrack that we’d be quite happy to stick on in the background during work hours.
The same care has also gone into the game’s visuals. While strictly limited to two dimensions, this only serves to benefit the fantastic art design on display. Everything from the intimidating enemy design right down to the ambient glow of the environmental fauna has been handled with incredible attention to detail. When you consider how poor a title like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night looked at launch (on the Switch, at least), Ender Lilies is frankly head and shoulders above it.
Having said that, there are minor frame rate dips at numerous points in the game. It’s never severe enough to disrupt combat sessions or hinder your progress, but when the majority of the game runs at a smooth 60fps the dips stick out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, this feels like a bit of a nitpick in the grand scheme of things; by and large, the game is a visual and auditory treat, with excellent gameplay binding the experience together.
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is one of the strongest Metroidvanias of 2021, and easily one of the best examples of the genre on Switch to date. It boasts excellent visuals throughout, with bursts of colour lighting up the otherwise dreary kingdom, and a wonderful soundtrack that we guarantee will live rent-free in your head for hours. All of this is held together by strong gameplay, with a particular focus on customisable load-outs via the spirit abilities. It’s a tough game at times, and the minor frame rate dips hold it back from true greatness, but with a respectable playtime of roughly 15 hours this is an experience you’ll be glad to try out.