Lost Ember in the test: as legendary as Journey?

Author: Manuel Fritsch
Date: 2019-11-25 16:26:00
The German Kickstarter project Lost Ember has finally appeared after several postponements. Can the wonderful indie adventure with the innovative animal change mechanism meet the high expectations?

The sun is already low on the horizon. In the distance we see a huge column of smoke that shows us the way. We run as a wolf through the tall grass of a vast, pastel-colored landscape. The shadows are getting longer, and when dawn finally sets in, we are amazed to see that our sprint through the grass startles thousands of fireflies, which now accompany our journey like sparks.

Zini and the wolf

Lost Ember tells the story of the fictional Yanrana people, all in German and English. We find ourselves in the body of a wolf at the start of the game for unknown reasons. A red-hot astral being (which looks like Zini the Wuslon, the older readers will surely remember "fun on Tuesday") speaks to us. It is looking for the way to the "City of Light".

In the Yanrana belief, this is the place where the souls of the deceased get. But the way there is blocked by a magical dome that lies over the landscape. The light bulb asks for our help to break through this barrier. We decide to accompany our newly found friend and embark on a spiritual journey as a duo to find out the secret of the barrier and the reason for our animal shape.

Sounds esoteric, but Lost Ember is a solid action adventure in the style of Journey or Fe. As a wolf we can not only run and explore the landscape, we also have a very special gift: at the push of a button we slip into any other animal that we encounter on our journey in the world of Lost Ember.

In this way, insurmountable abysses and obstacles can also be avoided for the wolf. In the body of a bird, we fly carefree over large gorges, skilfully climb as mountain goats on steep rock faces, or dive without breathing difficulties as trout under water through underground cave systems. Each of the 12 animal species in the game controls itself differently and is lovingly animated.

On land, on water and in the air

From a playful point of view, we are left a little disappointed despite the (sorry) "animal" good idea. Animal transformations don't play a major role in the story behind the five-hour campaign. The game avoids any form of puzzles, battles or other mechanical challenges in which these skills could be used creatively.

As a rule, animal talents only serve to overcome individual obstacles on the way to the next action location. In this way, transformations are almost reduced to an end in themselves, and there is rarely a feeling of success.

The extensive landscape with its open areas invites you to explore. If you don't always run straight to the next column of smoke to advance the story, you will find secret areas and hidden collectibles in the form of various types of mushrooms and relics of the lost Yanrana civilization.

Here, at the latest, we hoped in the test that the abilities of the animals could be of creative use in these side tasks. But the detours are only worthwhile for collectors and offer hardly any playful or narrative added value. They do not add anything to the atmosphere, and the path is usually not particularly attractive or demanding.

On the other hand, we liked the fact that not every animal has really "useful" properties that help us in the classic sense. Who has not always dreamed of hanging in the tree for a few minutes as a matted sloth or wetting your back as an elephant with a load of water in your trunk? We would have wished for more of such playful little ideas and funny discoveries in order to be able to delve deeper into the wonderful world of Lost Ember.

A sensitive story without kitsch

As harmonious as the extensive natural landscape and the peace-loving animal world appear, deception is deceptive: Because at its core, Lost Ember is about the great issues of humanity: loss, grief, family, loyalty and the eternal search for the meaningfulness of our actions. What does it mean to be a "good" person? What happens to us after death and what does it do to the bereaved?

In the form of memory sequences, we experience the most important key moments of two closely interwoven lifelines. These are sometimes shown in short animations or appear to us as glowing »3D still images« in the scenery of the game world. For example, a hologram shows us how two quarrels reduce the temple around us to ruin. Our escort comments these situations like a narrator from off-screen and supplements them with information.

The story takes some interesting and surprising turns and, together with the successful presentation and the hologram speaker narrative form, is the highlight of Lost Ember. We can highly recommend this "animal walking sim" to people with a preference for story games. One or two tears of emotion should be prepared for the emotional finale. On the other hand, those who expect playful innovations and challenges from changing animal species will not be happy with Lost Ember.