When I downed the first boss of Ender Lilies on my second attempt, I felt really good… at least, I did until she transformed into a walking Eldritch abomination with unnaturally long limbs and hair that looked like it came from The Ring. After she killed me, I expected a moment signaling that it was an unwinnable battle, but nope. I woke up on a bench outside of the boss room and it was time to try again.

They say you should never start a story with a character waking up, but that’s exactly how Ender Lilies begins. Lily, the last White Priestess, is awoken by the Umbral Knight, a spirit charged with protecting her. The kingdom needs her, you see — the Blight overwhelming the region has gotten worse, and only the White Priestesses can fight it. The goal was to let her rest as long as possible, but they’re running out of time and Lily is the kingdom’s last hope.

Ender Lilies is a 2D side-scrolling title combining traditional metroidvania content with influences from the Souls games. Lily travels from screen to screen while fighting enemies, finding secrets and opening new paths. The twist is that Lily is pretty defenseless on her own. She can jump and dodge out of the way of things, but she’s not a warrior. Left alone, the horrors of the Blight will do her in quickly.

This is where spirits like the Umbral Knight come in. He’s the one you’ll start with, and he will be Lily’s foremost companion through the campaign. Early on, his sword will be her only defense, and you’ll need it since the kingdom is packed with enemies, from the skeletal husks of dead warriors to the perverted carcasses of animals that once roamed the forests.

Fortunately, the pair won’t be alone for long. As you make your way through the game, defeated bosses have their souls purified by Lily, first revealing their stories and then adding their spirits to her arsenal. Each spirit comes with its own attacks and some offer traversal abilities that open new areas of the kingdom.

Spirits follow behind Lily in the form of red dots, and are summoned at the push of a button. The trick to making progress is equipping the right ones for the job.

Some, like the Umbral Knight’s three-hit sword combo, can be used an infinite number of times. Others are far more limited. Guardian Siegrid’s swinging ball and chain can only be used 13 times, while the Headless Defender’s ability to parry enemy attacks with his shield is only good for twelve.

When the limited-use spirits are depleted, they can be restored by stopping at rest points – a bench, a kitchen table in the wreckage of a house, or someone’s bed. These stops also renew Lily’s healing prayer ability, upgrade spirits, and allow found relics to be equipped. In true Souls fashion, however, resting restores your enemies, as well.

The combat isn’t revolutionary, but it does feel good, particularly when managing multiple spirits in the thick of battle. Any one regular enemy in Ender Lilies isn’t particularly hard on its own – attacks are telegraphed ahead of time, and movements are predictable. It’s when dealing with many of them together and trying to key off the right attack spirit that things get challenging. No matter how careful you are, death is always close at hand, Lily is always just one bad play away from waking up at the last bench.

It’s easy to get sucked in by the incredible art as you traverse the game’s environments. Both creature and spirit designs are stunning, and the environments are gorgeous. That said, Ender Lilies is also reserved, and frequently content to let you explore accompanied by nothing by the sounds of the Blighted rain infecting the land. When Ender Lilies does employ music, it’s often a melancholy piano that adds a palpable sense of atmosphere before ramping up when things get intense.

Ender Lilies is beautiful and tragic, and it’s also a game that understands how to tell a story. I enjoyed wandering through it and learning about its world as much as I did fighting through the challenging sections.Right now Ender Lilies is in Early Access, and only three chapters are available. It didn’t take me long to complete almost everything currently available, but I enjoyed every minute and was sad when I realized I couldn’t go any farther. I can’t wait to play more.

— Will Borger

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