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Light's End (Xbox 360) artwork

Light's End (Xbox 360) review

"Welcome to Light's End, and indie adventure game with many head-nods to old school RPGs that blends a few elements together to create a game that's simple and unique. It successfully challenges the ideas of what a game can be and what is important in playing a game."

In an isolated mining town dwells a bitter and young soul named Crystal, a girl grieving the death of her mother and the drafting of her boyfriend into the army to fight off rebel forces, all while living under the watch of her overbearing father. Her father has imposed measures to ensure her safety within the small and boring town, setting up for her a curfew and restricting her motions to town limits. Feeling constricted, likely from the monotony and grief, she disobeys her father, often sneaking off at night to engage in magic rituals with her friends in which they attempt to curse those they feel need punishment. Her father still reprimands her and her only responses are angst-ridden teenage proclamations, the “you don't understand me” or “I can take care of myself” dressed up in different language.

Her animosity toward her father was such that she placed a curse on him. She had no way of knowing that a team of bandits would rob her town blind, leaving everyone alive and only making off with the precious ores within their storeroom, though she would blame herself and her curses for it. It was a move that eventually sent her on a quest out of the mining town to find her lost boyfriend and convince him to come back, despite the risk of being embroiled in the the events surrounding a civil war and a rebellion. As they say, though: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

But this is not merely her story, but everyone's story seen through the eyes of an omniscient force with plans of its own.

Welcome to Light's End, and indie adventure game with many head-nods to old school RPGs that blends a few elements together to create a game that's simple and unique. It successfully challenges the ideas of what a game can be and what is important in playing a game.

Ryan Thorlakson knows one thing about writing that many other writer's don't, that stories don't belong to the writers but to the characters. A writer should not force the characters into actions, else they make the flow feel less natural and more contrived. Ryan threads together a cast of characters without a solid protagonist, reinforcing the idea that every character is a protagonist in their own lives. He considers motives carefully, allows characters to move logically, lets them win and lets them fail.

His consideration of different motives allows him to craft some complex characters, ones who are not driven by simple explanations and ideals. In one scene a woman tells Crystal that she should leave the town. At first this sounds unrealistic and out of character, that a neighbor would advocate the idea of Crystal running away from her father, but one must consider a few aspects about the character: she's an abused housewife and Crystal is in love with her son (who, if you remember, joined the king's army). Perhaps she empathizes with Crystal in living in an overbearing relationship, or perhaps she realizes that they live in a hole of a town with little future and no chance of escape, just as she might feel that there's no chance of escape from her own marriage. She might also feel that Crystal's only shot at a future is to brave the wilds. Of course, she could also be a manipulative woman who's simply using Crystal to get her son back from the military that she does not support and will, as a desperate mother, cling to any chance she can to have her son back. It's believable, being as the bond between mother and child is often stronger than steel, and still very complex.

He combines this character-driven writing with RPG-style gameplay (sans the battles) and an indie comic atmosphere. Every segment revolves around advancing the story in the same way you would in an RPG, by engaging other characters in conversation and gaining clues to your next objective, and usually results in appropriately stilted dialogue and enthralling scenes. In the opening scenes of the game, Crystal monologues to herself. She doesn't do so at length, but just enough to get the desired effect across. She speaks of suicide and how the dagger she found in the mines would be the perfect way to end her life, calling it “the last beautiful thing she will ever see.” It's something you see a lot in older 2D RPGs and not as much in today's games. It was important then because we didn't have facial expressions and voice acting to convey the idiosyncratic aspects of each character, or their emotion or motives. It's an expert move on Thorlakson's part, because it calls back that bygone era so well. It's refreshing and welcoming, like putting on that old jacket you just can't bear to part with but it still fits and keeps you warm. Why part with it?

There's still more to Light's End than simply talking to character A or B or C. That aforementioned omniscient force dwells within Crystal. By hitting the Y button you can change hosts to a nearby NPC and take control of them. Certain instances of the game require you to switch NPCs and have them interact with various other characters. One part in a town called Sol has Crystal and her friend Jade trying to get to a hidden room in a back alley. Crystal decides to sit this one out and leaves the situation to Jade, it being her plan and all. Jade finds the alley, but cannot make it to the room what with there being a homeless man in the way. The man will not move until he's been fed, clothed and given a candle. By switching from Jade to other characters, you can enact a series of events that eventually lead some of the merchants in the marketplace to give the man what he needs. Talk to a fearful old man in the park and you'll learn of his level of religious conviction. Possess him and send him to talk to a nearby rambling zealot and he'll become a priest under the zealot's teachings. This requires him to order a very expensive and extravagant robe from a tailor, leaving many leftover scraps that the tailor gives to the old man to wear.

Through it all, Thorlakson spins a yarn of a pair of dynamic young ladies who learn that the world is a dangerous place and that it will eat you alive if you let it, and that there are problems out there much bigger than their own love interest and smalltime ambitions. We learn to empathize with the characters and feel for their plight, even the ones we don't like. Yes, even the angsty Crystal becomes a character you can understand and feel for.

This isn't the kind of game that you're going to call up your friends and tell them, “Dude, I beat Light's End!” Nor is it one you're going to race online to tell everyone of how well you did at it, or boast how awesome you are, or brag about your stats, score, leaderboard standing or play time. There's very little challenge, no way to truly get a game over, and beating it is really just a matter of talking to the right characters at the right time. Yet somehow that's perfect. It's a fun and enthralling game where we don't obsess over skill or how well you do or whether or not you'll beat it. Just engaging in the experience is well enough.

If I have any complaint, it's that there should have been more interactivity, maybe a few more scenes where you have to use your brain to advance, just something to give the game that extra bit of engagement it needed to jump up to a perfect score.

Light's End is a delightful and inexpensive indie game that provides simple and unique gameplay while throwing in some lovable old school elements. It takes the elaborate storytelling of RPGs from the SNES and early PSX eras, excises much of the worrisome parts--items and battle--and gets right into the character-driven plot. If you have 80 MSP burning a hole in your hard drive and you're looking for something with an engaging story, download Light's End and prepare to experience something refreshing.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (February 20, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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