Imagine an RPG with no battles, no inventories and no skill trees or experience points. This is what Light’s End, a $1 (80 points) indie game on Xbox Live, dares to be. So what do you do in this game? You gain perspective by becoming any character in the game. That’s right: ANY character.
It’s clear the game’s two developers, Ryan Thorlakson and Tyrel Schultz, didn’t intend to impress anyone from a visual standpoint. At the same time, it would be unfair to suggest that Light’s End has poor graphics. Take a look at these screenshots. Yeah, they won’t blow anyone away, but there’s something very appropriate about the simplistic style that encourages you to focus on the story.
Don’t expect anything memorable in terms of sound effects – this game is rather silent on that front. I was impressed by the variety of the soundtrack, though. It was interesting to hear a saxophone-based tune in a fantasy setting. The track was catchy as hell even though one might consider it highly inappropriate. The music can be quite fitting in other cases, but it’s the weird stuff that stands out, for better or worse. I would argue that the strange approach to music works, as it would’ve been impossible for Light’s End to top the soundtracks of genre standards like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger at their own game. Instead, the developers deliver something unique and somewhat unpredictable.
Essentially, there are two gameplay elements: talking and changing characters. Forget about menus, equipment management, sleeping at inns, exploration, a world map and healing yourself during and after battle. Talking to people for hints and the advancement of the story is the only thing that Light’s End has in common with RPGs of the past.
This bold move can be rewarding with the right mindset. You begin by playing as a teenage girl who sees her father as overprotective (the man is indeed involved in a disturbing, yet very entertaining, surprise at the beginning of the game). Eventually, you learn that you can become any character with the press of a button and unlock different sets of dialogue depending on whom you talk to. At first, you might appreciate the different perspectives, but the game does seem like a gimmick for the first few locations. However, once you get to the game’s big town, the gameplay improves drastically. You’ll become everything from a religious nutjob to a beggar to a guard who doesn’t like the only other guard in town. Not only does character switching in this town reveal a lot of amusing dialogue and give you insight into an array of different characters, but you also have to think of the town as a big puzzle of information that you can only solve by talking to the right people as the right people. At this point in the game, I really felt like I was playing an original RPG masterpiece.
Unfortunately, the game loses focus at the end … or does it? Between significant chapters of the story, you see the words of what can only be a deity that created the world. Initially, I thought these segments set a tone and encouraged me to see things from a broad, all-encompassing perspective. But the game goes in a much different direction with this idea than I expected it to and, in my opinion, strays away from the strengths of Light’s End: character interaction and the puzzle of information gathering. I was very disappointed to see the game get very linear and strained. I don’t want to give away the climax or ending, but they did not compel me like the middle section.
To my knowledge, this game doesn’t offer multiple endings or pathways. And since Light’s End doesn’t focus on items, exploration and the like, there are no hidden things to go back and find that you normally expect from RPGs. At the same time, you might forget or miss the opportunity to assume the roles of different characters in an initial playthrough; reading all of the game’s dialogue is a must. Personally, I plan on playing the game a second time to experience the middle section again. No other RPG offers such an experience.
Light’s End is a unique RPG that takes more chances than the overwhelming majority of games in any genre. While the game’s insistent focus on story and narrative might turn some people off, open-minded gamers could do much worse than downloading this game for $1. The only significant flaw is the last part of the game; it would be awesome if another title, perhaps even a sequel, followed this game’s lead and made a satisfying experience from beginning to end. Until then, this little experiment deserves a few hours of your time if you want something different.