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She and the Light Bearer Review – Colorful, musical mythology

At first glance, She and the Light Bearer‘s unique blend of genres appears to be the most unique thing about it, but its devotion to an underlying mythology just vague and evocative enough to trigger player imaginations eventually proves to be its most distinctive and rare attribute. While existing—but nevertheless unfamiliar—mythologies are explored fairly frequently in games such as Never Alone, The Mooseman, and other artsy games of that ilk, She and the Light Bearer appears to have fabricated one from scratch to weave its deeply likable characters in and out of. Perhaps the only game that it can be meaningfully compared to is 1998’s Jade Cocoon for the original Playstation, which similarly went all in on a custom set of myths, and like Jade Cocoon, it’s safe to say that how one feels about She and the Light Bearer will be heavily dependent on one’s taste for such stories. After all, mythology has a tendency of erring on the side of abstractness, asking you to navigate the unfamiliar while filling in any gaps with your imagination rather than worrying about details that may be missing. Anyone who enjoys that kind of storytelling will find a lot to love about She and the Light Bearer, though those who don’t may well be charmed by the quirky characters and puns anyway. Still, the game’s relatively short length and simplistic point-and-click gameplay (which often takes a backseat to the storytelling) could be dealbreakers for some.

The story of a firefly searching a forest for a sleeping goddess

She and the Light Bearer begins with some children weaving baskets for a coming of age celebration, though this is quickly shown to be little more than a framing device when their elderly grandmother arrives and begins to tell them a story about a goddess of creation known as The Mother. When The Mother had taught her creation everything she felt they needed to know, she entered a slumber, only for her creation to go awry in her absence. Most notably, deceptive beasts called Devourers began to crop up and corrupt everything around them, and it’s because of all of these problems that the playable character, a firefly known as the Light Bearer, is tasked with finding and awakening The Mother. The firefly begins the game having come across a promising forest to search, and the entire game takes place within this single forest filled with strange characters.

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There’s not a single character that I didn’t adore to pieces by the end.

Establishing humor without placing such an outsize emphasis on it that the moments of seriousness are undermined is one of the trickier balancing acts in video games, but it’s an area where She and the Light Bearer excels. There are only a small handful of screens to explore here (owing to the game lasting 2-3 hours), but most of them are home to plant-based characters who exist not only to challenge the Light Bearer with trials, but also explode with over the top personalities and distinct tics. Wordplay is seamlessly integrated into conversations with these characters, and part of the reason this works so well is that most of the cast is lighthearted and slightly tangential to the overarching story, allowing them to maintain a sense of levity while the narration and occasional insights into She and the Light Bearer‘s lore remain serious.

One of the more interesting things about the storytelling is that not everything is explained. That’s par for the course when dealing with mythology, but it could also have something to do with the game’s website implying that this is the beginning of a series. The origins of the Devourers in particular are never explained, nor is the player given much insight into how the story connects to the celebration that the grandmother is teaching the children about. Combining repeated visual clues, however, I quickly came up with my own interpretation that explained all of these things in one fell swoop. Obviously sharing those details isn’t possible since doing so would require spoiling major plot points, but suffice it to say that it’s worth paying attention to which things do and don’t sport triangles in She and the Light Bearer. It’s not possible to know for sure whether that’s right on the money or merely overreaching to fill the void, but building up unverified theories is part of the fun when it comes to games like this.

She and the Light Bearer is a point-and-click, except for when it isn’t

The hyper-detailed screens make She and the Light Bearer look like more of a hidden object game than the point-and-click adventure it bills itself as, but there are actually no hidden items you need to find to progress. In fact, most objects you can interact with are clearly marked and easily seen. There are a handful of minigames that task you with repeating short sequences or moving sliding pieces around to complete an image, but those are gameplay conventions that both genres have a history of incorporating. You have an inventory of items that you can use on She and the Light Bearer‘s characters (sometimes to humorous effect), but you won’t have more than a few items at a time, and there are no item combinations to worry about. That leaves little doubt about what you’re supposed to use and when, trivializing the point-and-click elements.

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I’ve never been a fan of puzzles that are solved by inaction rather than action.

I was uncertain about what to do at only one point in the entire game, and that uncertainty was more the result of questionable puzzle design than fair challenge. During this sequence, you’re tasked with answering riddles, but the only way of answering is to investigate the character’s hints to unlock that possibility in dialogue, even if you immediately know the answer. Following up on hints for the first two riddles involves unlocking a small number of possible answers by interacting with the environment, but the third riddle doesn’t have anywhere near as much to interact with.

Instead, the only way of obtaining the correct answer is to sit still at the edge of some water while new things become reflected in it. This is less unintuitive than the do-nothing puzzle in something like Broken Age since you’re given a hint about waiting if you provide an incorrect answer, but it still feels antithetical for progress in an interactive medium to be held hostage behind doing nothing for a short time.

The visual and musical direction in She and the Light Bearer is fantastic

She and the Light Bearer‘s Steam page details its emphasis on four elements: art, poem (mostly handled by the narration), dialogue, and music. If the writing was such a standout, then, it stands to reason that the art and music are equally great, and that’s absolutely the case. Every character is gorgeously designed and animated in a way that complements their personality, and there are enough different reactions to make conversations incredibly dynamic. As for the screens themselves, they end up being memorable enough despite their busyness that you’ll be able to recognize distinct areas even once they begin to succumb to Devourer corruption. Speaking of which, She and the Light Bearer uses colors to subtly hint at what’s happening around you (and like triangles, you can glean unspoken information from them), with nature being filled with green, desaturated colors hinting at gloominess, and Devourers being represented by deep purples and reds. I adore this kind of art design.

The music is another high point, using a guitar (it sounds like it’s going through an amp and using a clean tone, but I can’t tell if it’s an electric guitar or an acoustic-electric—I’d guess the latter) to ground the entire soundtrack. There’s a variety of different instruments used, but the ubiquity of the guitar keeps the whole thing coherent, allowing instruments like the xylophone and gentle percussion to poke through. Even better, the “main” theme established early on receives a darker variant when one of the early areas is corrupted, which is another example of She and the Light Bearer‘s art reinforcing the story. The industry doesn’t leverage this kind of interplay between art and story enough, so it’s nice to see.

She and the Light Bearer

Story: 3/3 Gameplay: 1/3 Visuals: 2/2 Music: 2/2 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ – 8/10
*Click here and scroll to the bottom for a detailed explanation of what these numbers mean

She and the Light Bearer Screenshots

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She and the Light Bearer Review – Colorful, musical mythology


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