There was a lot buzz around Hyper Light Drifter before it came out. The art style and story gathered a lot of attention from many players, but when it came out it was met with very mixed receptions. The game’s detractors took issue with the game being locked at 30 FPS creating a slow and sluggish experience which made the games combat feel unresponsive. Now, this left me kind of unsure about checking out the game despite it being the type of game I would enjoy. But, after snagging the game on sale I finally decided to give it a shot and come to my own conclusion.
You take the role of a mysterious, um, knight I guess would be what best describe the character. The intense cutscene at the beginning implies a terrible catastrophe has befallen the world and your character may be the cause of it all. He also appears to be ill with some sort of disease. Other than those tidbits of story telling the rest of the story is fairly vague. There is no dialogue to the point where when you “speak” to other characters their speech bubbles are filled with pictures to tell a story. None of it is explicit and it’s up to you to figure.
I love this sort of mysterious story telling in games where you must figure out the story with the visual context clues to figure out. It’s why I love the Soulsbourne series so much, but Hyper Light Drifter takes it to a different level with no dialogue or text whatsoever. I know there are plenty of people out there who also hate this type of story telling and if you’re in that camp you might find the vagueness incredibly grating.
Hyper Light Drifter takes a lot of its mechanics from several ARPGs. Combat is a mix of Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. You combo together sword swings, dodge enemy attack, and even get a gun whose use is very reminiscent to Furi’s gun. In other words you must hold down the R2 button to aim and press a separate button to fire your gun. Dodging doesn’t provide i-frames like Dark Souls does
Along with similar ARPG combat mechanics the UI will also be familiar to many players. Your health bar is divided into five squares similar to The Legend of Zelda heart health meter. However, if you get hit in Hyper Light Drifter you’re going to be losing the whole square of health. No halves or quarters damage losses, you just lose the whole thing.
Hands down the art and pixel graphic design in Hyper Light Drifter is what I love the most. The beginning opening cinematic is striking with the main character appearing as we also witness whatever catastrophe has befallen this world. The games use of a pastel palette of colors meld together to create some very eye-catching visuals. A lot of pinks, teals and purples are used to make some very dramatic visuals. There are still some grays, greens, and other standard color palettes to flesh out both the natural and civilized areas.
Hyper Light Drifter also knows how to establish a great sense of scale in the game. Right after you make your way through the tutorial area you come out to clearing and a cliff with a city off in the distance. Some who have played the game will already know the area, but for those who haven’t played the game, yet, hopefully you’ll be just as awe struck as I was. It filled me with a desire to explore this world. And it is very much worth it to explore.
The second moment this feeling struck was when I first received the world map. As soon as I opened it I was taken a back not only by the size of each of the areas, but also by the habitats each of the four areas represented. A massive desert, a tangled and beautiful forest, a tranquil, yet terrifying, temple surrounded by water, and a tall mountain peak can all be fully explored. There is a lot to explore and all of it is very rewarding.
Now this last part of the visuals isn’t entirely relevant to Hyper Light Drifter’s visuals. This is regarding the game’s 30 fps framerate when it first launched, which many players (not all) felt it was slow and sluggish, making the games combat unresponsive at times. Heart Machine has since updated the game to 60 fps while still offering a 30 fps option. Seeing as this is an Overdue Review I wanted to see how the game ran at 30. And, well…the game becomes incredibly unresponsive and slow. I typically never have too much of an issue with 30 fps in some games, but in Hyper Light Drifter it felt like moving and fighting through molasses. Thank god Heart Machine updated it and runs smooth now.
After hearing mixed things about Hyper Light Drifter (and that super dope pixel art) I finally decided to play it. Though I am playing the fully optimized version, being able to go back to playing at 30fps kind of shows the initial problems of the game. But, it now runs at 60fps and this game is beautiful, intriguing and has great and familiar gameplay especially as a Zelda fan. I haven’t been this enthralled and filled with wander-lust in game in a long time. With the additional polish they have added to this game, it is wonderful and everything I want in my ARPGs.