Ender of Fire is at times a fun, side scrolling hack and slash-em-up, in the same vein as the arcade classics Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, set against a fantasy backdrop in the aftermath of a war between Humans and Elves.
Let me start by saying Ender of Fire is fun – to begin with. A text dump at the beginning of the game sets the scene, with the game taking place a year after the Forest War, but to be honest the story is not too critical to proceedings, more so as a mere window dressing to explain the various fantasy locations in which the game takes place.
Character selection sticks close to the genre too, with 3 characters available to choose from to begin your quest, a Knight with sword based melee attacks, a Mage with ranged spells, and an Archer who mixes it up with both range and melee based attacks. With lack of any obvious lock on system, fighting can quickly become frustrating, with your chosen character often swinging fruitlessly in thin air as you are swarmed by groups of enemies, especially when playing as the Mage or Archer with their range based attacks, with many arrows or fireballs swinging wildly past the mark. Things are a little easier but no less frustrating when playing as the Knight, who can still swing his sword wildly even when surrounded by enemies – the first time I was swarmed by a group of enemies during an early play through I very quickly perished, and this was as much my own fault as it was the fault of the game itself.
Jumping straight in to what I thought was a fairly obvious game turned out to be my undoing early on. The game offers no tutorial which is fine, but the HUD in the lower corner is cluttered with information and items that can be used to aid you on your way with no explanation for what anything is or what it does. This information is tucked away in the pause screen to be hunted out in order to not only find out the controls but also what certain items or powers are capable of doing. Had I done this earlier I might not have died on my first play-through, but with everything unlocked from the get go this info can be a bit overwhelming at first.
This leads to another strange point I must make when talking about Ender of Fire – characters, for some reason that still alludes me, start at level 10. Attacking and defeating enemies gains experience (which, having read through the many menus in the pause screen, I found out to be the yellow bar underneath your red health bar on the HUD) that in turn levels you up. This feels like an unfinished idea, as besides the obvious question as to why start at level 10 and not the more obvious sounding level 1, but never are you told what levelling up actually does – does your health increase? Your strength goes up? No where is this information available, with the only reason levelling up seems to be included is in order to buy weapons in the town found via the games Map screen. The weapons sold here are levelled and tied to each character set, unlocked as you progress and collect gold from fallen foes, and each does state what impact they have on your overall stats, but even then the idea seems half-finished – all gamers know that levelling up to buy better gear is a given, something to do naturally, and so the stats just seem to be a tacked on addition.
As you level up enemies do appear to get easier to defeat, but they lack any form of health bar or other such means of informing you how much damage they can sustain before they keel over. Instead, I found I would count the amount of attacks each enemy could take and focus my attention of delivering that amount. Combo’s are available by mixing it up between X and O, and powers mapped to Square and Triangle, but I found that mashing X was the easier option as combo’s didn’t feel very powerful or appear to fell them any quicker than by using the normal base attack. It is here that the fun in Ender of Fire quickly wears thin, as this progression through each stage quickly becomes repetitive and a bit of a chore – bash X to plough through each wave of enemies, collect the gold and items they drop, level up, buy better equipment, try again. A lot of games do follow this formula and it is known to work, but Ender of Fire seems to be missing a few simple additions that prevent it from working well here. This repetitiveness of the game is only reinforced by the audio, as each attack is accompanied by the exact same grunt and groan that once noticed is pretty hard to ignore, and as it is tied to the base attack, can quickly drive you to distraction.
Each stage is completed by defeating a boss, who thankfully do have a health bar to indicate the damage they can take which does make these fights a bit more bearable. What does frustrate here however, is they often have a special attack that can add a status effect to your character. Take for instance the first boss at the end of the Castle stage, who could inflict what I was able to work out was a bleeding effect that caused my level 13 Knight to glow red. Note, I was able to work out caused a bleeding effect. I later found that this was hinted at in a small chunk of text as the level loaded, but without prior warning or explanation the first time I had worked my way through the first stage to face the boss he made short work of my 3 health potions as the bleeding effect causes you to continuously lose health over time. Long story short I went to the Town via the map screen and bought every potion available to be certain I could counteract this as then unknown effect, but this meant that I had to then progress through the level again from the beginning. A minor annoyance sure, but still something that is only confounded by the repetitive nature of the gameplay.
Having spent a few hours with Ender of Fire the initial enjoyment is beginning to wane. I’ve levelled my Knight up to level 15 (which seems to be the maximum level as at this point the equipment available for each character stops), completed a few stages and unlocked a few more as a result. Starting the game over as either my lower levelled Mage or Archer these stages revert to being locked again, and can I see myself going through it all again with either one? Erm, probably not. Ender of Fire is fun, and does hark back to days gone by hanging around in arcades and spending as much money as I could get my hands on games very similar in style and nature to this one, but nostalgia isn’t enough to quite pull past the repetitiveness and annoyances that hold Ender of Fire back from making me feel the same way.
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