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Flame Keeper Review

Flame Keeper Review

 Flame Keeper is an action roguelite developed by Kautki Cave and published by Untold Tales. Initially released in Early Access on the 18th of March 2023, it has now got to its 1.0 release. Being pretty good at rougelites at this point, I decided to give it a whirl without knowing much about the game beforehand, so let’s see if this flame burns bright or if it’s better to snuff it out.

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The intro cutscene is really well-animated.

You are Ignis, a lit lump of coal on a journey to save the world of Orbis by fighting off dark creatures called Pixies and restoring the Eternal Flame. The story is pretty simple and easy to follow, but not necessarily enticing. I began to tune out by the end of the second biome, but the cute art style and animations more than makeup for it. It’s very lively with subtle details and weight. Funny thing about cutscenes though. They often take place in playable areas, which is nice, but if you leave anything on the ground like weapons or scrolls, it will remain there – textbox and all. That’s a little awkward.

However, a rougelite’s story – while appreciated – isn’t necessarily the most important part of the game’s enjoyability. It’s the gameplay so let’s talk about that. As a roguelite, you’ll be starting off with practically nothing as you slowly but surely get stronger until you either die or beat a run, where afterwards you’ll have to do it all over again. In Flame Keeper, in order to beat the stage, you'll need to find all the lanterns in the level, bring them back to the campfire, and light them. Each lit lantern provides an upgrade that will last until your run is over, but also respawns enemies, so you will have to think before you light up. However, you will need to carry those lanterns one at a time, as well as any other important items like runes for unlocking big chests.

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Running at the speed of... wildfires.

What all of this entails is a lot of running around and backtracking, which can feel a little bothersome, especially when you need to go through a section where you need to dodge enemies and traps several times. You can’t speed up the running either when you’re carrying something as the dash is disabled and your jump is slightly shorter so it’s harder to take shortcuts.

As for what you can do, you start off with the ability to punch, jump, dash, and use a scroll for a special attack. Eventually, you’ll unlock a heavy punch and a stomp. For whatever reason, you can also perform glory kills, a quick little animation to finish a weakened enemy off in style. I didn’t see any sort of reason to finish an enemy off like that, maybe you get more pick-ups out of it, but the animations are really well done. I had a little issue with fighting, however. You stay in place while attacking, no matter what you do, which feels weird and goes against some of my instincts. You get used to it, but I had to keep that in mind while I played, and it made those spiders that hang on trees kind of annoying unless you have a certain scroll to deal with them. It makes you wish you had air combos. Still, all the movements and attacks feel good, even when you get different (breakable) weapons to change the speed and power of your attacks. However, all of this is dictated by your health and stamina.

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These buffs and upgrades are helpful, but lack excitement or a need to change how you play.

Resource management is pretty important in Flame Keeper. Health is rather easy to come by, coming from trees and defeated enemies, but many things, such as retrieving and lighting lanterns, opening small chests, and summoning traps, will require sacrificing that health. You also aren’t the tankiest of characters even with increased defence, so you’ll be relying on dashing, jumps, and special attacks to avoid damage. However, these actions cost stamina (yes, even jumping.) so you’ll have to be careful or else you might become a sitting duck at the worst possible time. It’s pretty interesting, but I did feel it got in the way of making things flow. You’ll often have to stop while going through a stage either to get more health or recharge your stamina, which gets worse when you’re fighting an enemy that has a shield that only breaks if you use a dash or a stomp on them. It’s a nice idea, but it could’ve been executed a little better.

However, that’s all said and done, your skills will be put to the test as two normal areas. Surprisingly, the end of your run doesn't usually include a boss fight, that’s only for the final level of the biome. Nope, most of the time, you'll be completing a tower defence section, where you’ll have to defend a caldron from hordes of enemies until the timer runs out. It can get rather hectic in the later stages as you’re dealing with enemies on multiple fronts, even if you have all the traps set up. Now, you can’t actually set where traps go yourself, they’re in set locations, with some areas having less to work with, leading to some directions being more trouble than others. You’ll still be running around frantically, but it’s still a nice change of pace. That being said, it is annoying that the level ends as soon as the timer runs out, so you can’t pick up anything afterwards. You’re just locked in a cutscene where a villager gives you your reward. That feels kind of bad, to be honest. I don’t like having control taken away from me outside of story cutscenes.

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Something something Dark Souls quote about fire.

Between your runs, you’ll be at Vulpius Village, where you're able to purchase upgrades using the resources you find on your run, such as unlocking new skills and weapons, equipping passives, improving your defences, and upgrading the structures so you can buy even more stuff to improve your chances. If you’re struggling to beat a level, do some grinding and then try again. While I was able to get decently far just by playing casually, you will need to stop and do some resource runs, as you won’t get every upgrade you might need naturally. I also found the village to be more like a fancier menu than something to care for. There’s only one NPC there you can really talk to, and they run out of dialogue pretty quickly, and the districts you help rebuild don’t really change when you beat a biome.

Onto technical performance. The game ran perfectly, even on the max settings, although it did hiccup once or twice. No glitches as far as I could tell either. However, that doesn’t mean I think it’s greater because of it. I think the real problem here is that it’s not going quite the distance it should. The mechanics at play here are fine and work, but it’s those same mechanics that hold it back. I feel it should be faster paced, and with some refinement, could be a lot more fun. Maybe there should be more upgrades, too, because you can see them all in a few runs, and they don’t really change how you play, other than getting unbreakable weapons. Although the Steam page claims to be able to create your own playstyle, it’s more than likely everyone will end up roughly the same by the endgame.

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They really play with colours here.

A playthrough of Flame Keeper will only take around 6-12 hours, depending on how much you struggle and die, but I feel that’s a good length for this game. It doesn’t provide enough variety to last more than that, and that’s okay because I still had fun, but it leaves you wanting more out of it. It won’t become a giant wildfire by any means, but a nice consistent flame that keeps burning until the end.

6.50/10 6½

Flame Keeper (Reviewed on Windows)

Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

Flame Keeper is a nice time, if short, but it feels like there could be more that could be done, held back by its own mechanics and lack of variety.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Dylan Pamintuan

Dylan Pamintuan

Staff Writer

An Australian-born guy whose trying to show everyone why games are awesome.

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