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Video Game / Hyper Light Drifter

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Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D Action RPG by Heart Machine, successfully funded on Kickstarter and released 31st March, 2016.

The protagonist is simply known as The Drifter, a lone wanderer with a Laser Blade and a drone to activate old-world objects. They explore a long-since ravaged world, in search of a cure for their debilitating disease that is slowly killing them. Despite the personal nature of the quest, their journey takes them to the far reaches of the continent, seeking the mysterious Modules that could lead them to the Immortal Cell, all while a mysterious monster continues to appear before the Drifter.

Gameplay is inspired by The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, and focuses on frantic yet precise combat and a whole heaping load of collectibles. The game is also Nintendo Hard, with combat and platforming challenges being unforgiving at times, but rewarding to players who master them.


Heart Machine have announced a Spiritual Successor, Solar Ash note , which is set to release on PS5 on console and Epic Games Store on PC sometime in 2021. While taking inspiration from Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash is also dramatically different, being in full 3D and has a much more expansive story complete with voice acted dialogue.

Metal Weave Games held a successful Kickstarter campaign for the Hyper Light Drifter Tabletop Role Playing Game in 2019. An animated adaptation was later announced on 28th March, 2019 and is currently in early planning stages.

The story of the Drifter and the world they're in is laden with symbolism yet sparse on concrete details, as there is very little text in the game beyond brief comments meant to help the player, so most tropes about characters and setting are up to interpretation.


Hyper Light Drifter provides examples of:

  • After the End: One of the few concrete details about the world the Drifter travels through is that it almost certainly was once much more advanced, and the small villages dotted across it are almost completely unaware of what most of the technology around them does. The opening cutscene appears to show the event that led to thiis was a massive explosion.
  • Alien Blood: The Drifter's blood is a shimmering magenta fluid that evaporates quickly. This is seen early and often as fits of sickness cause them to cough it onto the ground.
    • This substance may be the titular Hyper Light.
    • This same blood seems to be shared by the Titan whose organs are on life-support. The Titans are Ambiguous Robots and this makes the substance look more like Machine Blood. If it is, then it implies something about the Drifter.
  • Ambiguously Human: Most of the setting's inhabitants are Beast Men. In contrast, the Drifter looks mostly human, but with a few differences: pale blue skin and fuscia blood.
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes:
    • Finding all the secrets in the preview build unlocks a room with a white cape.
    • Managing 800 dashes in a single chain-dash at the dash upgrade store nets you the Dash Challenge Outfit. Thankfully, it actually does something useful; wearing it doubles your maximum stamina.
    • Beating Horde mode (which itself requires beating ten rounds in a special arena that's only unlocked after beating ten rounds in four earlier arenas, which can only be accessed by collecting twelve of the sixteen keys...) nets you a bright red sword and black outfit. Wearing the outfit causes enemies to always use the goriest death animation, even if you finish them with a basic sword slash.
    • In general, alternate outfits (found along with different sword designs and 'sprites') can usually be unlocked by beating challenges or collecting a certain number of modules or keys to unlock the door that they're hidden behind. Most of them do something useful, whether it's reducing bomb recharge time, or reducing the time needed to interact with items. A couple are purely or almost entirely cosmetic though.
    • Beating the game unlocks a mode where you start out with a black robe. However, the only effect it gives is it LOWERS your health by one, and you cannot remove it. This basically turns you into a One-Hit Point Wonder as many enemies do two damage. However, to compensate, you have all your dash and sword skills unlocked from the get go.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • When quitting, the game will inform you how long it's been since your last autosave. Not that it really matters, since...
    • points are placed very liberally in the game. Practically every room has a save point (areas with multiple hard challenges have several), and at any given moment you're probably a minute away from one.
    • Non-Lethal Bottomless Pits won't instantly destroy you. The Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom will, but they are placed sparingly.
  • All There in the Manual: Since no verbal information is visible or audible, some details can only be gleaned from official but out-of-game information.
    • The characters have names, but in the game they are not said. They appear on the Steam trading cards.
    • According to achievements, the green, goblin-like enemies you encounter several times throughout the game are called "dirks".
  • Arc Number: 4, and multiples of it such as 8, 16, 32, and so on.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Immortal Cell, the diamond that's the source of both the pink ooze and Judgement.
  • Badass Cape: The Drifter has an awesome-looking All-Encompassing Mantle. As noted above, different designs can be unlocked by beating challenges or collecting a sufficient number of items.
  • Beast Man: A vast majority of the world characters are these, among them ravens, raccoons, otters and frogs.
  • Beautiful Void: The Drifter can encounter allies and enemies in some places but the space between them is vast and the travel through it is solitary.
  • Behind the Black: Many secret passages are hidden in the black space between walls.
  • Bird People: The denizens of the Northern region are anthropomorphic crows or vultures. Some of them can fly, but the rest appear to have given up the ability in exchange for ambiguously magical powers.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Judgement is finally slain, the corrupted Immortal Cell is destroyed, and the villages on the surface are saved and can continue to rebuild. However, the Drifter succumbs to their sickness and dies.
  • Book-Ends:
    • The game begins with the Drifter waking up next to a campfire, and ends with him dying next to one. Under a pair of identical-looking statues, no less.
    • The visions that the Drifter receives in the beginning and end also parallel each other: the first vision shows the Drifter standing in an ocean of blood and corpses after the world was devastated by the Immortal Cell; the final vision shows the Drifter standing in a peaceful blue ocean as the Cell dissolves.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played with, in a way; the Drifter never needs to specifically stop and reload their firearms, but they also have a fairly limited shot capacity which is shared between their guns — if your semi-auto holds six shots and your shotgun holds three, firing two shots from the former also uses one shot from the latter. Ammo is generated by striking enemies or destroying things like boxes or bushes, though attacking enemies is far more efficient.
  • Bottomless Pits: The landscape is full of precipitous cliffs, chasms and crevasses. Sometimes the bottom is too far down to see, other times heaps of bones are faintly visible in dark pits.
  • Bright Is Not Good: Up to Eleven! The primary colors are bright, pinkish reds and pale, sickly blues and greens. Sounds like a jogging outfit from The '80s, but instead it dips the world straight into the Uncanny Valley and underscores the setting's violent past.
    • A shimmering magenta fluid shines brightest of all. Scenes drenched in this hue would otherwise be neon splendor, but knowing that this is Alien Blood turns them into Scenery Gorn.
  • The Cameo:
    • The Drifter makes a cameo in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero for Kickstarter backers to that game pledging $12 or more; they would receive a code and they would meet him during Risky Mode to give her a quest. Risky would then receive the "Drifter Blade" after completing the quest.
    • Risky Boots from Shantae makes a cameo in this game.
  • Central Theme: In this game with no words, the unifying themes are impressively clear.
    • The opening dream shows the Drifter reaching desperately for the Perfect Immortal Cell, though actually getting it seems an Impossible Task. Even if they have a chance, there is reason to question whether it is Really Worth It. Is seeking the Immortal Cell the right thing to do, or a tragic fool's errand?
      • It might hold the secret to The Cure that will save the Drifter's life. The dangerous quest could end their life in many ways first.
      • The thing they seek is the same thing the four peoples pursued in the prologue. The Apocalyptic Log suggests they were Immortality Seekers whose Pride and mistake ruined the world. Their motive was disagreeable, but the Drifter's seems more sympathetic: survival.
      • In the end, even if the Drifter succeeds in defeating Judgement and destroying the Immortal Cell, they die anyway. A Pyrrhic Victory, but one that paves the way for a better world free of The Corruption.
    • Memento Mori, especially in the form of life-threatening or terminal illness. The creator explains that this subject is intimately close to him: Alex Preston suffers a dangerous heart disease and struggles to accept the possibility that Your Days Are Numbered. The Drifter faces the same fatal trial, and in every Nightmare Sequence is terrorized by Judgement, who represents inevitable death incarnate.
    • War Is Hell. Violence has ravaged the land. Old scars and fresh wounds are everywhere.
  • Charged Attack: An upgrade you can purchase for your sword, making it turn briefly into a BFS that does much more damage than a normal strike. The alternate rifle can also be charged to do more damage, and can kill even the strongest enemy in the game in just two fully-charged shots.
  • Cool Sword: The Drifter's primary weapon is a Hard Light Laser Blade.
  • Corpse Land: Mostly subverted, as many areas in the game are full of corpses, but they're ancient and forgotten, and the world has recovered. But played straight for the water surrounding the central city, which is blood red and full of skeletons, and the landscape above is littered with weapons of an ancient war.
  • The Corruption: The Immortal Cell. From where they sit entombed under the land, their power is spreading outward. For the Drifter, there is no upside: they suffer its influence in the form of a deadly illness. The same influence might be infusing the bosses with fiendish power.
  • Crystal Landscape: In the forests of the West Zone. Vast amounts of pale green crystals litter the ground. Large crystals can be broken to refuel weapon energy, but the small shards on the ground are very dangerous.
  • Crystal Prison: In the western Crystal Landscape, some enemies are perfectly encased in clear crystal. They burst out ready to fight.
    • Human Popsicle: A raccoon person recounts how they got crystallized during the battle against the Titan and emerged recently.
    • The landscape and a particular enemy can crystallize the Drifter, immobilizing you for a few seconds.
  • Dash Attack: Two upgrades allow you to perform this — the sword upgrade has you dash in a line and hit everyone in your path, while the dash upgrade lets you perform a lunge at the end that knocks enemies back.
    • Several Mooks use similar moves.
  • Daylight Horror: The Eastern area. It's a bright, sunny city on the water. That's littered with the mutilated corpses of its otter inhabitants.
  • Death Course: A few hallways are replete with jets of flame, Temporary Platforms and Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom.
  • Deflector Shields: An upgrade for the Dash Module creates a shield around the Drifter that absorbs bullets, provided your timing is right and you have enough stamina.
  • Die, Chair, Die!: The Drifter can smash various small objects: boxes, plants, crystals, candles and piles of bones. Sometimes this is necessary to clear a path or uncover a hidden item.
    • Averted in the village that serves as a Hub Level and in the presence of friendly NPCs. The Drifter puts away their weapons and will not attack, only politely nod instead.
  • Dream Intro: The Drifter's dream is surreal and gruesome, apparently depicting the cataclysm that wrecked the land. It is unclear whether the Drifter remembers being there and is in a Flashback Nightmare or if they are Dreaming of Times Gone By in visions supplied by the Jackal.
  • Early Game Hell: The early part of the game, when you don't have any abilities, is the hardest part. After you gain some abilities — most notably the bullet absorption/deflection abilities — the game becomes significantly easier.
  • Energy Weapon: The Drifter's sword is made of Hard Light and they pack firepower in the form of various Ray Guns and Plasma Cannons.
    • Most enemies' weapons do the same, firing bright beams or blasts of power.
    • The Archer boss fires an Energy Bow.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The protagonist is named for his profession.
  • Exploding Barrels: Cylinders full of magenta fluid, possibly a sort of fuel. Evidently it is highly volatile.
  • Feathered Fiend: The birds in the Northern region practice a Religion of Evil that involves Human Sacrifice.
  • Find the Cure!: The Drifter's goal.
  • Fragile Speedster: Compared to tough enemies, the Drifter cannot take many hits. They can only win with speed and judicious use of Healing Potion.
  • Frog Men: The eastern region is overrun with evil humanoid frogs.
  • Gemstone Assault: The sharp spires of the Crystal Landscape do not merely gleam, they grow explosively fast, from tiny shards into Spikes of Doom.
    • They were weaponized to kill a Titan, impaling it on a colossal crystal spike.
  • Genuine Human Hide: The frog chieftain wears a necklace made from the flayed skins of otter people.
  • Gorn: Killing enemies with a Charged Attack, Dash Attack, explosive weaponry, or whilst wearing the Horde Mode Challenge Outfit litters the arena in gibs and blood. And then there's the poor otters who have their skinned corpses strung up on display.
  • Hard Light: A lot of technology the Drifter uses and can find uses this.
  • Healing Potion: These can be picked up and used to completely revitalize the Drifter in seconds. However, they can carry only three to five at a time and must use them carefully.
  • Highly Visible Ninja: The Drifter has the speed and general appearance of a ninja, but wears a brightly-colored mantle (unless you unlock one of the darker-coloured alternate outfits) and never engages in stealth.
  • Homage: The game references several classic video games in its design and presentation.
    • The plot of having a nameless protagonist and aesthetic of people living in a ruined society is from Dark Souls, and the gameplay focused on quick movement and combos in between enemy attacks is one possible strategy that is widely used in Souls games.
    • A central town with four areas in each of the cardinal directions is similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. The areas follow the same theme as Majora's Mask, but differ in specifics. Also like Majora's Mask, the city is eventually spared from Death from Above.
    • While not a true Metroid Vania, because the areas do not link together, there are a large number of well-hidden and largely optional collectibles.
    • The game also references Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind with the arrival of Titans triggering the end of modern civilization. It's also credited as one of the main inspirations by the creators themselves.
  • Human Sacrifice: The bird cultists in the north practice it, judging by the disemboweled corpses found on sacrificial altars. They also ritualistically burned most of their people’s eggs.
  • 100% Completion: 32 modules, 16 keys, 16 monoliths, 12 outfits, 6 guns, and 186 Gear Bits to earn upgrades. Most of these are in hidden areas that require a sharp eye and/or some good intuition to get to.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: The Drifter, really. Maybe not at first, but they can learn to turn their sword into a BFS, start Parrying Bullets (and then play tennis with some bosses), and perform two different kinds of Dash Attack; a powerful slash, and a lunge that can send enemies flying.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: How the Drifter's illness usually manifests, accompanied by copious amounts of Blood from the Mouth.
  • Knockback: In addition to being tossed around by more powerful attacks, one Dash Attack employed by the Drifter will not only send the enemy flying backward, but also does additional damage should they collide with anything.
  • Laser Blade: The Drifter's weapon of choice, capable of expanding into a Laser BFS when charged.
  • Last of Their Kind: The Drifter's race. Only three may be seen in the game, and they all seem to be dying of the same mysterious disease.
    • The Drifter. Their illness seems to have energized them to Find the Cure! and survive.
    • The Guardian. His wife and child have already died, and he seems to share the Drifter's quest for a cure. However, he is quickly succumbing to the illness. He dies of it before reaching that goal.
    • A third character can be found in the middle of town. This man sits surrounded by bottles and seems usually drunk. His response sounds like a weak, hoarse hiccup, suggesting that he is sick.
    • This last character tells how, after he came to the town, he was beaten by a mob for no apparent reason. It might imply Fantastic Racism against this group — the others might not be sorry to see them die off.
  • Lost Technology: The land is littered with it. The Drifter is one of the few who seem willing or able to use it.
    • The central town is built atop an Advanced Ancient Acropolis. Clearly nobody has unlocked it in a long time.
    • The rest of the land is strewn with advanced architecture and machinery, intact but abandoned and ignored. This is especially clear in the eastern area: amid the old architecture here, the Frog Men live in crude huts and wield primitive spears.
    • It makes for a Scavenger World as far as some villagers are concerned: the shopkeepers who sell upgrades seem interested in what the Drifter collects in the ruins.
  • Minimalism:
    • There's no written text outside of the tutorial, and even that's just a few lines telling you the game mechanics. The only storytelling is done through pictures, the occasional cutscene, and whatever the player can piece together from exploring the ruined landscape. If you want to know the bulk of the plot, be prepared to connect a lot of the dots yourself.
    • The collectible outfits don't tell you what they do, resulting in trial-and-error to determine the effect they have. Or you can just check the internet.
  • Minimalist Run: There are entire groups of collectibles (keys, outfits, monoliths) which are not needed to complete the game, and there are dozens of Gear Bits and 8 modules in each area. All that is strictly needed to complete the game is 4 modules from each area, and to defeat the 5 bosses.
  • Mooks: Aggressive monsters and servants of the bosses.
    • The Goomba: Dirks. They are common and pathetic, but can pose a challenge of they attack in large numbers.
    • Cowardly Mooks: If a single Dirk remains alive after seeing the Drifter defeat the rest of its comrades, it will run away sweating.
    • Elite Mooks: Many types. Since the Player Character is a Fragile Speedster, they must duel and outmaneuver these tough enemies.
    • Plant Mooks: Aggressive plants emerge from the soil in the eastern area.
    • Smash Mook: Large, tough enemies that jump into a Ground Pound attack.
  • The Musketeer: The Drifter has a Hard Light Laser Blade as his primary weapon and can wield guns.
  • Mysterious Watcher: The Jackal is subtly guiding you toward your goal. The Drifter isn't the only one it's interested in.
  • Nameless Narrative: No verbal information is presented, so nobody is called by name. However, some characters' names are All There in the Manual.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: One of the most iconic images of the game has the Drifter standing atop a staircase, about to face three of the Titans looming in the distance, implying an impending and epic boss fight. Had the trailer played a few seconds more, we'd see these three graphically disintegrate long before they become a threat.
  • New Game+: Beating the game grants you access to a New Game Plus mode. Unlike most New Game Plus modes, though, this is Harder Than Hard mode: sure, you skip the basic intro, start with all sword/dash upgrades, and the basic handgun... but you're stuck with an outfit that reduces your max health to 2. Certain enemies can do 2 damage with their attacks, basically making you a One-Hit Point Wonder in some fights.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Progress is periodically interrupted by coughing fits and horrific visions in which the Big Bad kills the Drifter.
  • Non-Player Companion: The Drone. It is not much of a character, but it dutifully hovers near The Drifter and is their sole companion in some desolate landscapes. It allows them to interface with technology and serves as a Master of Unlocking.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: The most jarring pixelation effects signify threatening or horrifying contexts.
    • Fits of sickness unexpectedly afflict the Drifter. As they stagger and cough, their surroundings crackle and flicker, as if pain and blurred vision are distorting their perception.
    • Judgment is especially jagged and glitchy in its appearance and animation.
    • In the Final Battle, dead pixels litter the area. Along with visual noise, the sound and music are warped and degraded in a way that differs from the rest of the game.
  • One-Hit Polykill: Two of the guns you can acquire shoot beams. They pass through enemies and can easily result in this on weaker ones. There's an achievement for this, too.
  • Painting the Medium: The game exults in its pixel aesthetic. It Paints beautifully and affectionately replicates some artefacts of old spite-based games.
  • People Jars: A regular sight in the southern labs. Most of them contain common enemy types, although there are a few specimens that look suspiciously like the Drifter...
  • Religion of Evil: The bird civilization in the North has been overrun with one of these, headed by the Hierophant.
  • Schizo Tech: Laser swords and deflector shields live among what appears to be ancient ruins and a relatively modest village. The obviously advanced technology is offset by the natural world and occasionally primitive inhabitants you come across.
  • Scenery Porn: Oh yes. The game's pixel art style is breathtaking and very detailed, and the game will often move the camera to give the player a full view of a gorgeous vista.
  • Science Fantasy: Given the lack of exposition or explanation on many things, it's hard to tell how much of anything is science and what (if anything) is magic; e.g. are the powers of the Hierophant and its minions magical in nature, or some form of high-tech reality warping? Probably leans more towards the 'sufficiently advanced technology' side of things, considering the number of robots and the high-tech firearms, though.
  • Set Bonus: Inverted. Finding the corpse of a fallen warrior rewards the Drifter with the whole set of equipment at once: their cloak, sword and drone. All give the same beneficial effect, but it does not stack, so it is better to mix items from three different sets.
  • Sigil Spam: Diamonds are used symbolically often, while squares are used as aesthetic, and small squares near edges or walls often indicate a hidden area.
  • Sprint Meter: Special attacks, bullet deflection, and chain-dashing all use up part of your stamina bar. The Pink cape (found in the South zone) reduces the delay before Stamina begins to recharge, whilst the Purple cape (from passing the 800 Dash Challenge) doubles your maximum stamina/halves how much stamina is consumed by actions.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology: The hidden monoliths that can be found and activated throughout the land. Collated and decoded, they spell out an Apocalyptic Log. They seem to contain a holographic recording of the writer, but the writing itself appears as an inscription on stone.
  • Summoning Ritual: The prelude shows a mural that seems to depict the four races performing some sort of invocation. At the center of their Geometric Magic is the Jackal.
    • Imperfect Ritual: It seems to have Gone Horribly Wrong and instigated the mysterious disaster that left the land ruined.
    • The presence of the Jackal suggests it worked — at least partially. The same ritual may have inadvertently summoned something very bad.
  • Suspicious Videogame Generosity: The room before the final boss has five health packs just lying around. Nice of them to let you stock up right there.
  • Tarot Motifs: Only revealed in the Steam trading cards, but it definitely isn't superficial. Three bosses, a location, and the Drifter themself all get a Tarot card which represents them:
    • The Hierophant represents leadership, conformity, and a group mentality, which the head of the North's local Religion of Evil embodies.
    • The Hanged Man can represent entrapment, suspension, and suffering, and there's plenty of evidence (mainly the fact that most inhabitants of the zone are trapped inside crystals) that the boss of the West spent a very long time encased in his crystal prison.
    • The Magician (the Drifter) represents action, drive, and a single purpose — like finding the cure.
    • The Tower represents upheaval, release, and revelation, which makes almost literal sense when you see the true Very Definitely Final Dungeon entering the narrative...
    • Judgement represents a call to action, and the absolution of fulfilling that purpose. In the game, Judgement is the source of the Drifter's sickness, the main character's main motivation. After defeating Judgement, the sea of blood the Drifter stood in during the opening cutscene turns to clean water — representing absolution. Alternatively, Judgement can also mean rebirth and awakening; the Drifter seems to believe that defeating Judgement will cure him of his illness and according to the ending, the world seems to be in a state of recovery thanks to the destruction of the Immortal Cell.
  • Temporary Platform: They will fall, vanish, or burst into flame shortly after they are stepped on.
  • Tennis Boss: Whilst not mandatory, buying the sword upgrade that allows you to deflect (most) incoming projectiles can be quite handy against certain bosses; deflected projectiles change colour and will damage any enemies they strike. Just don't try to deflect the containers the East Boss throws at you...
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: Activating the four towers after defeating each region's boss allows access to an elevator in the center of town... Where It All Began.
  • Three Quarters View: Complete with being often unable to go behind objects you otherwise should.
  • Title Theme Drop: After defeating the Sentients, the chilled-out tune from the start screen playa in each empty Boss Room.
  • Too Fast to Stop: The result of a long Chain Dash. It can send you into an embarrassing but harmless collision with a wall. It can also send you skidding over a ledge into a Bottomless Pit.
  • Video Game Dashing: The Dash Module. A Multi-use gear that enables a triple speed dash; can be used to evade attacks, cut across gaps and chasms, break through certain blocks and rubble and even stun enemies.
  • Wake-Up Call Boss: Whether it's the Hanged Man or the Hierophant, new players have a 2 in 3 chance of slamming up against one of the hardest bosses in the game just a few hours in.
  • Wingdinglish: The blocky, rectilinear glyphs can be decoded into English. The single-word signs outside shops are easy. The extensive text that covers the hidden monoliths is difficult but, if deciphered, reveals an Apocalyptic Log.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: The Drifter and the Guardian both want to Find the Cure! They do not have much time left. Memento Mori is a melancholy Central Theme the player may gradually recognize, especially after the Guardian's time runs out.

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