Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Hyper Light Drifter

Go To

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 Kingdom which is currently under development. Metal Weave Games held a Kickstarter campaign for 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.
  • 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.
  • All There in the Manual: According to the game 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 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 and frogs.
  • 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.
  • Bright Is Not Good: OH DEAR GOD! 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 emphasizes a sense of wrongness.
  • 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: The futility of striving for something that may not even exist in the first place, as well as individuals taking power for themselves with violence.
    • Another theme is the nature of death, and how one can relate to it; either as a cruel, dehumanizing force, or as a natural process through which one may find absolution.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The protagonist is named for his profession.
  • 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: The Drifter starts the game as one, as your initial arsenal can only do one point of damage per attack and you can only take five hits maximum.
  • Frog Men: The eastern region is overrun with evil humanoid frogs.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Musketeer: The Drifter has a Hard Light Laser Blade as his primary weapon and can wield guns.
  • 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.
  • 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: Well aware of its own pixel aesthetic and intentionally replicates some of the accidental problems of old games; horizontal bleed is used to show the Drifter waking up after dying, and in the final area, dead pixels float around to indicate how corrupted the area is.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 3/4 View: Complete with being often unable to go behind objects you otherwise should.
  • 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.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: