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Video Game / Lost Ember

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"Find who I am, I'm not alone.
Find my way back, I'll come back home."

Lost Ember is an Adventure Game / Environmental Narrative Game by the German Mooneye Studios. It was funded on Kickstarter on November 14th, 2016, and released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on November 22, 2019 and the Nintendo Switch on September 24, 2020. VR support is confirmed after release.

The player takes control of a wolf, a member of the Yanren people who was reincarnated after failing to reach her culture's afterlife, the City of Light. You are accompanied by another deceased Yanrana, in the form of a ball of red light, and together you are tasked with exploring the ruins of the Yanrana civilization and find out what happened to yourselves and your people. To aid her on her journey, the wolf is capable of possessing any animal she meets, including birds, fish, and moles, and then using their abilities to further explore areas she can't reach herself.


Compare with Spirit of the North, a similar game featuring a fox guided by a point of light through the ruins of a lost civilization and told entirely without words.

Lost Ember contains examples of...

  • After the End: The Yanrana died out or were killed some time ago, and the game shows how forest has reclaimed their buildings.
    • During the second half of the game, the player comes across the remains of structures built by the Machu'ruku, a civilization that fell so long ago, even the Yanrana only knew of them by the massive ruins they left behind.
  • All for Nothing: Kalani's revolution fails to overthrow the emperor and only results in meaningless destruction that brought the Yanren civilization, already unstable, to its knees and results in her death and those of her followers.
  • Animals Not to Scale: The "moles" (actually fairy armadillos) are about the size of badgers. They should actually be about the size of the wolf's snout.
  • The Atoner: Kalani spends the second half of the game trying to make up for causing the destruction of Quilotasi by trying to do what Weyla wanted from the beginning.
    • Atevo is this throughout the game, but especially towards the end as they realize just how badly they were in the wrong while alive.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: The entire premise of the game. The player's spirit companion is prevented from reaching the City of Light, the Yanrana afterlife, by a barrier of red light. In the opening minutes of the game, he determines that the wolf is a reincarnation of a woman named Kalani who also suffered this fate. The game's story revolves around reliving Kalani's memories to learn why this is.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: The entrance to the Grand Temple of Quilotasi has a long row of cages where wild wolves would be kept before being put in the arena for wolf versus human battles. Men who were victorious would be admitted to the Sinchi Guard.
  • Beautiful Void: All humans are long dead, and the animals are pretty normal. Aside from the fact that you're a wolf who's occasionally followed and talked to by a glowing red wisp, it really is just like wandering deep in a forest filled with ruins.
  • Beneath the Earth: The "moles" are capable of traveling through elaborate tunnels and digging under various obstacles.
  • Be the Ball: The wombat's special ability is to curl up into a ball and roll around.
  • Body Surf: The wolf is a "soul wanderer", capable of jumping into and controlling other animals and even switching between hosts on the fly. She doesn't cause any damage to the animals she possesses and they go back to going about their business when she's done with them. It helps that she can't take an animal too far from others of its species, so they're always able to return to their group without trouble.
  • Broken Bridge: The wolf frequently runs across obstacles, such as deep canyons, rivers, or narrow holes, that require her to possess another animal to pass.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Creatures which look like fairy armadillos (an exotic, though real, species) are referred to as the much more familiar mole (which belongs to an entirely different order; they're as related to wolves as they are to each other).
  • Chekhov's Gun: The tur'puy daggers all Yanrana receive as a rite of passage once they reach a certain age. Getting a close look at Atevo's dagger near the end of the game is what finally reminds the spirit of his real name.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Kalani's compassion for animals, established in an early cutscene, allows her to pass through a wolf pack's territory safely near the end of the game.
  • Color-Coded Eyes: The wolf's eyes are gray, representing her semi-spiritual nature.
  • Discovering Your Own Dead Body: An interesting variant. The only (non-holographic) body shown in the game is the skeleton found in the opening sequence. The spirit you're following believes it's his, but reconsiders after seeing that the name on the amulet clutched in its hand doesn't belong to him. The appearance of Kalani's spirit immediately after leads him to conclude that the body is Kalani's, and your character is her reincarnation, keeping the trope intact. The Reveal at the end confirms that the body was his after all.
  • Due to the Dead: Yanren funeral rites feature at several key moments of the story.
    • The opening exposition depicts a traditional Yanrana funeral while a voiceover explains the beliefs behind it, setting up the question of why the spirit who appears moments later was Barred from the Afterlife.
    • Wayla's funeral about a quarter of the way through the game is where Kalani decides to go full Well-Intentioned Extremist, setting the rest of the game's events into motion.
    • The very last memory of the game is of Atevo giving Kalani a traditional funeral—or as close as they can get with what's available to them. Despite acknowledging that the deceased character never believed in the ritual, it was important to Atevo that they receive a proper funeral.
  • Exposition Fairy: The wolf's spirit companion acts as this if the player enables spoken dialogue, providing hints and additional context through commentary on the locations they visit and narrating the events playing out in the memories.
  • Fairy Companion: The Companion, though he's actually a human spirit who takes the form of a small ball of red light due to having forgotten who he was in life.
  • The Famine: Many of the early memories deal with the impact of one of these on the people of Kalani's home village. It was made worse by the fact that the emperor's soldiers continued to take food from the village, leaving them with almost nothing and driving many people, including Kalani's lover Weyla, to the edge of starvation.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Kalani is shown early on to have a strong bond with animals, as depicted in a memory where she comforts a dying bull. This comes back toward the end when she frees a wolf cub who was trapped by a rockfall and gains the respect of its pack, who allow her to pass unharmed.
  • Gaia's Lament: The spirit notes that a famine was caused by overexploitation of the soil and forests, and during his time a stream was nearly dry and filthy. In the present, said water source is clear and healthy.
  • Gaslighting: While Kalani originally instructed the wolf (her reincarnated self) to guide the spirit to the City of Light, the spirit comes to believe that he is the guide who must redeem the wolf upon witnessing Kalani's actions. He continues to verbally beat the wolf over the head with her past life until The Reveal, where he finally understands that he was the one in need of redemption all along.
  • Ghibli Hills: The game starts in a quiet, beautiful forest. Aside from falling, there isn't any sort of danger to the wolf; she's just out to explore, not fight.
  • Ghost Amnesia: The spirit suffers from this, remembering details about Yanrana culture that were important to him but unable to recall who he was or what happened to him. It's implied that this is due to how long he was trapped as a spirit before the wolf came along and agreed to help him reach the afterlife.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: That Kalani has done some terrible things is a given, considering the premise of the story is that she has been Barred from the Afterlife; however, her father Atevo, who serves as the main antagonist, is no saint either. The game's ending reveals that Kalani eventually became The Atoner and was admitted to the City of Light after her death, while Atevo, who remained blind to his own mistakes to the very end, was not.
  • Hard Light: A barrier of this is what's preventing the wolf's companion from moving on to the afterlife. Played with in that the wolf can pass through it just fine; only the spirit accompanying her is affected.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Kalani has one of these after her attempt to overthrow the emperor results in the destruction of Quilotasi. They spend the rest of the game trying to make up for it.
    • Atevo's realization at the very end of the game is what finally allows them to join Kalani and the rest of his people in the City of Light.
  • Holler Button: The wolf can howl on command to call her Companion back to her if they get separated and ask for hints and commentary. At memory traces, she can hold down the howl button to reveal them.
  • Hologram: Kalani's memories manifest as three-dimensional images that act out what happened for the wolf and her companion to see. They're not solid, however, and will dissolve if the player tries to touch them.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Kalani ignites a revolution and it seems to be going well. She storms the palace, making it all the way to the throne room. The emperor is arrested and his amulet is stripped from him, and Kalani and her followers triumphantly wave their banners from the balcony — only to see Quilotasi in flames. The emperor's guards return and drive off the revolutionaries, so Kalani ended up causing nothing but destruction.
    • After seemingly completing Kalani's and Atevo's story, the City of Light appears in the distance and the spirit is ecstatic about finally gaining entry, only for it to dissolve once they reach the entrance. It gets Atevo to admit that getting to the City of Light wasn't the point of his journey, enough for Kalani's spirit to appear, restore his form, and grant him entry to the true City of Light.
  • Identity Amnesia: Your companion has been drifting around as a spirit for so long that his memories of who he was in life have faded, and he no longer recalls his name or what he looked like. Your travels through the remains of the Yanrana civilization help jog his memory.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Your Companion is a spirit of one of the Yanren people. You are a wolf (albeit also formerly a human).
  • Joke Character: The player can also possess worms, fireflies, and sloths. They are as useful as they sound.
  • Knight Templar: Atevo's devotion to the emperor and his duties as a soldier blind him not only to the widespread poverty and suffering that motivated Kalani's actions in the first place, but also to the lessons she spends the second half of the game trying to teach him. The game's ending implies that this is why he was Barred from the Afterlife; accepting that he was as much in the wrong as Kalani is what finally allows him to move on.
  • Landmark of Lore: The city of Quilotasi is definitely a Shout-Out to Machu Pichu.
  • Late to the Tragedy: The wolf, due to being born years too late to witness the collapse of Yanrana civilization, though the wolf is also a reincarnated human from the same time period and even set its collapse into motion.
  • Limited Animation: The memories play out this way, with the humans shifting between poses like statues.
  • Locked into Strangeness: The wolf receives a streak of white fur on the right side of her face and down her neck as a mark of her Body Surf abilities. When separated from the spirit, her mark disappears.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The spirit and the wolf discover that the spirit is Kalani's father Atevo. The spirit is shocked that Atevo's actions were his own and the wolf turns her back on him.
  • Mayincatec: The Yanrana were apparently this, if their abandoned architecture winding between mountains is any indication.
  • Misplaced Vegetation: While apparently based off of South America, the forest is less of a jungle and more the temperate sort you'd see in North America or Europe. The game also includes a desert similar to the Sahara or Kalahari, which also have oases filled with bamboo.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: There are lots of non-South American wildlife for a game based off of the continent.
    • The game's protagonist, the wolf. While South America does have maned wolves, Chrysocyon brachyurus, they are red like foxes, and are not true wolves (they're a different species to the grey wolf, Canis lupus, found in North America and Europe). However, the wolf's build is more similar to the leggy South American canid.
    • Buffalo are a playable species. Whether they are meant to be North American bison, African buffalo, or Asian water buffalo, none of those buffalo are found in South America.
    • There were social stretch goals to include wombats (from Australia) and meerkats (from Africa), though only wombats were included at launch.
    • Elephants (Africa), mountain goats (none are native to South America) and giant tortoises (Galapagos Islands), are also playable species.
  • invokedMoral Event Horizon: The player's companion declares that Kalani has crossed this after seeing the memories of her desecrating a sacred monument and leading a failed revolution that resulted in the destruction of Quilotasi. He does encourage her to at least try asking for forgiveness after his initial shock and anger fades, however, implying that he thinks there might still be some hope for her.
    • After The Reveal that the player's companion is the spirit of Atevo, he believes that he himself had crossed this. This is compounded only a few minutes later at the game's climax, when he learns that he was directly responsible for Kalani's death.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Kalani's reaction to seeing Quilotasi in flames due to riots she incited as part of her revolution. It's made even more poignant due to being conveyed solely through music, body language, and a flashback to Weyla's death.
    • Atevo has one of these after he accidentally pushes Kalani over a ledge, killing her. It also results in a major one for the wolf's spirit companion, who had realized only a few minutes previously that he is Atevo.
  • Never My Fault: Kalani declares that everything she does after Weyla's death is Atevo's fault, since he was responsible. Atevo correctly points out in a later scene that he isn't responsible for Kalani's actions—though, ironically, his Knight Templar tendencies are blinding him to his own hand in what happened and is ultimately what's keeping him from the City of Light.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Trailers and other promotional material imply that the game is telling the story of the Yanrana civilization's downfall. Though the state of Quilotasi's ruins combined with what's revealed in the memories implies that Kalani's failed revolution is what pushed the civilization over the edge, the exact reason they died out is never made clear. The bulk of the story focuses instead on the conflict between Kalani and her father Atevo.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Atevo burned the house that Kalani shared with Weyla to punish Kalani after she led protests against the soldiers who were taking food from her famine-stricken village. Weyla was inside and was too weak from malnutrition to escape before she burned to death. This is what motivates Kalani to become a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
    • Kalani's attempt to overthrow the Yanren emperor resulted in the exact opposite of what she'd wanted to accomplish, leaving Quilotasi decimated, if not outright destroyed, and making her and her followers the target of a manhunt that eventually ended with all of them captured or dead.
  • Noble Wolf: The protagonist is a wolf who is trying to help a lost spirit reach the afterlife. The spirit mentions that she is the first one who could understand and as willing to help him.
    • The pack of wolves Kalani encounters late in the game are also this; while they're initially wary, they allow her to pass safely once they realize she means no harm and even give their lives for her.
  • Offing the Offspring: Atevo accidentally kills his daughter Kalani by pushing her off a ledge at the Temple of the Sun.
  • Placid Plane of Ankle-Deep Water: The final memory is on an ankle-deep ocean under a starry sky. The wolf and her spirit companion then run across the water to the City of Light.
  • The Plague: In addition to a harsh famine, the spirit recalls that disease was running rampant through Kalani's village when she was alive.
  • Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: The spirit companion is disgusted that Kalani's revolution resulted in the destruction of Quilotasi, but he decides to give her another chance. Later in the story, when the companion is revealed to be Kalani's father's Atevo, the wolf abandons the spirit and he believes he doesn't deserve forgiveness upon learning when he killed Kalani, even if they continue to travel together until the spirit admits he is equally in the wrong.
  • Precious Puppy: Kalani rescues a trapped wolf pup late in the game. The deed gains the respect of its pack and the pup becomes the pack's sole survivor. Kalani then makes it her mission to keep the pup safe from her father. It even tries to defend her against Atevo and it stays with her body after her death.
  • Press X to Not Die: There are two series of quick-time events in the game: the first is a hummingbird caught in a gust of wind and the second is a mountain goat jumping up a collapsing mountain.
  • Rebel Leader: Kalani gains a substantial following in her village, distributing food to the poor and inciting them to rise up against the government. Many wield spears and banners emblazoned with her name.
  • Redemption Quest: Kalani spends the second half of the game on one after her failed revolution destroyed Quilotasi.
    • The entire game is one of these as the wolf and her companion attempt to gain entrance to the afterlife after being denied entry for decades or even centuries. Though the journey is only this for Atevo, as the ending reveals Kalani's efforts to make up for her mistakes in life were enough to redeem her.
  • The Reveal: The player's companion is the spirit of Atevo, Kalani's father.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The player gets to inhabit a whole host of them, such as wombats, armadillos, capybaras, and hummingbirds. Some have additional animations like munching fruits and falling asleep.
    • Even the wolf can curl up to sleep. D'aww...
  • Reincarnation: Yanrana tradition holds that those who are Barred from the Afterlife will be reincarnated as wild animals. It's what leads the spirit to believe that the wolf had done something in her previous life to earn such a fate.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: Subverted. While Kalani's uprising in her village had good intentions, it only results in tragedy as her house is burned down with her lover inside and only gets more violent from there. Quilotasi is burned to the ground, the Yanrana are implied to have collapsed soon afterward, and her movement even failed to kill the emperor and they are hunted down and killed. The spirit can only comment on the meaningless destruction of it all.
  • Ruins for Ruins' Sake: There are plenty of overgrown temples and buildings hidden in the forest for you to find. Justified in that the first sets of ruins are the remains of towns where Kalani and her spirit companion once lived, which the wolf reaches by following the remains of major roads. And in the second half of the game, Kalani is deliberately leading her pursuers through the remnants of the extinct Machu'ruku civilization.
  • Scenery Porn: The game has been noted as having some of the prettiest graphics of 2016's indie games. Vistas look out on terraced mountain villages, overgrown ruins, vibrant jungle canyons and expansive deserts.
  • Shout-Out:
  • This Is Unforgivable!: The spirit's reaction to the destruction of Quilotasi and, later, to the revelation that he caused the deaths of both Kalani and the the woman she loved.
  • Time Abyss: The Companion was alive when the Yanrana were at their height of civilization, though there were social problems under the surface. They've been gone long enough that their buildings are crumbling ruins and the forest has reclaimed most of the city.
  • Title Drop: The Yanrana refer to spirits who are Barred from the Afterlife as "lost embers." Naturally, this results a few times. The most impactful is during the Spirit Companion's Heel Realization.
  • To Win Without Fighting: A flashback shows that Kalani's lover Weyla believed this was the only way to make peace with the soldiers who took food from their village even in a time of famine. Kalani disagreed, but had a change of heart and adopted this strategy after her failed revolution only made things worse for everyone.
  • Tragic Keepsake:
    • Weyla's amulet, which is all that's left after the house she shared with Kalani is burned down with her inside.
    • Kalani's amulet, though this isn't revealed until the very end of the game. Atevo threw away his own amulet and carried Kalani's with him after he accidentally killed her; this leads Atevo's spirit to mistakenly assume that his body is actually Kalani's.
  • Underwater Ruins: Part of the road to Quilotasi goes through a low-lying area that has since been flooded and is now a lush, reef-like ecosystem.
  • Viking Funeral: The Yanrana practice a variant of this. They place the bodies of their dead in canoes at a place called the Whispering Towers. After carving the name of the deceased into the stones, the canoes are set aflame and allowed to drift away, releasing the deceased's soul to enter the City of Light.
  • Violence Really Is the Answer: Ultimately subverted. It's shown early on that Kalani's raids on convoys of soldiers helped her keep the people of her village from starving; however, when she decided to escalate from thievery to organized revolution against the government who was confiscating their crops, the result was an escalating cycle of violence that led to the death of her lover Weyla, the destruction of the capital of Quilotasi and potentially the downfall of the entire Yanrana civilization, the implied death/capture of all of Kalani's friends and followers, and finally Kalani's death at the hands of her own father.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Kalani decided to overthrow the Yanren emperor in an effort to put a stop to the injustices perpetrated by the emperor's soldiers; unfortunately, she decided the best way to do this was by inciting massive riots as a distraction so her group could enter the royal palace for their coup, resulting in the destruction of Quilotasi.
  • Wham Shot: The golden sun carved into Atevo's dagger reminds the spirit of his true identity.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Kalani and Atevo head to the City of Light while the wolf looks on, now alone and standing in the middle of the ocean. The game fades to white and then credits before we know where it goes next.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: After accidentally killing Kalani, Atevo exclaims "what did you make me do?!"
  • Worm Sign: When burrowing with a mole, the entrace and exit points are shown with a line of disturbed earth between them.