There’s a lot to like about Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior - the tactical, set-piece hack‘n’slash combat often feels satisfying and snappy. However, a forgettable story and uninspiring skill progression cement Lysfanga within the shadows of its mechanical and narrative contemporaries.
Tactical hack'n'slash combat set-pieces are refreshing
Mayura is beautifully realized within stunning isometric vistas
Figments of Battle game mode offers impressive replayability
Story and performances leave a lot to be desired
Skills unlocked throughout the game feel stale and uninspiring
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Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC
Release date: February 13, 2024
Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is an impressive debut from Sand Door Studio and offers an interesting time-altering twist to the traditional hack’n’slash roguelike cross that has been popularized since the release of Supergiant’s Hades. Though the roguelike’s core loop does offer plenty of interesting tactical moments throughout the games eight to 10-hour run, the overall package lands short of the lofty heights reached by games of a similar ilk.
In Lysfanga, you take on the role of Imë, a mysterious warrior known as the “Lysfanga” who is sworn to protect the New Kingdom. However, when you are drawn to investigate rumors in the ancient Cities of Mayura, an old and evil enemy known as the Raxes re-emerges.
Hold your horses
The game starts with an opening exposition dump to set the scene. While credit should be given to the Sand Door team for attempting to develop the lore and history of the mystical land of Mayura, it can be a little much.
The time-loop feature is by far the most exciting aspect of combat. It allows the player to pull off impressive combos alongside getting visibly annoyed with their own past actions (at least in this reviewer's experience).
The names of people, cities, and enemies are thrown at you in a five-minute opening section to admittedly very pretty still images; unfortunately, in exposing so much early on in a bid to establish the world, the agency to then discover these stories is lost.
This apathy is condensed further by a story that has its twists and turns but never does enough to hook its claws in entirely. This problem, in part, is down to vocal performances that feel flat, with each line of dialogue carelessly shuffling to the next. But even if the performances were top-notch, the story serves only to get the player through to the next combat set piece - an excuse to move you forward rather than a compelling reason to. This lack of character is a shame, considering the craft and care that has gone into designing what is often a gorgeously detailed environment.
Thankfully, the core experience in Lysfanga is still incredibly solid, bordering great. When Imë arrives at a combat encounter, the game pauses and the top-down isometric view allows the player time to survey the scene.
This mechanic gives you time to spot where the enemies are, how to get to them, and what hazards might scupper them. This feature felt very similar to XCOM in that you have as much time as desired before the combat begins to work out your moves, which in turn helps add a healthy dose of control to hack’n’slash action that can feel chaotic and random in other games.
With each attempt, you have a specific time limit before you reset, and the attempt you just made is replayed via your Remnant; think time-trial ghost from a Mario Kart game but with more violence. Your previous Remnant’s actions carry across all corresponding runs. So if you took your first run up the left side, you can run up the right on your second, and all the Raxes previously slain will remain dead.
Subtitles accompany the game’s fully voice-acted dialogue. The controls can be re-mapped to suit different controller configurations.
As the game progresses, levels play around with this more. Certain gates open and close when passed through. While some Raxes are psychologically linked, meaning they need to be destroyed simultaneously, and so on.
These compact battles, with increasingly exciting twists on the formula, are often brilliant. On top of this, there are recommended time challenges on each encounter. After the second act of the story, there's a whole new game mode that allows you to add modifiers to increase the challenge further and retry previous battles. For those players who are gripped by trying to find the optimal paths and quickest times, this will be the perfect hook and offers impressive replayability beyond the story.
There are some issues here also, however. Though the game as a whole runs wonderfully, some enemies feel twitchy, such as a Raxes that, when defeated, fires in a straight line and explodes. The level design clearly wants you to deploy this on the enemy, but getting this beast going in the correct trajectory often feels random. On top of this, the core fighting styles of standard, light, and heavy weapons don’t feel dramatically different from one another, and unlocked spells and runes do somewhat change the feel of the game but never really alter the encounters in any meaningful way.
Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior scratches the hack’n’slash itch successfully. The game is tight, the combat is slick, and it feels good to play. However, there isn’t enough content here, particularly in character build or within its story, that makes Lysfanga genuinely unmissable. Overall, Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is fun and snappy; you just won’t be using your Remnants to replay it over and over.