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Jasmine Gould-Wilson

This hack and slasher mixes Hades and an Assassin's Creed Odyssey-like story with its own unique twist

Lysfanga The Time Shift Warrior.

If two heads are better than one, Lysfanga: The Time-Shift Warrior definitely got the memo. The stunning isometric hack and slash presents a novel take on the roguelite-RPG skeleton as popularized by Hades: what if instead of dying, you rewound time and fought your foes with clones of yourself?

At first I was baffled by the concept, especially given how chaotic each arena can get when the enemy density ramps up in similar games, but Lysfanga's unique combat loop had me hooked from the get-go. It might not have quite as ambitious and rich a narrative as Hades, but Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is a beautiful (if rather frustrating at times) tactical dungeon crawler that's well worth your time this year. 

If I could turn back time 

(Image credit: Spotlight by Quantic Dream)

When I first step into Antala, my thoughts immediately turn to Disney's Hercules. Not only does Imë have a Buffy Summers element to her calling as a Lysfanga – the sole warrior of her generation, fighting for the goddess Qhomera – but the art style of the world around her feels like something out of a Greek myth. Also, that ponytail simply screams Megara.

It's not Greek, of course. The world and setting of Lysfanga: The Time-Shift Warrior feels closer to the ancient Middle East, perhaps somewhere akin to modern-day Turkey when looking at the names and places you encounter as Imë embarks on a search for her AWOL twin brother, Kehör. Story-wise, this is where the Assassin's Creed: Odyssey flavors start trickling through; a renegade twin sibling has gone rogue, while an exasperated sister cleans up his mess. The lore is there, and there's certainly a lot of it as you add to your codex. As stunning as Antala is as you explore it, though, it can all feel rather lifeless in terms of actual worldbuilding. There's nobody to talk to, save for the Golem constructs back at your base camp, and once you've cleared an encounter you never have to replay it again. But the desolate landscape is easily forgiven, thanks to Lysfanga: The Time-Shift Warrior's secret weapon: its fast-paced, frenetic, decidedly tactical approach to combat. 

I love roguelike games, but it's not controversial to say that once you've played a handful, you've played them all. Lysfanga is a breath of fresh air in that regard; it has a lot of the bells, whistles, and characteristics of the best roguelike games, sans the permadeath. In its place is the time-bending concept of Remnants – or your past selves – who help you fight demonic entities known as Raxes. To create a Remnant, Imë either has to die or rewind time herself, using a power bestowed to her from her goddess. Each rewind takes you back to the moment your other Remnants set out on the attack, which means you can set out to clear other corners of the arena while your remnants see to the others. Again, confusing in theory – but immensely fun in practice.

(Image credit: Spotlight by Quantic Dream)

The simplicity of it all had me fooled at first. Dash, hit, dash, hit, rewind, repeat – I thought I had it down pat. As I progressed through the lower and higher cities of Mayura, I battled it out against myriad variants of the Raxes. From bombers that fly backward and explode on collision with others, to heavy-duty Raxes with shields that cannot be attacked from the front, I had to adjust my strategy in each new arena to claim victory. All enemies need to be cleared within a number of seconds – less than a minute, most of the time – and being sparing with your time rewinds is essential.

The thing I love most about Lysfanga: The Time-Shift Warrior is that it makes me use my brain. It's all too easy to jump head-first into a hack and slash game and see it as a button-mash bonanza, and though I do spend a lot of time hammering A and X on my Xbox gamepad, it's never before I've pored over the enemy layout in each new arena and come up with a plan. There's an element of forethought that comes with each new round in Lysfanga, and it still has the capacity to surprise and intrigue me after a solid six hours of playtime. To say that it's not something I readily find in most roguelikes or dungeon crawlers is an understatement, as the challenge becomes less about learning attack patterns and more about memorizing how to maximize your limited arsenal of tools.

With such a dynamic and considered approach to combat, it's no wonder that Lysfanga: The Time-Shift Warrior struggles to bring its story up to par. If Hades is the perfect balance of story and gameplay, Lysfanga truly sparkles in the latter. That's in no way a slight against what's there – I love getting to decorate my base camp with unlockable paintings that chart Imë's journey, and finding new armor patterns to equip from my wardrobe always makes me rush back to camp to try them on. Still, though, what keeps me venturing back out into Antala is the knowledge that I'll be confronted with more and more intricate formations of brutish enemies to lay waste to increasingly complicated ways. I'm never bored in Lysfanga: the Time-Shift Warrior, even if half my time is spent cursing the Raxes – and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is out now on PC. To see what other indie gems we've been enjoying so far, be sure to check out our Indie Spotlight series. 

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