Preview: Ender Magnolia Builds Upon Its Predecessor
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Preview: Ender Magnolia Builds Upon Its Predecessor

When Ender Magnolia: Bloom in the Mist was announced at the first 2024 Nintendo Direct, I was ecstatic. The original entry in the series, Ender Lilies, was my favorite game in 2021. Now that the Ender Magnolia Early Access version is out on Steam, players can experience what the developers at Adglobe and Live Wire are planning for the sequel.

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Ender Magnolia: Bloom in the Mist is a Metroidvania focused on exploration and narrative storytelling. Combat so far is identical to Ender Lilies, with protagonist Lilac controlling various Homunculus (this game’s equivalent to Spirits) in battle, each with different types of attacks and mechanics. Players start with Nola, a sword-wielding Homunculi that is reliable in close quarters combat, and quickly obtain new ones that open up options during fights. Progression skews towards the Igavania side of the genre, offering more variety in equipment, instead of a focal combat mechanic that gets expanded.

Where Ender Magnolia deviates the most is in how Homunculus and Spirits are handled. Instead of carrying only 3 at a time and having two interchangeable sets, players can use four Homunculi at a time and only have access to one set. One single Homunculi can now unlock various different weapons and tools. For example, Nola has access to her starting sword, but using bespoke upgrade materials she can unlock a scythe and an axe. Homunculi Lito starts with a regular ranged punch, but can also unlock a jumping slam that freezes enemies or an airward rocket punch. These tools can really change how to approach fights and allow for even more player expression. Considering how many redundant and situational Spirits were in Ender Lilies, I like the direction Ender Magnolia is taking. I would like to see the idea of having less but more useful and modular gameplay tools expanded in the full release.

Exploration also remains similar, with various branching paths already appearing early on even in the Early Access version. The current Early Access build available offers approximately three hours to explore everything and fight all bosses available. Considering the length of a lot of Metroidvanias, this is a non-insignificant chunk of the game already. Some of the areas and rooms can be a bit simple to navigate, but the developers have said that as updates release, item placement and terrain will change and expand accordingly. What has seen an improvement is the map, expanding how much information and visual clarity it offers. Instead of showing only square rooms, the map renders each room as they appear in-game in grey colors if there are elements to discover or blue if a room has been completed. Additionally, blocked doors show which items or movement upgrades can be used to open them. Having the extra level of detail and extra information helps often a new layer of clarity to navigation.

The story of Ender Magnolia centers around protagonist Lilac, an Attuner capable of saving the Homunculus infected by the Blighted fumes leaking from under the earth and borrowing their help in the hostile world of The Land of Fumes. Lilac wakes up without memories, meets the also-amnesiac Homunculus Nola, and they agree to help each other out. Their relationship is especially intriguing, as they both seem to belong to rival houses, with Lilac being an heir to the Frost and Nola being the Grim Reaper of Milius. From narrative clues and files found around the world, it seems the past actions of both houses led to the current state of ruin in The Land of Fumes. Even so early into the game, I enjoyed seeing hints and possible callbacks to Ender Lilies. I’m expecting that, for the final release, even without having played the first game newcomers might still be able to jump into this entry first.

It is too early to tell where the narrative is moving, but some of the additions present in the sequel are very welcome. Characters seem to be chattier in general. This time around, Lilac is not a silent protagonist, and that selfless and generous personality shows through interactions. The conversations Lilac and the Homunculus have in rest spots are particularly interesting, and I would like to see a replay function implemented in the final version, similar to how it already exists with Boss Memories.

Once again, the art direction in Ender Magnolia is impeccable. I don’t fully know if characters are rendered in 2D, 3D, or a mix of both, but they fit in perfectly with the rest of the world, sporting designs with striking colors that complement and stand out against the backgrounds, while using clear and precise animations. This is something that helps a lot during boss fights, which require attention and learning the timing of attack windows. Backgrounds are rendered in 2D with a fantastic parallax effect. The Land of Fumes is an inhospitable and desolate place, with brief moments of respite and calm. The entire game is crafted with meticulous attention to detail.

The soundtrack composed by Japanese indie band Mili is impressive. The gentle tunes of the piano from Ender Lilies are substituted with a slightly grungier electronic soundtrack which fits perfectly the series progression from dark fantasy to sci-fi. The vocals by singer Cassie Wei never get old, and remind me of Emi Evans’ work on the NieR series, especially the fantasy language used for the lyrics.

Ender Magnolia: Bloom in the Mist doesn’t deviate much from Ender Lilies, and that is because the original title was already a great game. Instead, the sequel improves on all of its strengths and polishes most of the kinks of the original, while retaining what made it special. I am very interested in seeing how the narrative unfolds and how the new subtle changes to the sequel build upon the first entry. While short, the Early Access version of the game is well worth your time if you liked the first game or if you’re like Metroidvanias.

Ender Magnolia: Bloom in the Mist is immediately available on Early Access for PC via Steam. The full release is set for later on 2024 an will appear on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC.


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Author
Daniel Bueno
Daniel is a staff writer and translator from the Spaghetti Western land of Andalusia, Spain. He got his start writing for Xbox Outsider in 2022. His favorite genres are RPGs, survival horrors, and immersive sims. In truth, he is a Dragon Quest slime in a human suit.