Hyper Light Drifter: Game Analysis


Alfonso Flores, Former Writer

There is something uniquely fascinating about Hyper Light Drifter, and it isn’t that it resembles older SNES or SEGA games, or that it follows a wordless story, or that it was developed by a man with a chronic health condition, but that, in a video game world full of triple-A titles, billion-dollar gaming markets, and constant graphical innovation, Hyper Light Drifter was made as nothing more than a passion project; one that would go on to become one of the most notable indie games of the current generation.

Developed by Alx Preston and released under the studio name Heart Machine in early 2016, Hyper Light Drifter follows the story of the main character, the Drifter, and his journey through a vast world on his quest for the cure of his illness that plagues him for the entirety of the game. 

The game throws you into its gorgeous soundtrack composed by musician, Disasterpeace, and bright stunning visuals that, at first glance, do anything but portray what the story is about. Although that may be seen as a negative aspect, it helps the game in more ways than you could possibly imagine.

In the game, there are four different areas of the map, the West, North, East, and South regions, all of which are corresponding to the species that take habitat in each area; Raccoons in the dense crystal forests of the West, the Birds in the freezing mountains of the North, the Otters in the aqua-colored flowing waters of the East, and the Lizards in the cave-lab filled Canyons of the South. Through each area, your main goal is to collect 4 different “modules,” all of which are hidden around the map in enemy-filled dungeons that you have to fight your way through with the game’s simple but challenging combat system.  

The combat system has been referred to as “Dark Souls” esque several times throughout the game’s development, enabling a permadeath system that, when all lives are lost, puts you back at a much earlier checkpoint. As for actual combat, the controls are fairly simple; dash, which jumps quickly moves the player forward; attack which allows the player to swipe with the Drifter’s sword; fire, which allows the character to fire off their ranged weapon of choice. Many of the enemies in the game have different attacks and cooldowns, however, making it fairly important for the player to know what to do next if they want to avoid death.

While battling through enemies, the player encounters several characters that, when interacted with, tell a story of sorts with a sequence of pictures, helping to slowly piece together the story behind the world. However, hidden throughout the game are several different monoliths, each of which, when translated, tell a direct story of the game’s lore.

It’s also important to mention the real-life story behind the game. More specifically, Lead Developer, Alx Preston’s story, the creator and heart behind Hyper Light Drifter. Born with a congenital heart condition that is able to take his life at any moment, he decided to take inspiration from his own life and his own struggles to reflect it when creating the game. This is not only displayed in the protagonist’s illness but in the main antagonist of the game, Judgement, which makes several appearances throughout the game, always appearing as a giant void-like figure that haunts the drifter wherever he goes. Judgment, although lore-wise an entirely different being, can be described as Preston’s underlying fear of acknowledging his own mortality; knowing that he can die at any moment, that thought alone later lead to the decision that if he was going to die, he wanted to at least leave something behind as a part of his legacy, something that would be remembered for years to come; Hyper Light Drifter.