Gamers might not be familiar with Indonesian video game studios, but Lentera Nusantara's Ghost Parade seeks to change that in the coming months. Their debut release, set to be published by Aksys Games, is an ambitious and elegantly animated metroidvania whose style and themes draw inspiration from films like Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, the animated indie hit Ori and the Blind Forest, and the wide array of unique recruitable creatures to be found in Pokémon.
Having the opportunity to actually see Ghost Parade in motion, there's also something of an immediate visual connection to George Kamitani’s work with his studio Vanillaware, including previous console generation classics like Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Much like those titles, Ghost Parade has a slightly marionette-animated and painterly look, featuring smooth movement and dark contrasting colors that reflect the haunted forest environs.
Ghost Parade is Lentera’s first formally-released game project, though the founders of the studio have been working in and around the space for over a decade. Co-founder and CEO Azizah Assattari, who doubles as Creative Director, originally worked as a researcher and lecturer in various fields around the arts and multimedia efforts prior to the studio's origins. A few other games from this Southeast Asian nation have made a splash with Western audiences in recent years — Toge Productions' Rage in Peace garnered considerable praise last year, including its soundtrack, which featured local Indonesian bands — and Assattari and her team are looking to attract further attention to the bustling Indonesian game dev scene with their sizable, visually striking adventure.
Players take on the role of Suri, a young girl diverted through the woods on her way back home after school. Suri is a precocious, violet-haired nine-year-old who happens to have the strange talent of being able to see ghosts (known as “lelembut,” a word Lentera defines as "the local term for all supernatural beings including creatures, such as yokai in Japan, or wandering spirits of dead people"), a variety of whom are tucked throughout Svaka Forest. She decides to take a shortcut through the woods to get home on time, and is soon drawn into their supernatural intrigues, delayed but entertained by this assortment of spirits, who range in sensibility from the buffoonish to the macabre.
According to the studio, Ghost Parade’s storytelling was originally part of Assattari's research for her master’s degree, contained in comics which can now be read in a fresh and recently released English translation. The scrolling webcomic is generally light-hearted, but the story in this IP also regards the deforestation and systemic burning of Indonesia’s woodland due to logging, agribusiness, and global-capitalist demands, a nationwide epidemic that's been broiling for several decades now. This theme doesn’t seem to be exactly front-loaded in the Ghost Parade narrative, but the studio does seek to shed light and attention on this ecological concern, in addition to making a fun game. The studio remarks that, “The main conflict in this game’s story exists because people started to destroy the forest, which is home to many ghosts and animals. In this game, we want people to believe that humans can be more dangerous than ghosts!”
So how does it play? Screen Rant was able to secure a preview opportunity to check out Ghost Parade in person. Unlike Ori and the Blind Forest or Bloodstained, there’s a much floatier, hazy feel to the character movement, which manages to slot into the ghostly themes nicely. Suri initially gets a bright lantern which she can use to strike enemies, which is a nice change of pace from the more violent conventional weapons in other games; also, interestingly enough, "Lentera" translates to "lantern" in English. Many of the ghost familiars she encounters throughout the journey join end up joining her team, offering her an additional offensive function or spell, like firing a projectile or creating a shield or platform.
All of these ghost characters factor heavily into gameplay, and there are over 30 which Suri can recruit throughout the story, each of which have a special function mapped to a controller button that can attack enemies, assist her in navigating through the forest terrain, or offer other benefits. Three of these ghost companions can be “equipped” simultaneously at any time, and their unique abilities can also be modified and upgraded by leveling up one of Suri's specific attributes. It all results in a mix that feels like one-part empowering metroidvania, one part skill-based platforming, with many areas containing a strong sense of verticality and multiple routes, including tricky paths through more dangerous territory that lead to tucked-away treasures.
While we were able to see only a limited amount of the grander narrative, it featured plenty of dialogue with other ghost denizens of Svaka Forest (apparently there are 100 individual ghosts to converse with throughout the adventure). In a manner quite familiar to Western ghost stories, each of them have a quest or purpose that Suri can help activate and assist with during her journey, and the conversations tends to be brisk and accessible. The broad strokes of the story seem cutely energetic, with Suri’s can-do demeanor quickly endearing the different ghost personalities over to her side.
There are also a plethora of checkpoints planted throughout each area, which manage to ease any related punishment due to misplaced jumps or deaths due to spike hazards. Rather than render the platforming meaningless, these shrine-like safe zones allow Lentera to set up plenty of tricky precarious leaps and surprises, while also never forcing the player to have to begrudgingly replay lengthy areas to get back to where they originally were. It’s a design choice that encourages experimentation and failure, and the heart of it feels reminiscent of Super Meat Boy’s clever die-rinse-repeat philosophy for each level.
It’s not completely clear what Ghost Parade will fully evolve into by its upcoming release, but the intriguing visual presentation already sets it apart from a good number of games in the genre, and the different abilities of the ghosts promise a healthy amount of experimentation if players intend to access all its content. Lentera expects approximately 10 hours for a complete playthrough, but hints at secrets related to specific companion abilities that will be up to the player to puzzle out.
Additionally, even though the gameworld seems to primarily consist of the forest itself, it's a region filled with bizarre ruins and architecture that mixes up the general look of the environments, so you’re not just staring at trunks and leaves the whole time. If you ever wanted to drag a few Kodama from Princess Mononoke along for a rambunctious quest through the woods, Ghost Parade is worth a closer look.
Ghost Parade is currently on track to release in October — though that expected date may be subject to change — on PlayStation 4, PC/Steam, and Nintendo Switch.