Ary and the Secret of Seasons is Feel-Good Indie Magic

Ary and the Secret of Seasons Hands-On Preview

Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an upcoming action-adventure game that tells the story of a young girl who sets off to save the world by harnessing the magical powers of each season and using them to explore, solve puzzles, and defeat her enemies. In a hands-on preview, I found this game to be colorful, creative and full of feel-good charm, but with its childlike presentation and unsophisticated storytelling, will the experience hold up for children and adults alike?

The game begins with Aryelle (Ary, for short) playing with her toys in her home in Yule, a beautiful mountain town typically shrouded in ice and snow. She reenacts an ancient legend about an evil mage that once threatened the world of Valdi, and as the prologue plays out, we learn that her father is the Guardian of Winter — one of four protectors responsible for maintaining the regions encapsulated by their own corresponding seasons. Ary’s father is called into an emergency Guardian meeting to discuss the sudden disruption of the seasons, but will not attend due to his grief over the recent disappearance of Ary’s older brother. After finding her lost brother’s sword in the marketplace that day, she decides to attend the meeting in place of her father to seek the Guardians’ help in finding him. In full Mulan fashion, she cuts off her hair, dons her brother’s clothing and takes off with his sword against her mother’s wishes to step in as the first female Guardian of Winter. 

Reveal Your Secrets

The preview allowed me to play through both the first chapter and the last temple before the game’s finale, giving me the chance to familiarize myself with the controls and premise and glimpse into what the game looks like once all powers have been unlocked. In the beginning, we start out with only the power to create Winter spheres, which encompass and freeze over a specific area right in front of Ary. When cast over one of the many special stones in the game, the sphere expands and can be used to activate switches, banish obstructive thorns that block passageways or chests, or create new ways to traverse. Throughout the game, Ary will eventually gain access to all seasonal spheres, in addition to other tools and powers that will be used to solve puzzles and defeat enemies.

Ary and the Secret of Seasons is aptly named, as the game truly is about using the powers of different seasons to reveal vital secrets on the map. Activating the Winter sphere can unveil icicles that Ary can jump on and climb, or even expose bridges that are otherwise invisible. Not only do we use this ability in temples and dungeons, but also when we are exploring the world. There are tons of secrets to explore when you know which objects to look for and activate, and the use of different seasons is impressively creative.

In addition to revealing secrets, the seasons are utilized in different ways to solve puzzles that feel heavily inspired by classic Zelda games. Just as you use various key items to progress through temples in Zelda, you will use the effects of the seasons to advance in Ary. One amusing example of this is the ability to freeze certain enemies into blocks using the Winter sphere that can then be pushed around and plopped onto crucial pressure plates. During combat, I found the use of seasons to be of minimal importance, but perhaps throughout the full game there will be more encounters where using magic will be necessary for victory.

Combat in general feels moderately flat in Ary. The basic move list consists of a dodge roll, a parrying move and a primary attack, all of which feel relatively weightless and unsatisfying. Enemy encounters don’t seem to be at the forefront of the experience, but rather an element thrown in to provide more dimension to the game. You can run past almost any enemy you choose, and there seems to be no consequence or annoying pursuits to deal with if you do. Though I was only able to play two different chapters, I did not see much variation in the enemies. Sadly, there were no aerial or ranged enemies, and all were a little too easy to defeat. 

Jovial and Juvenile

Right off the bat, Ary and the Secret of Seasons feels like a game oriented towards a child audience. The combat is simple and understated; something that’s great for kids but may leave much to be desired for adult players. The voice acting is pretty cheesy, but it’s comparable to watching an animated film, and keeping this in mind actually makes the experience a more enjoyable one. It’s cinematic and uplifting, and everything from the corny taglines exclaimed during combat to the lilting musical score is light and optimistic. The animation is soft and round, with vibrant colors everywhere you look, and the developers did a wonderful job making Ary really feel like the child that she is. She sprints wildly with her arms splayed behind her, uses her entire body weight to pull heavy levers, and seems genuinely tiny compared to everybody around her. It’s incredibly charming to adventure through the eyes of a child — though this charm wears off in certain other areas.

My biggest qualm with Ary so far is the jagged storytelling that makes the game feel far less mature than it should be. Before going on, I’ll clarify again that I only accessed a preview build of the game, and it is possible that the full release will contain more — or even different —  content. In my personal playthrough, I found the main chapter to unfurl the story in a strangely inconsistent manner. For instance, Ary’s last exchange with her mother before cutting off her hair and taking her brother’s clothing is a fight where her mother tells her that she cannot attend the meeting in her father’s place because she is not willing to lose another child, and that’s final. However, after reaching the outskirts of town and getting ready to set out into the world, Ary’s mother appears in front of the gate and suddenly says, “Represent us well, my little Ary,” before giving her a hug and watching her depart. The placement and transition into the short cutscene feels weirdly random, not to mention completely off given the previous fight between the two. It’s also unclear why Ary disguised herself as her brother to attend the meeting to ask for help finding her brother, and why this was necessary when she’s recognized anyway by every single NPC she comes across, but hopefully this will be explained later in the official release.

Ary greatly reminds me of a Pixar film; an experience that both children and adults can find enjoyment in. It’s not the most mature title out there, but it’s jovial, entertaining and fresh. Aside from the flat combat and juvenile storytelling, this game executes all of its other elements quite well. The puzzles are engaging, the gameplay is smooth, and the seasonal powers are admirable in their uniqueness. It’s surprising how much content there is to be found, from fun and rewarding exploration to an abundance of mini quests scattered about to keep you busy. Overall, this is a game I cannot wait to dive into more, and it is certainly one that I’d recommend watching out for.

***PC preview code provided by the publisher.***

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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