Like the vast majority of people reading this, I’ve never been to New Caledonia, an archipelago floating between Fiji and Australia. But after playing Tchia, I’m ready to pack my flip-flops and book my ticket. Whatever else it is, Tchia is an ardent love letter to New Caledonia. Its tourist board should be proud.
Open World Island Adventure
Tchia is an open-world action RPG very much influenced by games like Breath of the Wild. Although New Caledonia isn’t huge, its analog in the game is rich with wildlife and things to discover, collect and interact with. One of Tchia’s strengths — and oddly, one of its slight weaknesses — is just how much interactivity there is and how many systems are at play.
You play as the titular Tchia, a legendary character in the fanciful history of New Caledonia. A pre-adolescent girl on the cusp of young adulthood, Tchia lives with her father on one of the archipelago’s smaller islands. One day, a smoke-and-magic spewing hovercraft arrives and supernatural soldiers kidnap Tchia’s father. Tchia learns that Meavora, the island’s despotic ruler, is behind the abduction. This sets Tchia on a game-long quest. She must discover why her father has been taken and how best to free him.
The game’s short prologue and first chapter introduce several systems used throughout the game. Tchia has a glider in her backpack, a boat, and learns to “soul jump” into animals and even inanimate objects. She has a slingshot and a ukulele. In other words, Tchia has a pretty deep toolkit for exploring her world and surviving. Being a very family-friendly game, Tchia can’t die. If she runs out of air or stamina she passes out, waking at a save point/campfire.
Never a Dull Moment
While rescuing her father is her primary goal, Tchia meets a wide range of NPCs. They send her on typical RPG-style side quests. Very often these involve collecting objects from seemingly inaccessible locations. Because she can glide, inhabit and control animals and manipulate objects with her soul-jumping ability, Tchia can solve environmental puzzles and get what she needs. This might involve something simple like soul jumping into a bird to reach a high treetop, or becoming a boulder. There’s a great amount of give-and-take between using abilities to complete a quest and completing a quest or mini-game to gain new abilities.
While New Caledonia is French territory, its culture and folklore are deeply rooted in Pacific Island traditions. A reverence for the natural world is a fundamental aspect of Tchia. Most of the game’s quests involve interacting with nature. The game does not shy away from the reality of animals and nature as a resource, however. If an animal needs to be butchered, so be it. Overall, though, Tchia does a fantastic job of integrating folkloric and spiritual traditions in a way that feels unforced, respectful, and elegant. Characters speak in French and Drehu and the player gets a real sense of place.
In addition to being an open-world sandbox and nature-driven adventure, Tchia is a coming-of-age story. Like in so many world cultures, the onset of puberty and young adulthood is accompanied by quests and trials. Tchia herself wonders if her new-found powers are a sign of puberty. While it isn’t heavy-handed or crass, there is both mystery and melancholy woven into this aspect of the narrative.
Tchia has a lot of mini-games and while some of them work better than others, those involving music are very effective. Tchia uses her ukulele, not just for entertainment, but to magically interact with the world. When she completes mini-games like stacking rocks, she unlocks soul melodies–essentially button combos. By playing the melodies on her uke, she can change the time of day or give herself temporary buffs and abilities. When she’s at a campfire, she can play her ukulele just for entertainment, and the instrument is fully functional and in tune. At times she accompanies singers using a music rhythm game-type input mechanic.
Tchia’s score by John Robert Matz is, in a word, lovely. It’s melodic, emotionally accessible, and absolutely in sync with the game’s folkloric traditions and styles. This is a game where music plays a prominent role. It’s almost like a character, and I loved that so many NPCs had songs to share.
Tchia inhabits a colorful, stylized world that’s often incredibly beautiful, and reminds you that it’s very much rooted in the real New Caledonia. Because the game’s art is stylized, some of the game’s more fantastical or supernatural elements don’t feel out of place. Tchia and the other human characters are likewise stylized. Sometimes, I wished for a little more realism or art that allowed for greater emotional range.
Like many open-world games, Tchia makes it easy to ignore the quests altogether and just explore and play in the sand. The flip side of this is a narrative and emotional tone that sometimes feels too understated. Tchia watches her father being abducted and her reaction is oddly muted. As a narrative structure, Tchia’s story gets the job done, but there’s a lack of urgency that gives the game a slightly detached feeling. Younger players might notice the absence of strongly articulated characters and story beats.
There are a surprising number of game mechanics, and some of them feel superfluous or poorly implemented. The rock stacking mini-game, for example, is just frustrating and seems like busy work. Speaking of busy work, a large number of side missions might do a good job of driving exploration, but they’re too often uninspired fetch quests.
Games like Animal Crossing or Breath of the Wild bridge the gap between appealing to kids and being addictive to many adults. The open-ended nature and easy game rhythm are relaxing. With a main quest that takes about a dozen hours to finish, and lots of side quests and open-world exploring, Tchia sits comfortably in the same niche.
Chill in New Caledonia
Tchia’s story and characters might be slanted to younger players, but older gamers will enjoy its open-world mechanics and relaxing vibe. Thoroughly rooted in the culture, music, traditions, and geography of New Caledonia, Tchia is an appealing and respectful window into an unfamiliar slice of paradise, translated into a game that’s full of charm.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Lovely art and environments
- Beautiful music
- Appealing to all ages
- Fun mechanics and open world
- Some frustrating mini-games
- Narrative lacks momentum
- Stylized characters expressively limited