With less than a month to its release, we were given the opportunity to preview a build if Exiin’s debut game, Ary and the Secret of Seasons. The demo played consisted of two levels: the opening areas of the game, and a teaser stage close to the endgame.
A 3D action-adventure platformer, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is undoubtedly a game to keep an eye on. With a vibrant stylistic design, compelling voice acting and story, and an innovative ‘season sphere’ mechanic, Exiin’s debut game punches well above its weight. Unfortunately, with lacklustre combat, a myriad of quality of life issues and a tendency to the game to break, it is clear that Exiin has a lot to do before Ary makes her debut.
Aryelle and the World of Valdi
We first meet Ary and her family as they struggle to cope with a terrible loss. However, their troubles have only just begun as a calamity suddenly alters the natural order of Valdi. Ary’s father, being the Winter Guardian, is summoned to put Valdi back to rights.
Unfortunately, in his grief-stricken state, he is in no condition to answer the call. Thus, Ary takes it upon herself and sets off in her father’s stead, setting the stage for this grand adventure.
Design & Voice Acting
From the beginning, we get a glimpse of Valdi’s beautiful world design. From sweeping mountain ranges, replete with waterfalls, lakes, ice-capped peaks and forests to Japanese-esque towns surrounded by Sakura trees, Exiin has crafted a brightly coloured world that seems full of potential. The fantastic vistas visible in the background make Valdi seem large and full of exciting places to explore, while the oriental-looking architecture combines organically with the environment. We often found ourselves just pausing at a high point to take in the view.
Similar effort was invested in character designs. Ary exudes an open-eyed sense of wonder and hope. These, with impressive voice acting and facial animations, make her sense of optimism and perkiness believable. However, the effort is not only concentrated on Ary’s design.
The residents of Valdi, human or otherwise, also naturally fit in the world. The human NPCs, in particular, are varied enough that we don’t get the feeling that we’re looking at clones. Enemies, like the hyenas, were obviously not designed to invoke fear. Their slightly goofy looks and mannerism make them somewhat endearing.
Leveraging on the amazing world and character design, the storytelling cutscenes captivated us and left us on tenterhooks, wondering, what would come next. Here was where the voice acting and facial animation shone, engaging and entertaining us while we were drawn deeper into Ary’s story.
However, certain cutscenes, especially ones happening mid-battle, would replay themselves after the end, sometimes for multiple times before you could continue playing. Ostensibly, this occurred when the next portion of the fight failed to load, hence causing the loop.
There were also other issues which detract from the beauty of Valdi. Screen tearing and janky camera movements were regular occurrences. The latter, which could cause motion sickness at times, was easily fixed by turning off the “screen shake”. However, this had to be adjusted for a better experience, which is not a good thing.
Another issue was the water physics and design, especially when swimming. Large, opaque white rings meant to simulate ripples distract and obscure the player’s sight. Furthermore, particle effects were not well done. One glaring example was the snow. Particles were large and obtrusive, causing winter climes to be very distracting.
Ary’s ability to generate season spheres is perhaps the defining characteristic of the game. These spheres are the primary tool by which Ary interacts with the world of Valdi, allowing her to change the features of the region around her by switching to a different season. While playing the level close to the endgame, we were granted access to more seasonal powers. Regrettably, from that encounter alone, it would seem that the power of winter is the most useful, yet possibly overpowered as compared to the other seasons.
Movement in the game is simple yet effective. We were able to freely run and jump our way around Valdi, enabling us to travel anywhere quickly we wanted to. Additional advanced mobility features were also welcome and made the platforming tasks more forgiving. Also, the map area and Ary’s travel speed are decently calibrated, never making it seem like a chore to travel across Valdi, while retaining a large enough map to keep us curious.
But we think Ary’s generous jump height allowed us to traverse the terrain a little too easily. This resulted in moments where we were able to reach areas without triggering cutscenes, thus forcing us to backtrack.
Similarly, combat mechanics are easy to grasp and use. Additional features were also welcome,
such as lock-on which made aiming at targets easier. Parry, which was very useful, was also too overpowered as it made fights pretty much stress-free. Unfortunately, battles had no rewards, rendering them meaningless and repetitive. Worse, mobs could be completely evaded without penalty, making most of the game into a platformer.
That is not all bad news. One of the more entertaining features of the game, the puzzle challengers made the playthrough exciting and challenging. While not as intricate or complicated as those found in Tomb Raider, Ary’s puzzles come with the added twist of knowing how to use the various seasons to maximum effect. The puzzles slowly increase in complexity, thus knowing when and where to use each season or ability becomes a tactical challenge in and of itself.
This is also made more challenging by the platforming aspect of the game. While there was a degree of leniency as the spheres could be activated indefinitely, in the endgame stage, having to platform against the clock kept forcing us to think and react faster. This required a level of familiarity and mastery over the games’ mechanics. Overall, there appears to be a variety of puzzles to be solved, thus keeping the experience fresh and challenging.
Despite a somewhat lacklustre combat experience, Ary and the Secret of Seasons remains a beautifully designed game, with engaging voice acting, and an intriguing story that left us wanting more. The puzzles fit organically in the maps while providing enough variety and challenges that made each trial feel refreshing and unique.
However, the heart of the game is Ary’s ability to change the seasons. Regardless of any complaints, Exiin did a marvellous job integrating this ability into the gameplay that we were willing to overlook some of its flaws.
As can be expected with a demo, there were some aspects of the design that felt incomplete, and it was possible to break the game. One such issue we encountered was that the game was not optimised for widescreen. Playing on widescreen could cause things like the Shop UI to glitch out.
While issues such as these didn’t render the game unplayable, it did detract from the positives. Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an endearing, visually appealing game, with a totally unique mechanic. We are excited to see what happens next in Ary’s story, come September 1st, and hopefully, Exiin will have been able to polish Ary into an upcoming Indie hit.