Indie of Belgian origin, Ary and the Secret of Seasons tries to bring the magic of the seasons to consoles and PC: here is the report of our journey.
After a development process that lasted about four years, Ary and the Secret of Seasons he left the studies of eXiin is Fishing Cactus to land on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. The action-adventure with an indie soul aims to present to the public a fairytale with light tones, ready to unravel in a world upset by the sudden fury of the seasons. A light-hearted narrative and intriguing puzzle / platform phases represent the strengths of the title, which, however, is unfortunately far from offering a completely satisfying experience. It is in fact good to highlight it right away: the technical problems that afflict the adventure are many, in an overall framework that prevents the project from expressing its potential.
A kingdom, an evil wizard and a legendary warrior
As told in our trial of Ary and the Secret of Seasons, indie sees how protagonist the little Ary. Big eyes and rebellious forelock, the girl is a concentrate of determination, courage and optimism: in times of need, therefore, she will not think twice about taking on the destiny of the entire Kingdom of Valdi. Divided into four regions characterized by a perennial season, the realm owes its structure to the outcome of the epic battle between the Legendary Warrior and the Evil Wizard, which took place a millennium ago. Since then, albeit with its peculiar structure, Ary’s universe has lived in peace and prosperity.
But if the balance of the whole world were not suddenly disturbed, we would not be faced with the incipit of an adventurous fairy tale. And then suddenly a shower of scarlet crystals, capable of upset the seasonal set-up of Valdi. In each of the four kingdoms, the reference season changes, throwing the lives of the poor inhabitants into chaos. Ary’s home is no exception: the Kingdom of Yule, previously shrouded in perennial snow, is now illuminated by the scorching summer sun.
Such a situation cannot but require the immediate intervention of the Council of the Guardians of the Seasons, a body appointed to monitor the climate balance and to counter the resurgence of dark forces. Consisting of four heroic figures, the institution represents the entire Kingdom of Valdi and has its headquarters at the great Dome of the Seasons. Among the members of the Council there is also Ary’s father: Guardian of Winter, the latter, however, is not in a position to face the new threat.
Following the mysterious disappearance, and presumed death, of his son and apprentice
Flynn, the man is in fact reduced to a catatonic state. Optimistic despite the difficult situation, Ary is convinced that her brother may actually still be alive. To convince her is the discovery of the young man’s wooden sword, which the girl encounters after having foiled the attack of a series of anthropomorphic hyenas on her hometown. Driven by the desire to discover the fate of Flynn, let her father rest and live a great adventure, Ary will answer the call from the Guardians.
Arriving at the Cupola of Seasons, the little girl will discover that dark forces are at work in the Kingdom of Valdi and that the world needs a new heroine. The precious crystals of the seasons, thanks to which the Guardians control the climate, have in fact been stolen. Fortunately, the stone of winter has remained safe in the hands of Ary, who is now eager to master all of its powers. Recovering the lost stones is the mission that will see the young protagonist on a dangerous journey, for an adventure that never takes itself totally seriously and where irony is a pleasant constant.
The tones of the story proposed by Ary and the Secret of Seasons appear in fact light and light-hearted, between heroes actually lacking any aura of epicity, a bizarre Prince and Boss who are chattering to say the least. An appreciable element, which offers a pleasant color to a narration that, otherwise, it does not present great ideas in terms of depth or originality. The narrative structure remains somewhat linear for the entire duration of the title, and then culminates in a hasty ending, which has not failed to arouse some perplexity.
A pity, because some of the characters, Ary primarily, trigger an immediate sympathy and could have benefited from a story that, while remaining within the boundaries of the fairy tale, was more structured and engaging. The cut-scenes, on the other hand, are well done, with about an hour of content, narrating the evolution of the action-adventure plot.
At the control of the four seasons
But the feeling that the action-adventure represents a missed opportunity does not come exclusively from a partially imperfect narrative sector, but also and above all from the gameplay, which suffers from a fluctuating quality.
After leaving us good feelings on the occasion of the previous taste of
Ary and the Secret of Seasons, the puzzle / platform component of the game was able to convince us even in its final declension. At the heart of the experience lies the possibility for the protagonist to evoke the power of the four seasons, in order to influence the surrounding world. Spring, summer, autumn and winter manifest themselves in the form of spheres, the dimensions of which can greatly expand in proximity to magical monoliths. Thanks to this expedient, climatic variations can affect both a small area and an entire building.
Initially in possession exclusively of the winter crystal, Ary will gradually recover the other stones as well, thus acquiring the control of the whole pantheon of the seasons. Depending on the climate that you choose to recall, it will be possible to transform bodies of water into sheets of ice or to make branches and roots sprout and then climb them. An expansion of possibilities that is accompanied by the acquisition of further skills thanks to the discovery of key tools. A special pair of boots, for example, will offer us a useful double jump, while a magical necklace will allow us to swim underwater.
The whole set of tools at our disposal will have to be exploited to the best to overcome multiple dungeons, among which the temples of the seasons stand out, four large structures that Ary will be forced to explore from top to bottom. Well thought out, the latter offer a varied selection of environmental puzzles. Placing cubes on special supports, adjusting the water level through special mechanisms or, again, evoking the winter to make ice structures appear will all be essential steps to be able to proceed in our mission.
The final judgment on the combat system is decidedly less positive proposed by Ary and the Secret of Seasons. In fact, during the review the critical issues already highlighted above are confirmed again. With a dynamic action nature, the clashes proposed by the indie title are structured around an essential framework that includes a single attack, a parry and response system and the possibility of trying your hand at pirouettes and somersaults. Very simple, the set-up does not offer particular stimuli, also thanks to a level of difficulty strongly calibrated downwards.
To hinder her in her advance, Ary finds a limited variety of enemies, among which groups of anthropomorphic hyenas stand out, but among whose ranks there are also raccoons armed with magic staff and explosive mushrooms. Common adversaries will almost never pose a real threat, while Boss fights are able in some cases to test skills of the player. One of these, which saw us oppose a large winged creature, particularly convinced us, thanks to a phased evolution and the combination of platform phases, use of powers and tools. However, this is an appreciation that we cannot address to the totality of comparisons: other Boss Fights have in fact proved to be decidedly not very stimulating.
An interesting element, which is certainly worth highlighting, is the mix between the power of the seasons and the combat system. Several enemies can in fact react to a climate change. Some hyenas, for example, if faced in winter, will be able to defend themselves thanks to impenetrable ice shields, while in other cases, using the power of the seasons will be necessary to deprive the enemies of protections composed of thorny brambles. Although intriguing, these mechanics are unfortunately implemented exclusively on a small scale, also thanks to a limited variety of opponents. A greater focus on this aspect would surely have represented a plus for the production.
A problematic season
An independent production, Ary and the Secret of Seasons certainly could not count on an excessive budget, a condition that translated into a low profile graphics sector. To aesthetics low poly, are accompanied by a general poverty of details and a massive recycling of the assets used to shape the inhabitants of Valdi.
At first glance, the bright colors that surround the title and the Korean-style architecture that characterize Ary’s hometown made us hope for the possibility that a well-thought-out artistic direction could compensate for the more strictly technical shortcomings. Faced with the exploration of the entire game world, we are sorry however to see one general lack of inspiration in the realization of other kingdoms of Valdi. If a kingdom clearly inspired by the Greek landscapes of Santorini has been able to convince us, the desert and medieval themed areas do not enjoy a distinctive identity.
As mentioned at the beginning, in evaluating the overall quality of the experience proposed by Ary and the Secret of Seasons it is unfortunately necessary to take into account the large selection of technical issues encountered during the adventure. What immediately catches the eye, from the very early stages of the game, is a decidedly unstable frame rate, which does not skimp on marked and frequent drops even during the exploration phases. The game world also takes shape progressively, with very showy pop-up and texture loading phenomena.
There is no shortage of a wide selection of glitches, bugs and unexpected events of various kinds. Oftentimes, our enemies have suddenly stopped being aggressive, watching us motionless without reacting until a direct attack from Ary. Other times, our protagonist has mysteriously disappeared from the frame, forcing us to reload the game in order to proceed with the journey. A constant crash phenomenon when exiting a dungeon has also made our save unusable, forcing us to resume the game from a previous section.
Ary and the Secret of SeasonsVersion Analyzed PlayStation 4Overall, the feeling that Ary and the Secret of Seasons gave us is that of a game that would have needed a few more months of work and finishing before it could hit the market. The technical sector is in fact immature, with consequences that strongly influence the use of the adventure. Some shortcomings in the narrative sector and a general lack of inspiration on the artistic front do not contribute to improving the overall picture. The ironic tones of the story, the sympathy of Ary and the good implementation of the puzzle mechanics linked to the alternation of the seasons are unfortunately not enough to push us to promote the Belgian indie, proposed for € 39.99 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.