Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a game that had me vexed. I can’t help but feel I’m not the target audience for it, but it contains so many things that I love.
Weather-based magic, quests, themed provinces, golems, beautiful art and character design, good music. It ticks a lot of boxes for me, yet I couldn’t get into it.
If you aren’t keen for a full break down and just want the recommendation, then I can recommend Ary to anyone who enjoys Zelda-style adventure games, and who enjoys skipping cutscenes. I personally would not buy this game after playing it, because I was not a fan of how the story was delivered. However, the gameplay is generally solid, it looks good and the music fits well.
Can we collectively stop breaking the 4th wall please? I don’t mind if there’s one or two jokes that do that, but it ruins immersion. It isn’t funny to point out this is a video game and it does you no favours to make fun of your own dialogue. All it does is make me think you weren’t greatly confident in the story you wrote, so you tried to look cool by pre-emptively insulting it.
Ok? Ok. Ary and the Secret of Seasons is about a young girl on a quest to find her missing and presumably dead brother. The land of Valdi is being slightly bothered by a change of seasons, something that you can fix by hitting a bunch of crystals five times each with a sword. No one thinks to try this until a magic summer whale tells a child to do so.
The game is mostly spent trying to clean up the mess of the season guardians, a society of incompetent old people armed with the power of creating small spheres containing their relevant season. They proceed to get smashed on “fruit juice” one day and lose their crystals, prompting Ary to go on a magical quest to save the world.
I spent a long time wondering why the story of Ary didn’t sit with me well, and it’s because there is no gravity. I can’t get a feel for what’s at stake because nothing seems to be. Everyone in the world is mildly inconvenienced by the INCREDIBLY EASY TO SOLVE weather changes at best. All of the serious problems in the story are mostly due to the fantastical negligence of those in charge.
It seems fun to make everyone a goofy idiot, but that doesn’t endear the world to me. It feels less like a grand adventure and more like cleaning up the mess of powerful man-children, which is surprisingly appropriate for this day and age. I don’t care about the world anymore because everyone in it seems very content to just make do.
I mean, this world has a monarchy that enslaves lost children in crystal mines, something that is brought up and pushed aside very quickly, and I’m supposed to want to save it? The evillest thing the Mage does in the whole plot is activate a giant robot in the desert and it didn’t even have a chance to destroy anything!
The story seems more like a parody of other fantasy adventure games than anything. A very unfunny parody with awkwardly implemented characters. I try to be as fair as possible in these reviews, but it is so frustrating to see a game like Ary with such a good concept and such terrible delivery. Nothing is gained by the end of this story, except the damage to my throat from all my screaming.
The gameplay is a Zelda-like action adventure game with some interesting puzzle mechanics. You visit dungeons, within which is an item pivotal to solving the dungeon; fight monsters with a dodging, parrying, strike style of combat; and can create spheres of seasonal magic that change the way certain sections of the world function. For instance, winter will freeze water and spring will make climbable vines.
The seasonal powers in the game work very well, giving you interesting interactions within the game world as well as creative puzzle solutions. They can change enemies fighting styles as well, removing ice shields from some enemies and thorn armour from others. The main issues that come with Ary is the lack of reason for combat and some of the puzzles.
Combat in Ary isn’t bad, but it isn’t good either. It’s functional, standard and a little boring in the beginning. My issue with it is that there is no reason to enter combat if you can avoid it. All upgrades are bought from a vendor, and combat doesn’t give you money, so you only need to fight when the game locks you into a room with enemies.
As for the puzzles, they are usually based on moving around the level in interesting ways with your season powers. However, there are moments in the game that felt redundant. If I have proven that I can roll a ball around a room on a path of vines, please don’t make me prove it 3 more times. On that note, the pulling mechanic.
Ary has an item called a Binding Link Bracelet that allows you to drag certain boxes and orbs behind you. Mostly, you use the orbs to boost your season power and drag it along a path that power creates. The problem is that since the orb is behind you, it is extremely easy to fall off the path or be unable to anticipate how it will change before you get there.
One moment sticks out, where you must pull an orb up a ramp and push it off to create a path below that will catch it. However, since you are pulling the orb, you will fall off the ramp and break the magic connection with it, causing it to roll down again. You’ll figure it out after some trial and error, but that isn’t a puzzle. It’s poor design.
All that aside, Ary mostly has level design that compliments the seasonal powers well. When it sticks to the season-based puzzles, the game is fun and interesting. I wish the combat wasn’t so prominent, or at least rewarded you more. The only times I found it engaging was the boss fights, two of which were disappointing while the others were creative and fun.
The look and feel of Ary is interesting to say the least. Every province is themed on their season, and each one works well. The game has a cute animated kid’s movie vibe throughout but delivers a generally consistent experience. The music is wonderful, fitting the atmosphere the game wants to have very well.
I said “generally consistent” in my trademark cop-out way because the occasional bug I got mostly affected the visuals. Hats blocking large sections of the screen in cutscenes, old hair models flickering in and out, seasonal spheres not loading in or being invisible, the occasional lip sync issue or animation failing to trigger and the looping of cutscenes.
However, it must be noted that the developers released a bug patch recently and is open to bug reports from customers. Otherwise, Ary is an incredibly pretty game with good music, interesting level and character design and nothing that clashes tonally with the world. I am confident that most if not all bugs can be ironed out in time.
Ary is a game that frustrated me to review. I wanted to like so much about it, and so much about it resonated with me. However, it was let down by characters that filled me with contempt and a story with no weight.
Solid gameplay and wonderful Audio-Visuals can generally carry a game, but if your game is this story-focused, then you need to have an engaging narrative as well.
I can recommend this to someone who enjoys puzzle solving, since the season mechanics were hands down the best part of Ary. I can recommend this to someone who wants a good-looking and good-sounding game, since it does well there too. I just can’t recommend this game on its story at all.
A review code was provided for the purposes of this review.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Platforms: Nintendo Switch/ PlayStation 4/ Xbox One/ Steam (reviewed)
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: eXiin, Fishing Cactus
MSRP: $39.99 USD