Sometimes tragedies happen in the world of videogames. Promising titles that look like they might be totally awesome come out and they end up falling well short of their expected brilliance. Ary And The Secret of Seasons thus promises an ambitious adventure akin to a certain top-tier Nintendo franchise, and although its attempt is an admirable and sometimes a properly enjoyable one Ary is undone by a shoddy technical performance, almost compromising its more elegant aspects – can its gameplay and story salvage Ary and keep itself hot and summery, or is it as frigid as a corpse?
You play as Ary, a girl who witnesses a strange event in her town of Yule whereby mysterious red crystals fall from the sky and wreak havoc by changing the season from Winter into Spring. This seismic event forces Ary to seek out the Guardians of the Seasons who have the power to restore the natural cycle of the world. Ary also goes on a quest to find her brother after he goes missing, the circumstances of which send her father into a despondent state of depression.
The premise of Ary certainly does much to encourage players to take up the adventure. There’s a lot riding on Ary’s shoulders, so much so that you really feel like she is the heroine of the tale. The only significant knockback to this premise is the need for her to cut her hair so she can be accepted by the Guardians of Seasons, which is quite silly and turns the promising story into a cliché where a girl has to go undercover because the world around her sees girls as civilians to be protected.
Like its forebears, Ary starts off homely and comforting but the journey ramps up more and more as you discover what lays ahead. After a brief chore you meet a welcoming pack of hostile hyenas who present as nothing but fodder for Ary to whack around the bonce as she sees fit. Thereafter you learn how to control the seasons using the D-pad and off into the world you go completing quests, upgrading your abilities and making headway towards your ultimate goal of re-establishing seasonal order – and bonking more hyenas on the head.
Super-simplistic and unsatisfying combat doesn’t do much to bolster and forefront Ary’s woes. Usually your actions during fights devolve into button mashing with the addition of a needless lock-on feature haphazardly bolted onto it. There is a mild but effective flourish once you gain your D-pad seasonal powers as changing season can make enemy armour vanish or melt shields, and there are powerful but unspectacular attacks you can perform that will make tussles easier, especially when you are forced to contend with the dull and basic boss battles.
Ary’s attempts at puzzles fare much better and they will serve as further reminders of the inspiration it has clearly taken from the Nintendo franchise that shall not be mentioned. The head-scratchers on display encourage a subtle extent of experimentation using your season-changing powers to manipulate objects to successfully solve them. One of your abilities can assist you with diving underwater when it isn’t otherwise possible, but for some strange reason you are later rewarded with an accessory that makes diving hassle-free – a feature that should’ve existed from the outset.
Despite some of the nuances of the puzzles, there is a lot of familiar activity involved with them. Be prepared to move giant energy balls onto switches and delivering frazzled electrical orbs to their rightful places before their energy fizzles out. For as much as Ary tries to replicate the success of dungeon design in other similar games, there is still much more variety required to make them memorable, even if their execution is adequate enough to satisfy dungeon crawlers.
There is a decent sense of adventure to Ary and that can really aid you in navigating some of the tedium and soothe the monotony you will come across during your time with it. Running around a township finding clothes for the citizens you come across sounds like boring busywork, but witnessing them shivering in the dead of winter and in nothing but their skivvies is mildly amusing. In fact Ary boasts a collection of funny little moments that give a glimpse of the real fun and potential the game has. When you meet Prince Crocus and find yourself muttering “son of a cow” to yourself, you really get the sense that there’s a true charm the game possesses which could be enough to carry you through the game’s undeniably rough surface.
Unfortunately, the goodwill you may have towards Ary could be totally sunk by the litany of technical blemishes you will encounter on your journey. Pop-in is constant and the game is constantly choking with dropped framerates, screen-tearing, bizarre bugs – like Ary randomly teleporting after an interaction -, Ary floating above or falling through objects in the game world, broken quests and debilitating game freezes incessantly gnaw away at your gameplay experience. The population of the world is threadbare as well and doesn’t feel like an inhabitable space. Some will forgive and overlook all of these faults, but it’s very clear that Ary is an unfinished product.
Audio is minimal in Ary, relying largely on text-based adventuring except for the story cutscenes. NPC’s can be found throughout the world and may elicit noises, some of which are strangely loud and peculiar but noticeable. The music is nice and pleasant, echoing the youthful journey of our adolescent heroine, but the continuous looping of music over and over again is something the ears could do without.
Ary And The Secret of Seasons clocks in at around 5-8 hours depending on the pace you decide to take with it. There are many collectable chests and messages to find, though whether you want to bother collecting them all is another matter. Side quests are plentiful as well, but again completing them all is down to whether you feel like Ary is worth contending with after the story, given all of its blemishes.
Ary And The Secret of Seasons makes for a tough recommendation. There’s a pleasant premise, a decent sense of adventure and a surprising sense of humour nestled underneath the exterior if you search for it. The bamboozling problem for Ary though is that searching for a good time is buried beneath a gloomy fog of presentational flaws that do a service of drawing you out of its pleasant and colourful world, that undercut all the lovely ideas Ary has going for it. There are just too many flaws here to heartily approve Ary to anybody but the most patient and dedicated of players. Besides the litany of bugs the combat is too simplistic, mindless and dull to be rewarding with boss battles that are bland and boring to fight, the world is far too empty to make you feel like you’re a part of it, and besides the array of seasonal colours Ary looks rather ugly. All the promise Ary has is sunk by a deluge of flaws that conceal a good game that’s trying so desperately to come out – it’s just heart-breaking that those flaws have swarmed it.
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.