Ary and the Secret of the Seasons on PlayStation 4
There’s nothing like a children’s adventure story to warm the cockles, and as we approach the end of a rather miserable year I’ve found myself wanting for exactly that. Ary and Secret of the Seasons has long been on my radar as a light-hearted gameplay experience that might help lift the spirits, so no surprises that I leaped at the opportunity to review it.
Unfortunately, while this tale of a young heroine taking on the world is punctuated by vibrant colors, whimsical music, and the sort of cutesy charm that defines the beloved classics Ary is clearly inspired by, the game is held back by woeful performance issues that make it extremely difficult to recommend.
Truth be told, it was only minutes into my playthrough that I suspected Ary’s lack of polish would be a key takeaway. Low-resolution textures and a simplistic art-style is one thing, but screen-tearing and a consistently choppy framerate just shouldn’t be an issue for a game that is likely capable of running on much less powerful hardware than my OG PS4 with the right optimization.
But Ary stutters and misfires either side of lengthy loading screens, which takes the gloss of what would otherwise be an adorable opening story sequence. And it’s a theme that disappointingly continued throughout my playthrough.
It’s such a shame, too, because Ary has the foundation of an engaging, easy-going action/adventure game that’s kid-friendly for the newer generation and deeply nostalgic for veterans. It features Zelda-like third-person combat, exploration, and basic puzzle-solving, with semi-linear level design that mixes in the sort of platforming reminiscent of PS2-era mascot games like Jak & Daxter.
As for the story, it sees young Aryelle (Ary for short) take the place of her missing brother Flynn as an apprentice Guardian of the Season, a position traditionally reserved for men, just at a time when the world of Valdi needs them the most.
An evil mage has sent dark crystals plummeting from the sky, sending the world and its weather into chaos. It’s up to our young heroine to prove her might, wielding the power of the season’s four different crystals to restore balance.
This quest takes across Valdi’s various regions, and throughout each there are vendors to purchase useful items, cosmetics to mix and match, and ability upgrades along the way. Side quests offer currency as a reward for completion –most of which are pretty basic, though the writing is often witty and fun.
But Ary’s big trump card –the unique gameplay mechanic that sets it apart and ties into its story premise–, is her ability to change the seasons. With Valdi’s weather all topsy-turvy, Ary employs season crystals to manipulate the weather around her.
At the press of a button, she’s able to create a small bubble of either spring, summer, autumn, or winter, which then allows her to traverse the game world in different ways or attack enemies with novel effects.
You might, for example, change the season to winter in order to create an ice bridge to reach a new area; in combat, striking enemies builds up Ary’s Solstice power gives, which she can then use to call on a lightning strike to stun enemies. Most boss fights have a puzzle element facilitated by the seasons in some way, too.
As the story progresses, Ary’s takes her different corners of Valdi, with each afflicted by a different weather condition. Switching between each different season to platform and puzzle-solve and slashing her way through each makes for a pretty engaging loop, and the difficulty of the game’s puzzle elements scale up fairly during its second half.
But in general, the experience is fairly one-note, and something that’ll ultimately feel like a less accomplished version of action/adventure games gone by for all but the youngest of players.
That said, technically woes aside, the scope of Ary and the Secret of the seasons is impressive for a small development team. Exiin’s only previous game credit is a mobile puzzler called AfterLoop, and yet here it’s attempted a much grander project, from the particulars of all its gameplay systems to the fully voice acted (and much better animated) story-driven cutscenes.
Sure, the game doesn’t really excel in any one area or do anything to a particularly high standard, but it’s much more ambitious than one would expect from a small team.
It’s just a major bummer that even looking past the design shortcomings that were always going to prevent Ary from reaching critical acclaim, what it does well is ultimately spoilt by shoddy performance.
In fact, I very nearly wasn’t even able to progress past 50% or so of the game completed as a result of a persistent crashing issue when attempting to exit a dungeon. Thankfully, it turned out I could push on in a different direction.
But in the end, I’m actually left wondering less about how I’d feel about Ary if it ran better and more what sort of heights Exiin could have reached with more time spent in polishing and more budget allocated to that end.
My hope is that we’ll see the team tackle something similar in the future to find out, which in turn then pains me to admit that I can’t honestly recommend Ary and the Secret in the Seasons in the state it’s in right now.
Of course, there are likely patches already in the works to solve performance issues, and if that’s the case then maybe in the weeks to come it’ll be transformed into something that younger players and/or enthusiasts of this sort of game can enjoy.
But as of right now, even for someone as desperate to be captivated by a light-hearted adventure like me, Ary and the Secret of the Seasons is an exercise in frustration that isn’t likely to improve your mood.
Reviewer: Alex Gibson | Copy provided by Publisher.
- A decent story with some flashes of good writing that offers plenty of kid-friendly charm.
- The season manipulation mechanic results in some novel puzzle gameplay.
- Cut scene direction, voice acting, and the game’s score are of a higher quality than the rest of the game.
- Really poor technical performance, such as screen-tearing, long load times, choppy framerates, crashing, missing animations, etc
- Combat is a little lackluster, though not offensively so
PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC