(ARY AND THE SECRET OF THE SEASONS is out now for all platforms. Distributor provided review copy.)
ARY is an example of just how far an inspired idea and tenacity can propel a project, even when ambition exceeds its grasp.
When I first fired up ARY AND THE SECRET OF THE SEASONS, I quickly realized how rough the finished game. Graphics would glitch out; missions would not activate, and the level of detail would randomly spaz out. It felt like an Early Access disaster in the making, except that it was the full release. Thankfully, I remained hooked due to the visual style and the supremely charming lead character, Ary.
A full month later, ARY has received two updates, and while these patches don’t fix everything, they’re a sign of future support. Down the line, ARY will be an even better game. Right now, it’s a diamond in the rough, well worth its occasional stumbles.
Set in a world where anthropomorphic animals live hand-in-hand with humankind, ARY follows its namesake, a young girl born to a family of Guardians for the Seasons, as she sets out to solve the mystery threatening to destroy her world. On her journey, she encounters other guardians and gains new powers to aid her on the quest.
The plot is familiar but doesn’t feel like a retread. It borrows from other iconic franchises, most notably the LEGEND OF ZELDA series, yet the narrative always feels like its own thing. Thanks to charming animation in the story sequences and a lively voice cast that brings the game to life, Ary is a visual treat. The graphical style is hugely bright and colorful, reminiscent of games like WINDWAKER and ORACLE OF THE SEASONS. Even the mini-map is adorable with it’s old-school Nintendo styled interface.
Where the problems rear their ugly head is the technical presentation of things. The world is reasonably big but suffers from invisible walls and railroading. Even on a high-end PC, the game suffers from screen tearing and random crashes. Quest tracking will occasionally glitch so that missions stop working without reloading an older save. At one point, Ary’s character model started to grab onto walls so that I could climb nearly any obstacle with ease. Hitboxes don’t always connect, and combat feels like an afterthought entirely.
Even on a more general level, Ary feels unfinished. There’s a sense like some of this stuff has to be placeholders. While the graphics are pretty with their distinct design, the menus are cluttered and fussy. Like oddly phrased dialog that hangs like unfinished thoughts, even little things come become annoying when they repeat so often. Most side-quests are a variation of the same fetch quest, but not all of them lead to anything. NPC’s range from highly animated and verbal to completely static, making the world occasionally feel flat.
That probably has a lot to do with the scope of the game compared to the design team. There’s ambition, and there’s foolhardiness, and Ary feels more than often like the latter. It’s great that a developer wants to push for a new and unique 10 hour IP meant for the younger audience, but a shorter, more polished game would have also done the trick.
Yet even with these issues, none of which are minor, Ary is a joy to play when it works. The season shifting mechanic is a blast, allowing for some hugely inventive puzzles. Changing the landscape in portions from summer to mid-winter never gets old, and discovering new locations with each newfound power makes for a rewarding experience. There are four major dungeons to explore, one for each season, and the game makes the most of them.
The result is a game that reminds me of other smaller budget indie titles from my youth, which rarely, if ever, got the chance to update after their release. They remained half-finished products of great ambition that found fans to love them despite their many quirks and problems. As a jaded adult, it’s sometimes hard to remember that kind of joy in seeing something get made, even when it doesn’t work all the time. But ARY AND THE SECRET OF THE SEASONS is an excellent reminder of that.
It’s unfinished, often broken, but so filled with potential that you want to get swept away with it. Even when it crashes without explanation or the missions stop loading, or there’s a bug that makes you climb walls. You ignore them because the bigger picture is all that matters. Sometimes that’s enough.