I think it’s going to be very easy to misconstrue what it is that Ary and the Secret of Seasons really offers. It immediately offers a power fantasy of a young adventurer taking on the world and winning, before pulling that from underneath you as you explore what this game is. It offers a charming level of brightness and casts that aside as it tells a surprisingly mature tale. Needless to say, this won’t be a game summed up in a single paragraph.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons opens with a cutscene displaying the creativity of our main character – Ary – and the world she lives in. It is filled with monsters and evil but also great magic. You are greeted to the image of a young boy with a sword strapped to his back, presumably Ary’s influence in her tales. She takes you (and her toys) through a storybook tale which she has recited multiple times prior as she states it is “very close to my heart”. It is important to her as Ary’s brother used to tell it to her. After successfully finishing the tale, you are greeted to the game itself. This is a very smart way of grabbing that power fantasy these games use and flipping it on its head as you realise your brother has been missing for multiple weeks. The game is bright but the story starts dark. You, as Ary, are the sole child of your household without your brother, but it is up to you and your family to move on to support yourselves.
Your mother calls you and you must journey to the market for her. This is where you start to learn the basic controls and world design of Ary. Whilst not open world, the market is certainly not linear, leaving you to complete side objectives for gold or search around for treasures chests. Within your small starting town, you are granted a level of freedom to grow accustomed to what Ary really offers. Naturally enough, I didn’t do what I was told to and opted instead to play Hide and Seek with a group of children. This small deviation from the story earned me a few pieces of gold and taught me some rules as to traversal. This is something I can see Ary offering more of as the story develops ahead of its release on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC in September. The chance to flesh out the world with optional feats is a great little addition and makes the world feel more alive.
The world of Ary feels even more real when combined with its consistent visual and musical style. The graphics won’t blow you away but everything feels like part of the world – no asset feels out of place. This adds a lot to the world to make it feel more living. This living world changes drastically when you reach the centre of the marketplace. It is attacked by two fighting anthropomorphized hyenas looking for food. You must bash them accordingly as you are taught how combat works, utilising a basic attack and lock-on system as well as a dodge mechanic. You must time your hits and dodges around attacks reflectively until you are taught how to parry. This makes combat rather easy but ultimately very satisfying, especially when combined with two or three combatants. After besting your foes, you see the sword in the hand of the hyena was your brother’s sword before he went missing. This naturally sends you, and the story, down a spiral as you attempt to look outside your small village on to the greater world.
You won’t move onto the bigger world before getting Ary’s biggest mechanic, becoming the guardian of Winter. In your father’s basement, you are granted a rather special power – the ability to control the seasons around you. You summon winter at will to get out of your basement and make your way to higher authorities that have landed nearby. This mechanic reframes the way you see the world you just interacted with. You can freeze water, shape rocks around you and so much more. This is where the action-adventure roots of Ary start to shape into a puzzle platformer. This genre-hopping works well and helps to provide a sense of direction as you trek forward to discover what happened to your brother.
In my short time with Ary and the Secret of Seasons on PC via Steam, it is clear the direction it wants to take. It wants to take a subtly dark tale and add a sense of humanity to it. As Ary grows and discovers what she is looking for, so too do the characters and world around her. The world changes in both subtle and overt ways as you realise the huge effect one character can have. At the end of the day, whilst your brother is gone and you aren’t sure how to get him back, there is hope. There is always hope.
Massive thanks go out to Modus Games for giving us preview access to Ary and the Secret of Seasons on PC ahead of a September 1st 2020 launch on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC. We’ll be sure to follow this piece with a full review on Xbox One as and when the time comes.