Ary and the Secret of Seasons exhibits an admirable ambition and toys with a whole host of potentially fantastic concepts. It can’t be knocked for not trying, building up a fairly unique fantasy world that is brimming with interesting ideas and potential.
But concepts need to be proven and while Ary and the Secret of Seasons shows great promise it rarely ever delivers on it.
While it lifts inspiration from the best of the genre, Ary and the Secret of Seasons fails at both innovation and homage. There are glimpses of a great game in here but they pass like the seasons and you’re often left out in the cold. It is suffocated by a litany of technical issues that run deeper than lack of polish and feels entirely unready to send Ary out on what could have been a grand adventure.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons Review
Ary is trapped in a man’s world and a scared one at that. Her brother has vanished and with him, her father’s will to fight for the land of Valdi as the designated Guardian of Winter. Each corner of Valdi houses a season and its old timer Guardian, but with winter finally succumbing to evil magical forces that invert the seasons, ruining their perspective regions, Valdi looks set to fall.
Fortunately, Ary is having none of this and, taking inspiration from her childhood heroes, sets out to assert herself as the new Guardian of winter and save the land from destruction. To do so she pulls a Mulan, cutting her hair, donning her brother’s masculine warrior garb and taking up his sword for good measure. It’s not exactly a played out premise but it also doesn’t inspire. The world design of Ary and the Secret of Seasons certainly lifts visual elements from Chinese culture but this particular take on gender feels largely unnecessary.
The foils of a patriarchal magical society are at least a semi-interesting byproduct of the less than ideal starting point for Ary and the game has fun with it. Ary’s adventure will see her interact with a host of varied and likeable characters, poking a good-natured stick at tropes and expectations along the way. In general, the narrative elements are the easiest to love in Ary and the Secret of Seasons; the writing is often sharp and delivered with enjoyable voice acting and doling out just enough to pull you through this roughly 10-hour ride.
Valdi itself shows signs of potential too but the game’s art direction outside of dungeons prevents any sense of place or immersion. In short, it’s just too dang big; Breath of the Wild can get away with vast open spaces because it has a unified style and vibe that fills those gaps with contemplative good times. Ary and the Secret of Seasons just feels unfinished, failing to use those long treks across empty space for anything other than padding.
When you’re not clipping through rocks in an attempt to cut off a fraction of your traversal time, you’ll be plundering dungeons for loot and story progression. These are admittedly quite fantastic in design, featuring the game’s best art and often most stable performance. They are typically huge playgrounds full of enemy encounters, boss fights and plenty of puzzles that utilise the game’s core seasonal magic conceit.
Ary’s new role as seasonal guardian grants her the ability to create spheres in which her season of choice blooms. You’ll spend the first third of the game using winter but eventually, you’ll expand your arsenal and have full command of the seasons. This power can be amplified by totems around the world and dungeons, massively blowing out your sphere and often creating new platforms and the like within an area.
It’s a wonderful concept and is backed up by some decent looking effects, but like everything else in Ary and the Secret of Seasons, it just feels underbaked. Later dungeons offer up enjoyable timing-based puzzles, but for the bulk of the game, you’ll be able to solve everything very quickly with a switch of the seasons. In this sense, the escalation of difficulty regarding puzzles is welcome, but the game gates its best work behind a very slow first half. Often times these early puzzles involve platforming which presents its own unique issues to grapple with as controlling Ary is frustratingly buttery.
Landing on platforms is tricky as it’s a gamble as to whether or not the AI will recognise a ledge as grabbable in time to stop you from falling. It all feels too smooth as if Ary is gliding around the world on Crisco, even when in battle. The combat itself is neither here nor there, a lacklustre dance of lock on, swing your sword, occasionally parry, and repeat. Granted, it’s not as if Zelda combat is any more complex than that either but just as with the platforming, Ary simply doesn’t control well enough to paper over the dull combat.
Over time you’ll gather currency and resources to spend on fancy new clothing options and minor stat upgrades such as attack and movement speed. The cosmetic options are a nice touch and help you bring Ary to life in cute ways but the stat changes are barely perceptible in combat. You can win almost every encounter by just whacking away with your weapon of choice as the parry is fiddly and unreliable.
The simplicity of its systems isn’t ultimately what sinks Ary and the Secret of Seasons though. The game is irredeemably unpolished, littered with bugs that impact everything from visuals to gameplay and even progression. When playing in docked mode the framerate slows to a crawl, textures fail to pop in, Ary will get locked in poses and clip through solid objects, NPCs won’t respond to prompts for mission completion. To say nothing of the lengthy load times and world breaking bugs that plunge Ary into the void.
Combined with the uninspiring art direction and dull combat it all just makes for a game that feels so brutally not ready for consumption. Everything could do with another once over and that it has been rushed out in its current state is a tragic disservice to a core premise and cast of characters that deserve far better.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons might don the aesthetics of grand adventure games but it only ever glimpses the horizon it’s so clearly chasing.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons was reviewed using digital code provided by the publisher. Images taken from official site.