I love ambitious games made by smaller teams. Ary and the Secret of Seasons has a large, colorful game world that aims to occupy the same space as the Zelda games. A lot of love and talent clearly went into making the game and it can be a good amount of fun a lot of the time. But there’s a giant catch. The game simply isn’t even close to ready for launch. If I didn’t know that I’d played the launch build, I’d assume it was an alpha. With more time and polish, this could be a good game. However, it simply didn’t get far enough into development to get there.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons tells the story of Aryelle as she fights to restore order and balance to the world around her. The seasons are out of whack due to some strange goings-on and the local guardians are set to convene. Her father, the guardian of Winter, is wracked with despair after Ary’s older brother Flynn goes missing. As such, he’s in no shape to go meet with the others and Ary goes in his stead.
The cutscenes are well-animated and have strong voice acting. They’re not overly long but I enjoyed them when they came around, as they have a very Saturday morning cartoon feel to them. Despite that, the story is oddly-paced and the enemy threat is ill-defined and not very threatening at all. Certain major plot developments show up and then are never spoken of again. At one point, you learn that a major character is at worst possibly responsible for children being abducted and forced into slavery. At best he just knew it and did nothing to stop it. It’s way too heavy for this game’s tone and the characters just forget about it.
Wait, what about the towns?
The structure of Ary and the Secret of Seasons is similarly uneven. The first couple of hours see Ary traveling to various settlements in order to move the story forward. These places are large and packed with NPCs that offer sidequests, although most of those NPCs stand motionlessly. After this section, though, the game completely shifts gears and you’re told to go collect four MacGuffins from the season temples. Naturally, you don’t really go into towns anymore and the sidequests dry up. It just feels like something is missing.
The main gameplay element that distinguishes the game from others is that Ary can create season spheres that alter the seasons of the space within them. Every location has its own season, and you can place spheres of the other three in the environment. These are introduced strangely as well. You grab the Winter sphere from Ary’s house and then go on a quest to find the next one. But after getting it, the game just gives you the other two. As far as the effects go, Winter spheres can freeze water and create ice platforms. Spring ones erase water and create vine pathways to walk and climb on. Summer and Autumn spheres, uh, don’t do anything unique at all. Once again, it feels like something was cut.
That being said, the puzzles in Ary and the Secret of Seasons are quite good. They generally involve manipulating the environment with the right season (almost always the Winter or Spring ones), and you’ll generally be carrying energy balls from one statue to another on a time limit. You’ll also imbue giant stones with sphere power, which will allow you to change the world around you on-the-go. For instance, putting the Winter sphere power on a stone will allow you to roll it across the now-frozen water. Many of these made me go, “that’s so cool!”
Is that it?
Ary and the Secret of Seasons also has combat. Ary can equip a number of weapons that behave identically. Enemies come in several varieties, with some only being vulnerable during certain seasons. Ary can hit them, dodge, or parry their attacks, the latter of which strikes back with a counterattack. She can also use solstice abilities when her hit count gets high enough, but I was never sure how these worked as the game doesn’t really explain them. The combat is also so brain-dead easy that you almost never need to use solstice abilities.
The combat works, but it’s extremely basic and imprecise. It’s mostly just of the button-mashing variety, and it never changes. Then again, there’s no reason to fight most enemies, as you can just run past them. You don’t level up from defeating them and they don’t drop anything. Furthermore, if Ary loses all of her health, she just resets a few feet away regardless. There’s literally no reason to be careful in combat, as there’s no threat. Even boss battles do this.
The only time in the game where respawning isn’t a thing is when you fight three waves of enemies in place of a temple boss battle. This fight throws hordes of foes at you, and if you die, you start over from the first wave. It’s not hard, but rather that the game itself doesn’t handle fighting groups well, and you also haven’t had a reason to really fight before this point. This is right after the game lampshades the fact that what appears to be the boss you’re about to fight doesn’t have a walk cycle in the first place. All in all, there are four boss battles and they’re all pretty poor. Their mechanics don’t work well and they’re too simple for their own good.
Half of the season spheres having no real use and the game’s structure being wonky and uneven can be understood to a certain degree. Game development is expensive and hectic. But Ary and the Secret of Seasons is extremely unpolished in a multitude of ways. You get around the world by running, jumping, and climbing up things. Ary’s movements feel strange and unnatural though. She jumps too high and interacts with the world in illogical ways. On more than one occasion I found ways to bypass entire puzzles or challenges due to creative platforming. Ary can land on all sorts of things she shouldn’t be able to land on. The clipping is similarly problematic.
By that same token, sometimes she can’t land on things she should be able to. One boss fight requires you to land on top of part of the boss, but Ary can’t stand where she needs to and usually just falls off immediately. Some floors have no collision detection, resulting in Ary falling straight through them. One time I completed a sidequest and the quest indicator appeared over the NPC’s head again. I talked to him and the camera got stuck in a weird place, requiring a restart. Another quest-giving NPC wouldn’t even talk to me and repeated an important story scene that I just saw when I attempted to start his quest.
The biggest problem however, didn’t come until later. In the last of the four season dungeons in Ary and the Secret of Seasons, Ary would become invisible and off-center, as she was partially trapped in another spot on the map. This also required me to load a save. But it happened over and over and over again. I had to re-do big parts of this dungeon multiple times. And it even happened during the dungeon’s boss fight, requiring me to have to do even more stuff again. I don’t want to be too redundant here, but it happened multiple times in the last dungeon as well, which was a big problem until I realized I could just double jump over an entire puzzle.
Hope for serious patches
Unfortunately, I could go even further into detail in regards to Ary and the Secret of Seasons’ lack of polish. Such as how new mechanics are introduced with literally no explanation that resulted in me not having any idea that I could do the thing needed to progress. Or how there isn’t enough money to buy most of the insanely overpriced shop items. But the fact remains that the game is simply being released too early.
Still, there’s some really neat stuff here. The dungeons are good (when Ary isn’t turning invisible) and the puzzles are very strong. But the uncertain story, schizophrenic pacing, and giant list of bugs and polish issues make it so that I simply can’t recommend that anyone buy this ten-hour game. At least not until there are some patches that iron out its many, many issues. I just wish that the launch version was more complete, as Ary and the Secret of Seasons still needs a lot of work.