Though I love my share of violent, grimdark shooters and horror games, sometimes I'm in the mood for something a little more colorful. I want to dig into an adventure game that looks and feels like it was ripped from a fantastical world instead of rubbed out in a mound of dust. I want colorful lands and characters and a story that doesn't let up. Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an upcoming adventure from eXiin and Fishing Cactus that scratched that particular itch for me quite nicely.
I went hands-on with this fall title, published by Modus Games, and came away pleasantly surprised with all it had to offer. This multiplatform affair is a throwback to classic adventure games rife with exploration, collectibles, and great combat mechanics. It's a love letter to the Zelda series in some of the best ways possible. I found myself smiling giddily as I explored this inventive new world with Ary, and I'm already counting down the days until I can see the rest of her story.
Aryelle (Ary for short) is a young girl who lives in the world of Valdi. She's the daughter of Gwenn, the Guardian of Winter. Gwenn is part of the Guardians of Seasons, along with Dagdann, Brynn, and Luchtann. They all meet in the Dome of Seasons each year to make sure the seal protecting Valdi is strictly reinforced with each of their magic.
It seems as though the seal has potentially gotten weaker over the years as the legend of the evil mage that once wreaked havoc over Valdi has quieted a bit. The group tends not to take their yearly meetup as seriously anymore. But lately, there are strange shards that seem to appear in Ary's region that suddenly transform the weather – at least in the playthrough I had with my build – from winter to what appeared to be spring.
This is an issue, obviously, and one that's concerning the townsfolk. Ary's father is forlorn, however, because her brother Flynn is gone. Ary knows she's been forbidden by her family to go to the Dome, but she's headstrong enough that she pulls a Mulan and does it anyway. She cuts her hair, dons Flynn's clothing, grabs his sword, and sets off to take matters into her own hands, after taking her father's powerful magical item that helps him control the seasons, of course.
Her previously furious mother greets her on her way to the Dome and isn't angry – she simply gives Ary her blessing to go forth and figure out what's going on, with Ary making her way to the Dome and eventually taking on her father's role in the Guardians of Seasons. There's much more story to be had, of course, but the nutshell I was given was enough to get me salivating. Mulan meets The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons was right up my alley.
There's plenty to see and do in Ary and the Secret of Seasons. It takes place in a lush, gorgeous 3D world with a stylized cartoon aesthetic that wouldn't look out of place in a Disney movie. You're very much rewarded for exploring, whether that means you find special items to inspect, chests to open, or pots to break. You'll want to see what's out there in the wild world, especially when you learn the truth behind the Guardians of Seasons.
The controls are fluid and smooth, with Ary able to sprint, double-jump, sneak, and control the environment with her special powers. I was able to try out her power to turn the season to winter, which could freeze water and create paths in the blink of an eye. This had true potential for some very satisfying puzzles, as I learned when I trekked through some particularly challenging areas (long after I realized I wasn't supposed to just swim around and look for the way out).
Of course, this is very much a game where combat is expected, too. Ary's great with a weapon, as she can lock on to enemies, roll past them, parry, and strike with precision in a satisfying ballet of slashes and counter-attacks. I fought off a lot of unfortunate hyena enemies who, if I do say so myself, didn't want a piece of me. Combat felt exciting and natural, and it was one of my favorite parts of the build.
Out of everything I saw during my time with Ary, I really appreciated its versatility. It felt like a CG movie from the early 2000s with plenty of life lessons to teach, a plucky female protagonist, fun fighting scenes, and lots of secrets for viewers to uncover. You don't get a lot of games like this one anymore with equal parts heart and the potential for great storytelling as well as intrigue.
I'm excited to see where Ary and the Secret of Seasons leads when I can get my hands on the full version. I still have a lot of questions about the nature of this awesome new world and I'm ready to get find more collectibles. I didn't originally have this game on my radar at all, but now I'm glad I was able to experience it. Here's to looking ahead to playing the final build at some point next month. Zelda fans, you've got something very cool to look forward to.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is set to debut on September 1 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.