Ary and the Secret of Seasons (Switch) Review
There’s a lot that Ary and the Secret of Seasons owes to the Zelda series. There’s a smattering of the aesthetic from Breath of the Wild, the obvious Oracle of Seasons inspiration, and the borrowing of a few franchise-universal structural and mechanical cues. Thankfully, Ary manages to carve its own identity out of the Zelda framework and give us something interesting and unique – but lets itself down with some really, really, really big missteps that undo the positives quite handily.
We’re introduced to our main character Ary right off the bat as she narrates a story while playing with her toys. This, along with most of the cutscenes in the game, felt charming in a kids’ movie kind of way – personally, I found it skewed just a little too young to be enjoyable, but your mileage may vary and they’re all colourful, dynamic and well animated enough to thrill any child. Ary is the daughter of one of the Guardians, who ensure their particular section of the country remains in a season-locked state. Her dad is sick, though, and her brother is missing – so when the seasons are disrupted by mysterious crystals falling from the sky, Ary takes it upon herself to journey to the Dome of Seasons to fulfil her dad’s Guardian obligations. The story here has a few twists and turns that keep it interesting, although it does mess with the pacing somewhat. You start out with the Winter Crystal. After completing a dungeon, you’re rewarded with… nothing, but a little later get the Summer Crystal, then the two remaining crystals at once, and only then you’ll complete another dungeon in search of the first of four new Light Cores that need collecting. It’s a bit all over the place, and it really hurts the reward loop when what seems to be the central purpose for your adventure is replaced with another a third of the way through the game.
These crystals do enable Secret of Seasons’ piece de resistance of a mechanic, though. Each crystal lets Ary create a sphere with a little self-contained microcosm of its respective season’s climate. Winter will let you reveal hidden ice platforms, or eliminate some thorny deciduous vines. Spring will cancel out the presence of water, and autumn can bring back that water in a spring setting. These are all used to great effect in the dungeons, with clever uses for puzzle solving that stayed consistently engaging. They’re even used in combat, with enemies holding things like ice shields or thorn armour that require a specific season to create a vulnerability. That combat is also great, with a versatile lock on/dodge roll/parry/attack system. Pulling off successful combos also gives you special Solstice powers that change depending on the season you’re in – Summer has the most offensively useful Solstice power, casting a ring of fire. Throwing down a summer sphere and following it up with a devastating move is a great feeling. An early boss battle uses this to great effect. All up, most of Secret of Seasons is really interesting, with the only real exception being the world itself – aside from searching for a handful of miscellaneous collectibles, there’s not really much to do. NPCs are largely generic, and there’s no real incentive to go exploring with minimal chests to find that will only ever contain gold pieces. The shop also seems to only have cosmetic items, and combat is largely optional aside from boss fights, so even these gold pieces weren’t particularly useful.
Here’s where we get to the crux of it, though. Ary and the Secret of Seasons just isn’t finished. It runs like a bomb on the Switch, with dense areas having to obscure everything more than ten feet away with an impenetrable fog just to stay running. Docked, even the open spaces force things into a slideshow. The textures are nice enough but do suffer from excessive pop-in. Then, it crashes. Largely randomly. There was nothing that reliably triggered a crash, but it would happen at least once an hour. Finally – and this is the real kicker – quest tracking is horrendously broken. One side quest early on, I collected and delivered an item, but the game never started tracking the quest completion. Talking to the original quest giver again immediately started and completed that particular quest. Later, a mandatory objective involving destroying an overpowered weapon didn’t register in the quest tracker as finished, even though a cutscene played.
This was in an instanced area, so I had no fix for it, and the game kept going and let me continue, just with quest markers now broken and only ever pointing to a position on the map that lined up with the instance. Quitting and restarting didn’t fix this, and in fact, gave me back the weapon I had already destroyed. Three hours later, I returned to the area for the next dungeon, and found that I would now be prevented from progressing any further in the game since the instance was never marked as complete and a barrier never removed. The fact that I experienced broken quests in multiple instances leads me to assume that it is the quest tracking that’s broken – it seems only lucky players may actually be able to complete this game without falling victim to the pit of despair. Honestly, I haven’t covered half the bugs I ran into in my time with this title – parrying not working, enemies spawning but not with AI, stuck animations, physics errors, button prompts not leaving the screen – but those are minor by comparison: what I can’t forgive is being prevented from playing the game.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons really just needed a little more time in the oven. The foundations are there: solid dungeon design, a clean and colourful aesthetic, and a robust combat system. It just needs a little more though – something extra to do in the open world, some more finely tuned pacing and progression, and most importantly a proper QA run to make sure that everything actually functions. I can’t recommend you go visit the land of Valdi in its current state, but hopefully the developers can tweak some code and make this fairly competent adventure playable.
+ Unique season mechanics
+ Fun puzzle dungeons
+ Good combat system
- Frequent crashes and major bugs
- Jerky progression
- Sparse open world