Ary and the Secret of Seasons has been announced for release on September 1, 2020. PlayStation Universe had the opportunity for an extended hands-on session with an early PC build of the game, as well as the chance to ask a few questions about its development.
During my four hours with Ary and the Secret of Seasons, I played through a rather generous slice of the game’s opening. Though I made it through in about two hours, I could have easily spent double that exploring the opening town, completing side quests, and simply delighting in Ary and the Secret of the Seasons’ amazing and culturally rich setting. This is the sort of world that players will want to poke around in, and from what I saw there are plenty of secrets to reward the curious.
Ary’s Opening Sets The Stage For A Much Wider Adventure
At the start of the game, Ary is a young girl living with her parents, who are in a state of mourning over the loss of her brother. Though no body was ever found, Ary’s brother was lost and is presumed dead. Don’t think for a moment that this means that Ary is a grim character though. She is bright and cheery, and the loss of her brother – while felt keenly – has not dampened her spirit.
Ary’s family are the traditional keepers of winter – a role her brother played before his disappearance. The four seasons are physically manifested in stones that are held by keepers scattered all across the world. Ary’s home town is kept in perpetual snow and the townspeople like that situation just fine.
But when a mysterious crystalline meteor falls from the sky, the snow melts, leaving the confused citizenry wandering through a spring that they never expected. Ary determines that she will take up the family’s mantle to investigate. She disguises herself as her brother and sets out to learn the truth about the disruption of the seasons.
To do so, Ary harnesses winter powers – the ability to freeze a small area of the world, altering its shape and parameters. This means that Ary can freeze ponds and waterfalls, creating new ways to traverse the landscape. But her winter powers have more ways to impact the world around her – which I won’t spoil here. Learning how your powers work is one of the many charms of Ary and the Secret of Seasons.
Ary ventures out to meet with the keepers of the other three seasons, all of which have been disrupted. Along the way, she must enter and navigate the first temple in the game – similar in size and scope to a temple one might find in a Zelda game, but with far more platforming than fans of that franchise might be expecting.
Ary Becomes Deeply Powerful As The Game Progresses
By the time I finished this opening, I was deeply impressed with the size and scope of Ary’s world. It was clear that Ary was going to have to venture into different regions of her world to investigate each of the four seasons. Sure enough, when I moved onto the second portion of the game provided, Ary had gained powers corresponding with all four seasons.
In this final chapter of the game, Ary has many additional abilities that she has gained throughout her journey. I don’t want to spoil what these are, as discovering Ary’s abilities and how to use them is part of the fun. But in the final temple, Ary must use a combination of her powers to solve puzzles and progress – a prospect exponentially more complex than it was at the beginning of the game.
Though it felt strange playing through the opening of a game and the final level back-to-back, the experience did leave me with a sense of the full scope of Ary and the Secret of Seasons. I had the opportunity to ask Seb Le Touze – creator of Ary and the Secret of Seasons, CEO and Game Designer at eXiin Games – a few questions about Ary, the world she lives in, and the decisions that went into building a game around her.
Ary And The Secret Of Seasons Interview
I saw online that Ary and the Secret of Seasons has been in development since 2017. In what ways has the game changed during that time? Is this final product similar to what you first envisioned?
I started the project by myself at the end of 2016 and the team grew in size over the years. The original idea was built around the changing seasons (inspired by a prototype I did on RPG Maker 95). After a few months of prototyping the game, we had a vague story drafted, and it wasn’t until a bit later that we got the full narrative in place.
Our team is pretty small; we have between 5 and 10 people working full-time on Ary, and with such a small team, we end up having people that do a bit of everything. Of course, we had to compromise with the technology to be multiplatform, but the story we wanted to convey remained faithful to the original idea!
One thing that changed quite drastically was the scale of the game. I was aiming for a 4-5 hours story, it ended up being at least twice as long. This didn’t come without issue, because testing anything can quickly scale up exponentially. Thankfully, Modus Games, our publisher, was able to scale up the external QA team. At a certain point, we had more QA than developers.
Ary is just a kid – the game opens with her playing with toys. Over the course of the game, she becomes very powerful. In what ways do you keep the player mindful that the character is a child?
One thing I wanted was a scenario that opens like Russian dolls. If you pay attention to the first cutscene, you start to hear Ary’s voice…and it’s only in the middle of the cutscene that you see Ary’s face. Then bit by bit, she’s going from her room, to her house, to the city and to the world.
The characters in Valid are often downplaying Ary as she’s just a kid, discouraging her from taking risks. But Ary never takes no for an answer. I think that’s what makes Ary so charming in this coming-of-age story.
Ary’s family dynamics feel very real. At the beginning of the game, Ary’s brother is missing – presumed dead. Her father is incapacitated and in a state of mourning. Her mother is left to keep the family together and tend to Ary. Ary is a very cheerful character, but she is obviously in a place of difficulty, family-wise. What led to the decision to start Ary off in such a troubled place?
The idea of the missing brother and Ary looking for him made its way in our mind. We didn’t want to have an easy, mindless story; the “find the princess in need” plot needed to evolve! The family tree of Ary appeared during development; in fact, her mom was not planned ahead and joined the cast very late in the production and in a natural way, remaining faithful to the first draft of the story.
When I saw for the first time players reacting to Ary’s mom catching her leaving the village of Yule, I instantly knew we made the right choice; we could see players feeling involved with the story.
I love the misdirection at the beginning of the game. The game specifically asks you not to break pots in Ary’s family home, but then to progress, you have to break the pots. In what ways does this humorous moment correspond with your overall game design aesthetic?
Ary never takes no for an answer, and for the player I think it feels quite satisfying to constantly disobey! It’s also a way of keeping Ary kid-like; we’ve all seen kids being much more assertive and questioning the rules. Before Ary reaches the Dome of Seasons, at least five different adults tell her not to go there!
The orchestral music in the game is very cinematic and dramatic. Who was the composer? Will the music be available online for streaming?
The composer for Ary and The Secret of Seasons was Marcus Hedges. Marcus is a British composer based in Brighton, UK known for his orchestral video game cover arrangements as ‘The Trend Orchestra’. Marcus has partnered with the video game music publisher, Materia Collective to make the full Ary and The Secret of Seasons OST readily available on all music sales/streaming platforms.
What were some of your goals for the music in Ary?
One of the main things I wanted for the music was for the player to come away from the game whistling or humming at least one of the themes. That’s like a dream come true for me. I felt it was really important that I anchored each theme/vibe to the wonderfully designed towns and regions and their backstories. Through this, I hope that players will be able to hear the music, perhaps even in a different setting away from the game, and have it bring back memories of the respective location and/or part of the story.
As Ary explores, she finds treasure chests that give her coins. I saw some shops in-game that allow her to buy cosmetic outfits to wear. Are there other items she can purchase? If so, what sort of things can she buy?
During the game, Ary gets lots of different upgrades; from the seasons’ power to the double jump or new weapons and new costumes. The dungeons most of the time revolve around a new item you’re getting and will also unlock some zones you could not access initially. Also, lots of chests are hidden all over the game. Ary is either getting coins from them, cosmetic outfits, or combat upgrades.
While the architecture in the opening town is very Asia-inspired, I enjoyed the fact that the characters that live there are very multi-cultural. I also noticed that the representatives from the different seasons look like they are from different areas and eras of historic Earth. Are their “worlds” inspired by different eras of our own? Will the visuals in each of the seasons/levels reflect those regions and eras?
The world of Valdi is separated into 4 zones: the winter region is Korean-inspired, the south is Greek-inspired, while the west is kind of European-ancient medieval and the east is desert-like. All these zones are based on places I’ve visited and it’s a mix of what I find aesthetically pleasing or places that blew my mind, like Petra in Jordania.
Fun fact: the Dome of Seasons exists in real life; it’s a few streets away from my house. Look it up, it’s called Saint Mary’s Royal Church!
We’re lucky in Europe to live in historically dense places that are crossroads to culture. I find that really inspiring!
For my preview, I played the very beginning and the very end of the game. There were a lot of optional quests in the opening area – some of which rewarded Ary with some power-ups. Approximately how long is the game, with and without side quests?
We’re aiming at 10-15 hours, but it’s always super hard to say how long a game is, especially when it’s filled with puzzles!
A lot of Ary and the Secret of Seasons is action/exploration/puzzles, but the game also doesn’t shy away from some fairly intense platforming. What are some of the inspirations behind the game?
Lots of people are saying it’s inspired by Zelda. While being compared to a great game is always flattering, it’s actually not entirely true. The main inspiration is Soul Reaver from Crystal Dynamics, but it doesn’t stop there. Ary is inspired by all kinds of games released between 1995 and 2005. You can see a bit of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, some Banjo-Kazooie or some bits of Jak & Dexter and even Tomb Raider. In short: It’s inspired by the titles I grew up with!
Now that the game is nearing release, is there anything that you wanted to squeeze into the final product that you didn’t have time for? Were there aspects of the game that you cut because they weren’t working?
One cut scene in the middle of the game got cut; 5 minutes to introduce fast travel is not really necessary.
One of the things that got heavily cut are the puzzles. I would say 80% of the puzzles got cut. It wasn’t really a question of time, but more a question of balance in the game. Indeed, after lots of playtests, we realized that between 20 and 30% of the players took more than 30 minutes per puzzle when some people would take less than 30 seconds solving it. ~ With such a difference between players, a good chunk of them just gave up on complex puzzles. For instance, in the Winter Temple, its main tower was completely removed (you can see it at the top of the waterfall). That represented more than 10 puzzles scrapped in this specific level.
Another thing that got heavily modified is the guidance of the player. We wanted to leave the player to walk around and find their way. But the playtests showed this was worrisome; we as players are really used to following a GPS in games, it’s kind of scary. That’s why we had to fit in a minimap almost at the last minute to provide guidance. If you want to experience the way the game was intended, go into the options and disable the minimap 🙂
Was there anything else you would like our readers to know about Ary and the Secret of Seasons?
We are all just so excited for people to finally play Ary and the Secret of Seasons. It’s been a long time coming, and the last few months have been especially hard for everyone. Shipping a game during a global pandemic is not the easiest!
We hope that Ary’s light-hearted tone will give the distraction that people need in these complicated times!
Ary and the Secret of Season releases on September 1, 2020, on PlayStation 4.
PlayStation Universe would like to sincerely thank Seb Le Touze and eXiin Games for their participation in this interview.