Chants of Sennaar Review – Breaking Barriers

    Title: Chants of Sennaar
    Developer: Rundisc
    Release Date: September 5, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Focus Entertainment
    Genre: Adventure

We often take communication for granted in this day and age, as we can easily talk to our friends, families, and loved ones in the blink of an eye. Technology enhances our ability to share our views, our passions, and our criticisms, usually for the better. However, even with so many ways to connect to one another, it’s still so easy to feel isolated, and it’s just as easy for communications to go awry. We can remain in our own familiar communities without endeavoring to find common ground with others. Within Rundisc’s newest game, Chants of Sennaar, these themes of communication, understanding, and finding common ground are explored in engaging ways.

In the shoes of a nameless, hooded traveler, you wake up in a large tower where several societies dwell on each level. As you explore each of the seemingly disparate civilizations, you have to decipher their languages through context clues or by comparing one language to another.

Through this, you learn more about their customs, their ways, their lives, and their ancient connections to the other inhabitants of the tower. In the end, it’s up to you to unite the people of the tower and show them that they have more in common than they believe.

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It’s a simple tale, one where the world itself is at its core. It’s told very effectively with simple dialogue, all of which you have to translate for yourself to understand. By tasking the player with uncovering the meaning, it makes every individual bit of dialogue that much more worthy of engagement.

You’ll want to speak to everyone just to try and gain a better understanding of the world you’ve found yourself in. What’s truly remarkable is seeing the language equivalents between each of the different civilizations, as it shows you that their differences are really just different viewpoints of the same concept.

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The languages are each very distinct, too, with their own sentence structures and their own ways of handling concepts like plurals. Each language is based on real-world languages, too; the language of the warriors has similarities to Nordic runes for one.

It goes to show that Rundisc has put a lot of thought into crafting the linguistic gameplay on display here. It’s really satisfying to uncover each different symbol, and it makes completion truly rewarding, as you’re finally rated true clarity, that ability to finally understand everything. You’ll want to leave no stone unturned, no path unexplored, no room undiscovered, no puzzle unsolved.

Speaking of puzzles, the developers have wonderfully combined linguistics with the puzzles. Solving each of them often requires deeper knowledge of the languages, and while the puzzles might be easier with complete knowledge, they would just as easily be solved with partial knowledge, giving the player flexibility to complete them at their own pace. They’re enjoyable and brain-teasing obstacles for the player, and while they don’t distract from the core gameplay, they’re a welcome accompaniment, working in perfect harmony.

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Less harmonious, however, is the inclusion of short stealth sections. These aren’t too frequent, but they’re easily one of the lesser gameplay styles explored within the game. They’re not entirely awful either, they’re tense and don’t overstay their welcome, and they at least keep things from growing stale.

The issue is that they’re just pretty basic, far less engaging, and thought-provoking than the rest of what’s on offer. If they took up a larger share of the game’s runtime, then it would most likely spoil things. But as things are, they’re at least acceptable and won’t put you off the game so long as you can work through them,

The only other issue I can consider would be the lack of a readily available map for the player. In some portions, it makes sense, as finding the correct path is part of the puzzle, but when simply exploring areas you’ve been to before, a basic map system would have been a great asset. Even then, the different areas are never too hard to navigate, and they’re often well-signposted. So while some sort of map menu would have been even better, the game doesn’t make it all that difficult to get around.

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The difficulty curve itself is quite commendable; the early areas make sure to drip-feed your glyphs slowly. They’re repeated enough, and you’re given a decent number of context clues to help you understand them. Your journal lets you write down what you think the word means before it’s revealed completely to you later on as well, so you can easily take notes as you explore and make new assumptions.

Later areas of the game provide many more sigils early on, with few clues to help you understand them. You can be truly stumped for a while until you suddenly find the right connection. That transition from confusion to a eureka moment is key to what makes the gameplay here so satisfying.

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And you can’t talk about this game without discussing how stunning it looks. Every scene is like an art piece that you could frame on your wall. Inspired by European artists like Francois Schuiten, each new vista is a joy to the eyes. Minimalistic but complex and surreal, and every layer of the tower uses a different color scheme to drive home their outward differences.

Common character design themes like face coverings show how each is still similar in their own ways too. The art direction is easily one of the many high points in the game. The soundtrack is distinct between each civilization and is just as worthy of commendation.

Running at about ten hours long, Chants of Sennaar isn’t the longest game in the world, but every hour is worth the price of admission. There isn’t a lot of replay value, but it is the sort of experience that would be worthy of a fresh playthrough every few years if the mood strikes. It’s the sort of game that’s easy to recommend if you want something short and completely fresh.

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There aren’t many experiences quite like Chants of Sennaar. It offers linguistic gameplay that is simple to understand but can be complex to truly solve. Its messages about communication and understanding are simple but completely universal in today’s world. From the aesthetics to the satisfying and engaging gameplay, it’s easy to get wonderfully lost in Chants of Sennaar.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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