Hey! I have played TUNIC recently and you know I love sharing games that I enjoyed in case someone might enjoy them too. Tunic was one of the most anticipated releases for me this year, the game piqued my interest immediately as I saw it, then I played the demo during one of the Steam Festivals and the feeling of being lost in this world full of serene silence really stuck with me.
Tunic is one of those games where the less you know the better your experience will be so I'll be very careful not to spoil anything and not to reveal more than I should.
Remember the times when games came with manuals? The very first thing you find after your little fox protagonist wakes up on the shore, is a game manual page. Tunic's in-game manual is not just an auxiliary item to help you here and there that you can disregard if you want to, it is a centerpiece, the cornerstone of the whole game and honestly, its coolest part. The manual has everything you need to complete Tunic and find every treasure and every secret. It's written mostly in fox language though. There are English words here and there that help you understand what's going on, there are also scribbles in pen and pencil from someone who had the manual before. Throughout the game with each new page I felt like the game desperately wanted to tell me everything, it wanted me to visit every single hidden passage, get every secret item, experience it all. We just happen to speak different languages but this barrier can be overcome if I'm just a little bit more attentive, a little bit more curious.
The game manual serves multiple purposes: it's your "options and controls" menu that tells you what buttons do what, it's also your journal that has bits of the story in it; it's a guide that explains to you how exactly all the mechanics work, it literally tells you how to determine when you have invincibility frames after you dodge roll. It is also a collection of detailed maps that help you get your bearings around the world, and it is a collection of clues and explanations on how to uncover every secret and solve every mystery.
The pages of this manual also act as the best reward you can get. Each page is a treasure that will reveal more, add another layer to the game, push you in a new direction. Often you find a page that is a part of a two-page map, or a story bit, or a description, and it just fuels you up to go and find the missing part because you can't just leave it hanging like that. Whenever I saw a manual page somewhere, it would become my top priority to get it, I'd just forget all else.
Game manual pages you find are not in order; you find the appropriate pages at the appropriate time as you progress the game, but inside the manual itself they do not follow one another in a linear fashion. For example, you can find pages 12 and 14, then page 7, then pages 30 and 27. By the time you've found a dozen of pages you already have an idea which part of the manual is about what, and it just heats you interest further. What if the new page is the one from the first section of the manual?
The game manual looks incredible, the artwork is stunning, little scribbles and notes give this item the cosy hint of nostalgia. Honestly, it's amazing how such an oldschool item as a gaming manual was made a centerpiece of a game in our day and age. I'd been clutching it throughout the whole game. Oh, where are my maps... yeah, there is that part and that's about the cave, there is the stuff I don't understand yet... yeah, that's it, that's the map. Ok, let's go.
One aspect of Tunic that contributed the most to my experience was the tone of the game, this serene silence that ultimately gave me freedom to explore and experiment. Most games use different framing devices to pull the player in: narrated cinematics, tutorial sections with a lot of cutscenes to introduce the characters and the setting. The main quest is usually apparent from the first minutes, and you inevitably start your adventure already burdened by a bunch of knowledge, a group of characters you were just introduced to, and most often - the prospect of saving the world and defeating the evil. I'm not saying it's bad, if the introduction is done well, it's basically priceless. However, I never realized how having a direction as soon as I start a game now feels more like a chore. Tell me who the bad guy is and where my sidekick's at, and I'll be on my way saving yet another world.
In Tunic you just wake up on the shore, and that's all. It's very quiet. Since you don't have any objective, or even a map, you just start exploring without fear of getting ahead of the storyline, missing out on something or mismanaging your resources. You don't have anything so you're not afraid of anything. I have to say that this approach to gameplay is incredibly hard to pull off successfully and normally I wouldn't be happy with a game that just doesn't tell me what to do. However, Tunic has this special tone and the endless hospitality that is evident from any Game Manual page you pick up that just encourages you to go wherever you feel like and see what you can find.
This serenity is broken up by the manual pages sprinkled here and there along the paths that you take, and they very slowly introduce the world to you without being overbearing or insistent on anything. They are written in fox English, it's not a quest log in a traditional sense. The more you progress, the more you learn about the world and even the story, but the exploration always comes first. Even if you have an idea what you need to do and why, it's not flashing anywhere on the screen, there is no quest tab to pester the life out of you. You just explore and move the storyline as you go along.
I think, the main reason why this type of gameplay, exploration and narrative work so smoothly in Tunic but hardly would anywhere else, is the scale of it. Tunic is fairly small but it has a lot, A LOT of layers. I was deeply impressed how clever the architecture of this world is: you have the hub area and different biomes that connect to it. The more you walk through the places you've already explored, the more you start noticing weird dark corners, and waterfalls, and those inconspicuous little places behind the statues that turn out to be shortcuts. Tunic involves, I'd say, a fair bit of backtracking, but if you've already explored the areas you can traverse large distances very quickly because you know all the shortcuts. They are marked in the game manual, you just need to know where to look.
When you get a new page or decide to try something new on your own, it doesn't take much time to remember a place and go there because Tunic isn't that big, it's layered. I think, if this game was bigger, or if it was a boundless open world, neither the game manual nor the exploration would have worked the way they work now.
Revisiting places you've already been to might be annoying. However, Tunic not only gives you a number of tools to get where you want fairly quickly, but most importantly, it changes the context.
When I started playing Tunic, I was sure it would be a linear adventure about a cute little fox, 6-8 hours tops. 25 hours later - here I am.
I'd love to tell you all about it but it pains me that I might spoil the coolest part of the game. I'll just elaborate a little bit more on "changing the context" bit and we'll move on.
So, yes, you need to come back to the previously explored areas but when you do, usually your context has changed because you found something, or you read a new manual page that presented the familiar area in a new light. Often times in Tunic you realize that you've just been walking past things that were always there, you just didn't know what to do with them. But now you do, and it changes you perspective, sometimes quite dramatically. You gain more and more context and rediscover the whole game multiple times, and it's fantastic. I'll admit that not all players might like it, it does require a bunch of backtracking and possibly even taking some notes yourself but I personally love this stuff.
Tunic is a kind of knowledge metroidvania that I haven't really seen before: sometimes when you don't know how to interact with something or what to do with a particular thing, you are not actually missing the ability to do it, but the knowledge. You can do it, physically. You just don't know how - but you will, in time. When I discovered the first instance of this "gaining knowledge of things I was always able to do but didn't know how" I just gasped. Yes, it somewhat detracts from the replayability of the game but does it, really? I think, starting a NG+ with all the knowledge is just a whole other game entirely and a whole new experience.
The developer behind TUNIC, Andrew Sholdice, gave an interview to the GameDeveloper that was published on the day TUNIC launched, and one part of this interview touches on this aspect of the game. And I'd like to quote it to you:
**Since the very beginning there's been this really particular, highly-specific feeling that I got playing the old Zelda games, this feeling of genuine discovery and mystery, and knowing that there are things about this world that you don't quite understand.
The example in Zelda is the bombable wall. Imagine you've never seen a bombable wall before in your life. And suddenly, you discover one accidentally. You haven't just found a bombable wall. The piece of information that has been added to your understanding of this world is not, "there is a wall right there that I can bomb, and there's a door behind it". It's that there are vulnerable walls in this world. Any wall that I looked at previously, and thought "that's a wall, I know, everything there is to know about it", is now a question mark, how big this world is suddenly just got a little bit bigger. It's that particular feeling that comes from a lot of different games, especially old games, not necessarily because they're old, but because we were young when we played them so that feeling of wonderment was maybe a little bit stronger.**
And I feel like TUNIC captures this feeling of genuine discovery perfectly. However, you can go as deep as you want to go. The more you explore Tunic, the heavier on puzzles and riddles it becomes, and if it's not fun for you, you can just leave it out. If you love deciphering cryptic messages in fox language, go for it! Tunic can stretch unexpectedly far and I think every player can find their own finish line. I went all the way through all the secrets and riddles, however some of them proved to be exceedingly challenging for me, so I tried on my own while it was fun and when I exhausted all the options I could come up with, I looked them up. I think, there is no shame in that, I still felt accomplished because of the effort I put in myself.
People keep saying that Tunic is a souls-like when it comes to combat but I honestly don't even know what it means anymore. The term has been so overused that it seems to me that every game where you can die is now a "soulslike". I don't know. The combat in Tunic can be challenging but it's also fair and pretty straightforward. It reminds me a lot of Link's Awakening. Is Link's Awakening a soulslike?..
You have both weapons and consumables, there is a number of ways to defeat enemies: if you want to feel like a knight, you can fight with your sword, if it's too tiring for you, just toss a couple of dynamites. The main challenge, I'd say, comes from stamina management. Your attacks don't require any stamina so you can swing your sword even when you're tired, however dodge rolls and blocking do require stamina. You can't just panic roll around the boss because you'll be out very quickly and it will take time to recover, so being smart about managing your stamina is definitely one of the more important aspects of combat in Tunic.
Bosses in this game are incredibly fun, and they get better and better the further you progress. Yes, you need to try and memorize their attack patterns to know how to dodge the attacks and when the time to strike comes. These patterns are quite clear, the attacks are well-telegraphed so the bossfights in Tunic come very close to the best bossfight in Hollow Knight where your skill and your memory matter the most. My favorite type of bossfights!
I feel like I've talked for way too long and probably said some things I shouldn't have said. Tunic is the best game I've played so far in 2022, I don't remember the last time I played the game that loved the player so much. Tunic just loves you. It wants to tell you everything, it's giving you every piece of information and holds nothing back: it tells you how exactly your dodge roll works, how damage modifiers work, it encourages you to use as many consumables as you can and rewards you for it. It just supports you every step of the way while at the same time being quiet enough to let you explore and discover in your own rhythm and on your own terms. The game lists all the secrets and mysteries as they are but because the majority of it is written in fox language, there is quite a bit to decipher on your own, if you want to. Tunic changes context and subverts you assumptions, leading you to rediscover it again and again, as long as you want to.
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Thank you for your time.