Anuchard Review (Switch)
Release Date: April 21, 2022
File Size: 980MB
Publisher: Freedom Games
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
What makes a game great? Does it need to exhaust the ideas that its gameplay mechanics present? Does its story need to be inventive, or never yet experienced? Does its art need to represent the best that its particular medium has to offer, or utilize an art style that is entirely unique? Can a game be competent in any and all of these areas while not being particularly great?
Action RPGs are a dime a dozen these days, and in the scope of what is accessible to Nintendo Switch owners, a game needs to have some extremely distinguishable hook to nab a purchase. While Indonesian-based, three member developer stellarNull has done nothing to reinvent the wheel with its gameplay mechanics, its narrative may just be subversive enough to warrant a look, especially if you’re up for a quirky throwback to the more artistically ambitious PSX-era titles.
Anuchard tasks players with taking on the role of the Bellwielder, a legendary hero capable of restoring the souls of those who met their end in the mystical dungeons of Anuchard. As a Bellwielder, the player can perform a few essential actions throughout the world: light attacks using the X button and heavy attacks with the B button, which is also simultaneously a sort of dodge roll. The player may also summon a spire with particular buffs, which can be upgraded via the story-unlock progression system. Aside from these inputs, the player can only move around the limited boundaries of the environments.
One of the essential parts of Anuchard’s gameplay is the heavy attack ability, which is a contextual action that triggers when colliding with an inactive enemy, triggering the offensive ability. This will send the foe rocketing off in the opposite direction of your collision, bouncing off any wall in the way and breaking a tier of their armor. As the game progresses, enemies will be summoned with more and more tiers of armor that can only be breached by heavy attacks, but once this armor has dropped, you’ll be able to wail on them to your heart’s content. An eventual upgrade allows you to knock enemies into one another and deal damage, but only if their armor has dropped.
The heavy attack has another function in the form of puzzle solving, as it can summon floating orbs from specific spawn points throughout the dungeons that can trigger far-off switches. These orbs can be bounced off of hard surfaces a limited number of times, but this number can be reset by the player using another heavy attack to change the orb’s trajectory. Some increasingly complex puzzles arise that build upon this concept, adding teleporters, on-off switches, and careful trajectory planning, but they happen in between lengthy spells of exploration and combat that make the game feel decently balanced.
Outside of these activities, the Bellwielder can help with some of the strange requests of villagers during each chapter, from finding lost children to giving tours of locales. The game is a very straightforward progression of events, meaning you’ll only find one of these side quest events per chapter and occasionally pick up an additional soul from a dungeon. If you’re hoping to obtain all of the knick-knacks from across Anuchard, you will have to prioritize side quest completion, as they expire at the end of the chapter in which they are introduced. If you haven’t gathered all of the prerequisite collectables for some of the in-town upgrades, you can revisit dungeons to comb their depths once more after completion.
Narrative and Aesthetics
Anuchard is about a utopian society brought to ruin in ages past, its various lands drifted apart due to the absence of the guardians whom its people once worshiped. Their civilization now struggling to survive, the emergence of a new Bellwielder inspires hope in the people once more. However, the return of once-lost souls is not always a good thing, as various figures from Anuchard’s past reveal the tumultuous history of the realm. As the story progresses, it becomes clear why exactly the guardians might have abandoned the people of Anuchard, and how their blessings could start strife and discord once more.
It’s a novel concept that grapples with the nature of progress in video games, but because the narrative is so linear you’ll have the chance to see how townspeople react to new blessings early on, meaning the crux of the storytelling is revealed rather early in the game. While the restoration of Anuchard offers new and increasingly complex characters to the mix, they only get to shine during their designated chapters, fading into the background as the game progresses. Two other flaws further detract from the game, one being the ambiguous names and designs of many characters, and the other being the somewhat simple character dialogue. The phrasing of the game leans so heavily into a modern vernacular at times that all sense of mysticism is lost. There’s a tug of war between characters who can barely form complete sentences and those who tend to say relatively little in far too many words. In short, the game’s writing comes across as so conversational that it breaks the illusion of gravitas, which might work for some, but not this reviewer.
Aesthetically, Anuchard’s backgrounds are all very lush and detailed, to the point where its colorful aesthetic feels more painterly than most low-resolution, indie pixel art ventures. It never strays close to appearing pre-rendered, though, which gives it a sense of being trapped between the fourth and fifth console generation. This painterly vibe is diminished in the dungeons, where things take a more predictable and blocky turn. While the aesthetics are still vibrant- the dreamy nature of the dungeons is neat and reflects each of the regions of Anuchard they come paired with- the level design is fairly standard and only shows a few brief moments of ingenuity in terms of looping paths. You can make a wrong turn in a dungeon and then have to backtrack through a very long and linear path simply due to the way their aesthetics run counter to what one might consider efficient design. The enemies in these dungeons are all vaguely animalistic, but unique enough to stand on their own.
It is Anuchard’s odd player character and non-playable character population that feels most distinct, with their nondescript, white or gray faces, colorful garb, and sticklike appendages. There are some character designs that imply this anatomy is not stick-figure-like, with a few stronger as well as stouter individuals having wider frames. I don’t necessarily feel that this design is endearing, but it is unique, and that does win points. The character animations are fairly simplistic, with the heavy attack dodge roll feeling like the most complex act in the game, though the enlarged, emotive character reactions that appear in speech bubbles are also well-detailed and complex. However, the quality of these animations or the visuals, while perfectly capable, are unlikely to blow you away.
Lastly, the game’s music fits its visual aesthetic well, offering a warm, yet very retro sort of OST that adds in some more electronic sounds and rock instruments when in dungeons and combat. Some of the game’s most memorable tracks are sadly stuck to single locations with no jukebox or sound options in sight. One aspect that might not sit well is the somewhat short nature of some tracks, causing them to loop in extended gameplay sequences and become tiring. All in all, the game’s visual and audio aesthetics work extremely well with one another, creating a consistent sense of style even in sound effect design, which similarly hearkens back to retro soundscapes.
Impressions and Conclusion
All of Anuchard’s pieces function properly, for the most part, and coalesce into a competent, fit not slow-paced and simplistic dungeon-based action game. While many of its upgrades aren’t necessary, they can be unlocked through substantial exploration and experimentation. The game’s cooking system, when exploited, opens up some neat additions to combat chains and buffs for players that might feel a bit too overwhelmed by dungeon battles. I hesitate to say that there is a great degree of customization present, as I was unable to find another spire type during my playthrough despite the game’s menu prompts heavily implying there were others available. Similarly, I occasionally entered into dungeons without a cooking buff and managed perfectly fine.
There are some games that manage to be consistently inventive with their core gameplay mechanic, as well as those that distract from their simplicity by throwing dazzling new scenarios and twists at the player. Anuchard instead relies on its narrative to do some heavy lifting, and while there are occasional moments of brilliance, the amount of text doesn’t always feel warranted. Dungeons take around twenty minutes to a half an hour to complete, and that’s more because of the Bellwielder’s slow movement speed than anything else. Throughout my playtime, the slow trickle of increasingly complex orb puzzles did not excite me, and only towards the end of my campaign, when boss enemies started to have unique designs rather than enlarged grunts, did it begin to excite me from a combat standpoint.
However, the dungeon structure is more often than not a set of one or two puzzles broken up by a kill room, which begins to feel formulaic by the third or fourth dungeon iteration you tackle. There are brief and inventive moments early on, but these fall off quickly and ensure that the most engaging parts of these dungeons are the encounters with the guardians, who offer substantially grandiose and complex battles. If I missed a collectible item or two, I chose to never return to the dungeons for a second run, as they feel tedious during their initial playthrough alone.
Lastly, I encountered some issues with completing parts of the game that I am not entirely sure are due to my own incompetence. Several of the hide-and-seek side quests either never triggered for me or I am truly a moron- the hints characters gave never pointed me in the right direction, and I was unable to find two individuals from two separate side quests after combing every single screen in the game. Considering the rewards for completing these are occasional world building and in-game collectibles for display, they never felt essential. However, I found myself trapped in a series of software failures during the eighth chapter of the game, when I lost at most an hour of play several times due to unexpected shutdowns of the game. Without the ability to save and move forward, I decided that this chapter would be where I ended my experience with Anuchard.
There is a great deal of potential in this title. In terms of returning to a very specific stylistic era in terms of aesthetics, Anuchard is extremely successful. Similarly, its contextual heavy attack that also functions as a dodge roll is a very inventive feature that I don’t feel I’ve seen before. Even some of its narrative twists are a refreshing change of pace for a game that does feel heavily Zelda-inspired at many points. But the slow pace of movement and trickle of more complex gameplay scenarios, sloppy dungeon design, and hit-or-miss dialogue charms make it a hard sell. Of course, the technical issues with the game are most concerning, but are also most likely to be fixed with a patch. What will remain, however, is a standard sort of dungeon-based action title that doesn’t have enough depth to warrant a return run even when the game asks for such behavior, which is reason enough for me to label Anuchard simply as “okay.”