Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Wii U
Release Date: March 29th, 2016 (March 31st for Wii U)
ESRB: E for Everyone
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game
Trying to critically analyze something you play puts you in a different frame of mind, sometimes. Have you ever read a review that comes off more like a reflection of an entire genre, or even the specific themes present within the text? Some reviews of an HD remake or remaster often ponder if the original game should have existed in the first place. A review of a retro-inspired indie game can sometimes spend more time knocking the things it alludes to, instead of offering an analysis of the text itself.
Before I get into Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus, I“ve got to admit something. I am not the biggest fan of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link -- a clear source of inspiration for the people behind this game. Despite my distaste for Zelda II, however, I finished this adventure with a smile on my face. Instead of spending time picking apart an old NES sequel, let me instead say that developer LookAtMyGame's efforts have given me new perspective.
The opening scene of this game describe a king who learned to respect his people, an evil wizard who usurped him, and a teddy bear. As the text scrolls down, emulating the opening of The Legend of Zelda on NES almost to the letter, it sets up how the land of Exidus fell, and how a king“s soul came to rest in an auburn-haired girl“s stuffed animal friend. It“s up to you to take up arms and venture to Exidus, to reclaim four jewels from bosses six times your size, and lay waste to the wizard Angius“s evil ambitions once and for all.
Beyond the opening sequence, and a few words exchanged between Teddy and the girl, the player is rarely addressed. As a matter of fact, due to things I“ll elaborate on a little later, I can say there are around a hundred words spoken in the entire game. Since words in the game are few, beyond the opening sequence, the importance of how the world of Exidus is presented to you is a little weightier than usual. Thankfully, the choice to limit words spoken doesn“t work to the detriment of the world itself.
Visuals don“t feel like they â€œbelong on the NESâ€ -- the pixel art and character designs don“t make you think â€œthis should be a Zelda game insteadâ€. There“s something to be said when the overall visual cohesiveness of a place pushes me to explore it anyway, despite having initial qualms with how a game works mechanically, as I“ve alluded to earlier. Exidus is a really cool, challenging place to explore, with plenty of attention to detail. And hey, noticing tiny details plays an important role in how you approach puzzle-solving. More on that momentarily.
You“ll strike down foes that will remind you of palace guards from The Adventure of Link, with shields to block your attacks from eye-level until you crouch down to knife them instead. And there are slime enemies that call back to that game too, but their evolutions often defy player expectations as a result. Other than those two examples I can name off-hand, many of the enemy designs are inventive and original. There“s a spider-like enemy with a bomb on its back, a strange spiked plant that relentlessly volleys projectiles forward -- I could go on, because types of enemies are numerous.
I genuinely enjoyed every single dungeon in Chronicles of Teddy. It may be due to every boss providing a unique challenge that properly demonstrated the powers you gained and things you“ve learned by exploring the place. But really, their proper balance of combat situations, puzzle-platforming, and... music-based mechanics... are certainly a thing to behold.
Music is what makes Chronicles of Teddy unique, and helps to make a game with about a hundred words spoken feel more alive than even its loftiest contemporaries. Not far into your journey, you“ll find both a Musicon and Lexicon. Both will help you to communicate with the villagers and guardians in the many lands of Exidus.
The Musicon has twelve unique Runes to find, often in dungeons, sometimes outside of them... and these Runes make up an entire language spoken everywhere in the world. You“re encouraged to speak to every single villager you find, so they can talk to you and help you fill your Lexicon. But you can only talk back to them if you“ve found the corresponding Runes. Look at the screenshot above. To you, that looks like gibberish. But at the end of my fifteen hour journey, I can tell you that means â€œSING EARTH TO SKY FOR SECRET.â€
While exploring dungeons, you won“t just find locked doors to be opened with keys. The â€œlocked doorsâ€ are often only opened by playing a certain tune on the Musicon in front of them. Clues regarding what song should be played are cleverly hidden on hieroglyphs and other relevant things you“ll see -- and maybe miss--as you explore. A good example in the first dungeon is how you“ll see a giant mermaid statue with letters written underneath it -- clearly the mermaid“s name -- only to pass by a door with the words â€œTELL MY NAMEâ€ written in that same language above it. Playing the mermaid“s name on the Musicon is what opens the door to the boss! Without properly engaging the villagers, and learning words -- you“d never be able to figure out the whole â€œTELL MY NAMEâ€ sentence on your own. If you“re the kind of person that likes making notes as you play, Chronicles of Teddy is an experience you will surely enjoy.
And that“s where I start to disagree with some of the choices made and philosophies expressed, here. The problems I had with my journey don“t have to do with the world of Exidus itself, or even the gameplay. For all the signposting the game is good at when it comes to presenting hieroglyphs that show what certain melodies on the Musicon are capable of... I struggled valiantly trying to figure out how to use the final Dungeon Weapon Thing I discovered in the game.
Throughout Exidus, you“ll see these clods of earth that you clearly need to grind through from above to gain access to what“s below. While the other items were self-explanatory (hey, after finding the cute little duck inner-tube, you can swim!), the Magic Scroll that lets you conquer this obstacle left me stumped. Turns out, you need to mash the down-directional button twice while in the air, to suddenly and powerfully come crashing down to the ground below. But -- when I obtained the Magic Scroll -- nothing told me how to use it. I fumbled around with buttons until I figured it out.
That“s just it! There are no explanations here. If you backtrack (and there is backtracking -- but it“s not excessive, and it“s often fun to go back to an area to play with the new toys and Runes you“ve found in dungeons) and find a peculiar item before you should, nothing tells you what to do with it, or who it belongs to. Chronicles of Teddy has a sub-menu when paused (seen above), but there are no means to scroll to each item and find out what they do or help accomplish. Every single aspect of how this game works, mechanically, is more or less saying â€œYou“re on your own.â€
Rather than having a complex map that shows where chests are and features a detailed layout of rooms you“ve explored and rooms you haven“t -- Exidus is presented to you in a series of squares, like Fez, I suppose. Have you missed a treasure chest or otherwise noteworthy object? The box will be a solid blue color, indicating you should go back to it. Particularly vital objects will have a yellow color to their square on the map. Even the game“s â€œguideâ€ of sorts to show the little lady where to go next... are often thinly veiled portions of maps or important rooms, again with no words spoken to the player.
This sentiment of â€œYou“re on your ownâ€ is a choice -- not something done due to technology limitations of the time, or something like that. The fact that I strongly disagree with this choice doesn“t affect my overall opinion of the game too much, but -- considering I was stuck in the final dungeon of the game for a smidge because no one told me how to use what I“d just found -- I think that says something.
As I wrap things up, though -- I truly did enjoy my time with Chronicles of Teddy. I began my journey with a disposition towards the games that helped inspire it -- and I left with a greater respect for them. I“d gladly recommend this experience to fans of Zelda in general, and definitely to fans of Zelda II in particular. That recommendation comes with the caveat of â€œget ready to take a lot of notes, and maybe you“ll get a little lost along the way,â€ though. The game is chocked full of things to find and replay value (there are optional dungeons, a New Game+, and everything in the modern era that helps give a game like this extended life). If the game“s title is truly indicative that there“s more to tell of this girl, Teddy, and Exidus -- at the end of the day, I genuinely look forward to what“s next.
+ When the game is combat-focused, it's a genuine treat. These kinds of mechanics are all the best parts of Zelda II and its contemporaries.
+ The Musicon fleshes out an entirely new language, based on song, that's incorporated into puzzle-solving and exploration.
+ Backtracking is never cumbersome. When you know what you're doing, Exidus is a fun place to explore. Every level in the game hides secrets and collectibles, 'til the very end.
- You know how, in Zelda, you open a chest and get a description about how to use the spoils you've found? ...That's not a thing in Chronicles of Teddy. It purposefully restricts itself by letting the player figure out what they've found and how to use it.
- A map exists, but a game as heavily rooted in exploration as this needs a map with finer details. There are a million different collectibles to find, and no real way to distinguish what things are where on the map.
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus refreshes old school Zelda mechanics, and has plenty of great ideas all its own. But its choice to limit communication to the player may turn some away, in the end.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher.
The game is available on PC asFinding Teddy 2.