First announced for Switch back in 2018, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an upcoming action-adventure game from developer eXiin and Modus Games. It was originally scheduled for a July launch but was pushed back thanks to a certain global pandemic.
Now scheduled for release on 1st September, we saw some gameplay footage featuring the titular character using her seasonal powers to traverse her colourful world back in June, and a new trailer has been released (see below). We recently caught up with eXiin CEO and designer Sebastien Le Touze via email to find out more about Ary's upcoming adventure.
Nintendo Life: Firstly, for anyone who might have missed news about Ary and the Secret of Seasons, tell us a little about the game and its premise.
Sebastien Le Touze: Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an action-adventure platformer featuring a strong-willed female protagonist that goes on an adventure to save her world from a threat thought to only be legend. Valdi is a world separated into four regions, each representing a season - Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter - but the world has been thrown into chaos as the seasons have lost their balance. Only the Guardians of Seasons are able to save Valdi.
Ary is the daughter of the Guardian of Winter and due to unfortunate events leading to her brother’s disappearance, her father was injured and is no longer able to carry out his guardian duties. He is also without an apprentice to pass the duties on to, being that his son is missing. As a young idealist, and against tradition, Ary ventures to find help at the Dome of Seasons where the Guardians of Seasons meet. The Dome of Seasons is the heart of the legends she has been reading all these years, but she will quickly realize that she’s facing a bunch of goofballs and the solution will not come from them. Ary takes it upon herself to save her home and Valdi from impending doom when she is able to acquire the Power of Seasons, giving her the ability to modify her environment at will.
In the game, players will traverse puzzles based on the seasons’ powers, and engage in dynamic combat. Each region contains its own obstacles and living hub, and it’s up to the players to master each season effectively.
The trailer highlights certain elemental tools Ary can use to navigate the environments and the game seems to have a Zelda-like flavour, although with more of an emphasis on the platforming. What influences did you have in mind—gaming or otherwise—during development?
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 and Dexter and even Tomb Raider. In short: It’s inspired by the titles I grew up with!
The main inspiration is Soul Reaver from Crystal Dynamics, but it doesn’t stop there
Tell us about how the story evolved in relation to the gameplay. Was it a case of building cool mechanics that are satisfying and then writing the narrative into and around that, or did you start with the story of the Guardian of Winter from the very beginning?
I started the project by myself at the end of 2016. I had first the concept of changing seasons (inspired by a prototype I did on RPG Maker 95), then I started on the gameplay. When our artist Kwanbo joined, he pulled from his own culture all the Korean inspiration the game has.
After a few months of prototyping the game, we had a vague story drafted, and it was later that we got the full narrative in place.
Ary is a co-production between eXiin and Fishing Cactus. How big are the teams and who is responsible for which aspects of the game?
Our team is pretty small; we have between 5 and 10 people working full-time on Ary, including Fishing Cactus that is in charge of the port for consoles. At eXiin, with such a small team, we end up having people that do a bit of everything. One day you can be working on level design, the day after do some cutscenes and the next day some shaders.
As we heard in the trailers, the game features voice acting, which might surprise players considering the game’s indie roots. Tell us a bit about the process of finding the right actors and recording the dialogue for this cast of characters.
Yes, we have a bit more than an hour of voiced cutscenes. For an indie game, it’s indeed really crazy. In fact, more than half of our team was dedicated to animation, so 3 of 4 people!
We worked a bit backward with the cutscenes; basically one of our artists was doing the storyboard based on the script, then we were doing an animatic following the cutscene. Once the animatic was validated we used temporary dialogues to place the timing for the dialogues. Once that was done, we had the actors record variations of their lines and then our animators had to sync again on the animations. Finally, we did the lispync on it.
Ary is built in Unity and is launching on other platforms as well as Switch. What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced getting the game running well on Nintendo’s console?
Working with Unity the past year has definitely brought its share of challenges. I think more could be done to improve the engine's overall stability before it receives any new features. As for the Switch itself, I can’t really comment on it, as it’s more our partners from Fishing Cactus that are porting the game.
Will the Switch version be making use of any of the console’s features (touchscreen, HD rumble, that sort of thing)?
The past few months have been particularly challenging for people all over the world, and the game was pushed from its initial July release to 1st September. How has the team coped with the various restrictions and issues resulting from lockdown?
We’re based in Belgium, a tiny country that was at the top of the list of the countries impacted by COVID-19. We didn’t want to risk anyone's health so we already had some of our team members going into lockdown ahead of the government decision.
to test a build internally it used to take about a minute to download a few gigs, but with our current constraints it takes up to 4 hours just to download it. Test two builds and the day is gone.
The impact seems harmless at first, but when you are finishing a game and realize that every employee has various internet speeds, it starts to get complicated. The general productivity decreases and when you’re shipping a game, slow internet is never good. For instance, to test a build internally it used to take about a minute to download a few gigs, but with our current constraints it takes up to 4 hours just to download it. Test two builds and the day is gone. Same with communication - everything just slowed down a bit.
But I guess it was hard for everybody. No management book has a chapter about “what to do in case of global pandemic.”
What games has the team been enjoying recently, on Switch or elsewhere?
In my team, most of the people are playing Animal Crossing and on my side I’m playing on Switch The Pine and Final Fantasy VIII Remaster, and I still need to finish the latest Pokemon.
Finally, is there anything we haven’t touched on that you’d like to mention?
We are all just so excited for people to finally play Ary and the Secret of Seasons; it’s been a long time coming!
Thanks to Sebastien for his time. Ary and the Secret of Seasons will launch on Switch on 1st September.