Things I Like: Chants of Sennar

I haven’t talked about video games lately, but I’ll talk about this one. These days I find myself gravitating towards smaller indie games rather than Triple AAA big shots like Nier: Automata or Starfield or Dragon’s Dogma. Who the hell wants to play one video game forever? That’s like eating the same thing for dinner over and over and over. I want to be exposed to all kinds of experiences. Unique ones. Artistic ones.

But with the glut of games on Steam these days (seriously, just look at their “New and Trending” list) how am I supposed to discern what’s good from bad? The Triple AAA games always get the biggest word of mouth, but I keep bouncing off them because there’s just too much game. Monster Hunter: World, Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War (remake), Dark Souls, Star Wars: Fallen Order. I stopped playing all these because they were just… I don’t know. Overproduced? Too much game? Not worth the time investment for the joy I was getting out of them? The only big game I’ve resonated with is Deathloop, and that’s because it’s basically Dishonored.

But smaller games like Limbo, Inside, Stacking, Lil Gator Game, Tinykin, Headlander, Dredge, Carrion, Resident Evil: Village (you could make an argument that this is a AAA game, but it’s also short). These are all games that take less than 10 hours to complete. And they have some fantastic aesthetics. Beautiful art, comfortable satisfying gameplay. A jump feels like a jump. A shotgun blast feels powerful and devastating thanks to good sound, good animation, and good reaction by the shootee.

Now a digression. There aren’t many video games for writers. Why would there be? They have farming simulators and power washing simulators and lawn mowing simulators and truck driving simulators and goat simulators. But it’s hard to make a video game for the creative community. There have been some attempts, like Elegy For a Dead World, but that’s really a “write this thing here and we’ll spit it back out to you later”. It’s basically Mad-Libs. Ultimately, you have to have something like Dungeons and Dragons where it’s basically your character versus someone else’s narrative, which creates a story. Maybe that’s something positive AI can be used for.

But then I found Chants of Sennar. Really, I heard it from The Besties–a “video game book club” podcast where they talk about what’s new and interesting. Big ones and little ones. Chants of Sennar is a short indie game from France. In it, you play a hooded figure trying to get from point A to point B. The problem is that you can’t understand what people are saying. They talk in foreign glyphs and the core gameplay is figuring out what those glyphs mean. You have to piece it together through context clues and labels placed through the game. (And there’s a few stealth segments, but they’re easy.)

And every language has its own grammar. In one, plurals are indicated by repeating the noun twice. In another, you use the indicative glyph before the noun. In another, it goes after. And there’s all kinds of little things like that to make this a unique puzzle-solving game. It’s not flashy and I wish there was a sprint button, but it’s intriguing and the art style has kind of a French art deco thing going. The difficulty is only based on your own logical thinking and reasoning (and besides, you can find walkthroughs for anything). It’s not a matter of they gave the enemies too many hit points or too few.

So anyway, yah that’s all I have to say–I just wanted to recommend a video game that I think writers like me would like.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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