Tunic - Go Fox Yourself
Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Tunic is a game that grabs you instantly. World design, music, art, it’s all good stuff. It’s got bright vibrant colours that grab the eye, and a cute little fox dressed up Link-style just doing his best with a sword. Super cute. When you’re dealing with stuff like that, it’s hard to keep that momentum up. To keep people invested. You need to give people a hook to stay involved and that’s a very difficult thing to do. Tunic is a masterclass in my eye of doing this.
You play as the hero. I call him Fox, because he is a fox and I am unoriginal. You wake up on a beach with just the clothes on your back and no idea what the hell is going on. You find a stick, which helps you fend off against the enemies that wish you harm, but clearly you don’t read or speak the language of the place you woke up, because it’s all moon runes. I call the language “Tunic Runic” because it’s cute and I love cute stuff. Every now and again, you get the idea of some of the words, and pictographs help you understand but it’s all inferred. A bunch of gibberish and the picture of a sword probably means there’s a way to get a sword in that direction. Some key phrases are in English, but the next stop is never directly told to you. This is a story of adventure and exploration.
As you progress through the story, you’ll get hints of potential next stops via a very cool system of the instruction manual. In a half-fourth wall breaking system, you’ll find pages of an early-game era instruction manual but it’s all mostly in Tunic Runic. Again, it’s only hints. A benevolent person has scrawled some notes onto the guide which again, only alludes to useful information. Sometimes you stumble across something and then look back at the manual and say “Oh, that’s what that meant.” Sometimes you’ll go to a new area and say “Oh I have a map for this” and you’ll be able to find your way loosely around the area. There will even be a lil’ fox icon to show where you are. Sometimes it’ll act like a treasure map, and you’ll see a little scrawling on the map you had no idea that was important, or you would have skipped, and you’ll get the excitement of finding something hidden. The art here is gorgeous too, and it all adds up to one big simulacra; immersion.
I also love the way the story is told. There are clear influences in the entire style and setup, clearly the Zelda series but as you look deeper I was strongly reminded of Dark Souls. People have a set idea when the Souls games are mentioned, and that idea is usually around difficulty. That’s not what I see though. I think of Dark Souls, especially the first one, and think of a hub area which is consistently returned to and unfolding in new ways, and also in the way the environmental storytelling unfolds. Without saying nary a word, you get the idea of what’s going on. The big story points are still hard hitting without you understanding the context, you know what’s dangerous and what’s not, just via context.
I’ve waxed lyrical about design and narrative, but I want to talk specifically about the combat systems. Lil’ fox lad wields a sword and shield, as well as a suite of consumable items to damage the enemy, or buff you. There is also a small magic system with various projectiles or things to slow the enemy down, which can help with crowd control. Then there’s the trinket system, where you can apply buffs to yourself as equippables; unfortunately but also in true Tunic fashion, it doesn’t exactly tell you what the buffs do. Expect to either decipher the language, work it out via the instruction manual or via trial and error. In truth, I appreciate the staunch adherence to the rules the developers had set out.
Tunic is also about the spirit of adventure. There are myriad secrets to discover. In the few weeks we had to review the game, the publishers were kind enough to set up a Discord for us all to share our discoveries and talk turkey around some of the puzzles. I don’t want to spoil anything because again, it’s all about the spirit of adventure, but community is key here. You could solve it all alone if you’re an absolute god of puzzles but I think the true strength here is a bit like Fez, where community contribution is key. If I was a gambling man, I’d wager there will be a bit of a zeitgeist in the community as they come together to solve the puzzles in this game together. That’s exactly what happened for me, and I won’t deny that solving something as a group is a hell of an experience. Of course, the flip side is that once they are solved and the details are out there, the horse will have bolted, so to speak.
I could talk about this game all day, honestly. At the time of writing this review, I still have no idea what the price is, which is odd coming so close to launch time, but I want people to play this game. Prior to launch I hadn’t heard a lot of people talking about it but with the strong feelings I have about this game, I don’t want people to sleep on it. I want people to experience it and find the pure joy of adventure, the thrill of the hunt, and maybe just enjoy some time with a cute lil’ fox just doing his best.
Tunic was reviewed on PC with a Steam code kindly provided by the publisher.