Learning a new language is a tricky business. Our mother tongue comes naturally, but deciphering another – particularly one that doesn’t even share a common alphabet with our own – is a tall ask. And yet, in Chants of Sennaar, it comes naturally. This gorgeously stylised puzzle game is all about deciphering glyphs, learning new languages and, ultimately, connecting lost and forgotten languages back together.
Of course, you don’t have to learn an entire language. Chants of Sennaar provides around ten hours of gameplay, and so you’ll only be learning a key set of words, each represented with its own glyph. By exploring the environment, listening to other characters and picking up on key clues, you’ll slowly but surely begin to work out what each glyph means. And each time you do, your understanding of the world of Chants of Sennaar will grow just a little more.
There’s not just one language to learn here, though. You see, in Chants of Sennaar, different groups of people who reside in the tower all speak their own language, and each group has long forgotten the language of the others. It means the groups cannot communicate, creating a hostile and imbalanced society where no-one can understand each other. But that’s where you come in. By learning each language and how they all connect, hopefully you can bridge the linguistic gap of the people around you.
Chants of Sennaar is a puzzle game through and through, but chances are you won’t have played much else like it. There are hints of Heaven’s Vault here, in the way that both games are formed around interpreting ancient languages. But it’s also very different in lots of ways. For one, there’s much more emphasis on puzzle-solving here; even when you’re not cracking a series of glyphs, you’re going to be using your grey matter to figure something else out.
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In fairness, the puzzles here aren’t exactly unique: in the first couple of hours or so you’ll be introduced to a sliding block puzzle and a water flow puzzle. They’re not entirely new, then, but they are pleasurable to solve. There’s even a rudimentary inventory system, requiring you to find the odd object dotted around the world – a key, perhaps – to use elsewhere.
And as with any puzzle game, you’ll probably come up against a brick wall once or twice while playing Chants of Sennaar. Maybe you can’t figure out what the last important glyph means, or maybe you aren’t sure exactly where you need to go: its world is rather labyrinthine, after all. You might have to backtrack a couple of times to figure out what you’ve missed. But even if it means revisiting conversations, or looking back through in-game notes and sketches, the answer is usually waiting to be found somewhere. This is a clever game – and if you let it, it can outsmart you. Success means paying attention to absolutely everything.
It’s in cracking the languages of Chants of Sennaar that you’re going to find most joy, though. When a line of conversation turns from meaningless glyphs to a line of text that not only makes sense but adds new context to your adventure, it’s hard not to raise a smile. Figuring stuff out is supremely rewarding, and with little help given to you as you play, you’re more or less on your own. It’s worth it, though: this is a game that you should persist with and figure out without resorting to Googling a walkthrough.
The game’s soundtrack and visuals also deserve some praise. It’s a unique-looking game, with each screen often looking like a comic book cel thanks to its vibrant colours and bold shadowing. Its audio, too, adds incredible ambience to the proceedings, with beautiful tracks that rise and fall when quieter moments of the game become more tense.
Perhaps the only area of Chants of Sennaar that may give players pause are its stealth sections. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of stealth, and so I audibly sighed when I came upon the first one. However, while there’s an abundance of forced stealth at times, it’s never an issue. If you’re caught, you’re simply put back more-or-less exactly where you were, losing no more than a few seconds of progress. It’s easy to keep trying, then, without it even being frustrating. And as long as you pay attention to your surroundings, avoiding being caught should never be too much of an issue.
Unique in its art style and its approach to gameplay, Chants of Sennaar filled with captivating puzzles that are a joy to solve, set against a backdrop of a world that you’ll be desperate to learn more of. Figuring out the meaning of each glyph is supremely satisfying, but also is solving the game’s wealth of other puzzles. Even a generous helping of stealth is not enough to dampen our enjoyment of this special game.