Save your weekend by saving the world!
Tales of the apocalypse are truly captivating for many of us. Perhaps in the present day that could be chalked up to relatability to some degree, as we’re constantly bombarded with news that makes us feel as if our world is inching ever closer to collapse. There’s more to this draw towards total destruction, however. Among those who consider themselves truly satisfied with their lives, I would guess that even they feel the magnetic pull of the end of the world. In these stories we see the ultimate clean slate. When everything is forcibly brought down with nothing left to do but bring it back up, we can think of our maximum potential. How would you craft civilization if you had the chance to start over? In a brand new world with completely different rules, what kind of person would you become? It’s no wonder the apocalypse is such an enticing centerpiece for a story.
A lot is riding on the core aspects of the broken world we’re given a glimpse of. What does a post-apocalyptic society look like, and how do the survivors move forward? You can answer these questions in a great number of ways, but for my money, the way Anuchard has answered it is one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
Anuchard is a top-down adventure game about a shattered world. Once protected by five fabled Guardians, Anuchard fell apart when they vanished. The remaining pieces plummeted down from the sky, far apart from each other, with the survivors left struggling to proceed. Further complicating the situation is the presence of the Dungeon, a magical monster den that turns anyone who enters it into a statue. This leaves the population of your island scared, confused, and down by a few members.
Fortunes start to change when your character is discovered to be the Bellwielder, a warrior prophesied to use the magic Audros Bell to restore the soul of Anuchard itself. Guided by the spirits within the bell, it’s up to you to delve deep into the Dungeon. You’ll uncover the lost souls of your fellow villagers, and perhaps the truth of what devastated Anuchard.
Gameplay is relatively simple, but in the best way. It’s incredibly concise, with the game offering a wide variety of ways to utilize the small toolkit provided to you. Most of the action occurs within the Dungeon, with your goal being to reach the end and uncover the soul of a villager who ventured into the depths. Your primary obstacles along the way will be gates and monsters. Gates can be opened by finding and breaking their corresponding gemstones. Enemies will need to be dealt with through combat, which is immensely satisfying. You have two primary methods of dealing damage. The first is your light attack, a fast three-hit combo with the final hit sending out a projectile that boomerangs back to you. The second is a heavy attack that has the player dash forward a slight distance. This move is slower than the light attack, but connecting with it sends enemies flying into the wall, shattering armor and granting you time to plan your next attack.
Combat doesn’t get much more complex than this. You gain access to some field effects, such as planting an item that passively heals you as long as you stay within its radius. You also have the ability to boost your stats with meals cooked using ingredients you come across. For the most part though, gameplay stays centered around these two primary attacks.
This isn’t a bad thing at all, however. Your character’s kit works beautifully because of the focus on positioning. A great deal of the challenge comes from being bombarded by hordes of enemies while trapped in dungeon rooms and whether or not you can work around them. Combined with the fact that distance benefits you because of field effects and your projectile, and you get a game that encourages you to reset your field and find a different approach. There’s an amazing sense of satisfaction to be found in scattering enemies with your heavy attack, picking them apart one by one, then going to town on the final enemy by wailing on them with your bell.
I enjoy the gameplay of Anuchard a great deal. Keep that in mind as I tell you it was not what impressed me the most here. The thoroughly enjoyable gameplay serves primarily as a vessel to move forward through the fantastic presentation and worldbuilding.
Artistically, Anuchard is incredible. The pixel art the game is made with is beautiful on an aesthetic level, and the appearance is far deeper than surface level looks. Something I enjoy most about pixel art is the way that it can be utilized to create a style reminiscent of children’s story books; by using bright colors, vibrant backgrounds, slow pans, and even employing the use of chapters, narrative-based games can make the player feel as if they’re within the pages of a picture book. Anuchard employs these ideas to great effect, boosted by the sense of distance the player feels from the characters. In a brilliant move, none of the characters’ faces are visible. This keeps you from ever feeling as if you truly know the characters you’re interacting with. Anuchard is not truly an adventure we can be a part of, but instead a story we are being shown.
As I said earlier, above all else, what drew me into Anuchard the most was the way it handled its apocalyptic setting. I enjoy the visuals involved here, with the tiny village and the overgrown remains within the Dungeon. The story itself is quite well done and very unique. I don’t want to spoil too much, but things branch off into directions you likely aren’t expecting. What really seals the deal here for me, though, is the characterization of the survivors. Specifically, the balance between levity and darkness. I feel like many post-apocalyptic stories struggle to decide which side they want to lean towards more. A darker tone is more realistic and certainly feels more dire, but may exhaust players a bit if it constantly beats them down with pain and loss. On the other hand, a lighthearted end of the world would likely be difficult to take seriously.
Somewhere between these two options lies the question: how would people actually behave during the end of the world? Anuchard sets its tone in the middle, and I believe this is where it finds an accurate answer. There are plenty of moments of levity to be found here. The townspeople are not necessarily deadly serious at every possible moment, taking plenty of opportunities to mock each other and crack jokes. No matter how silly any bit of dialogue gets, however, there’s an enormous cloud of dread that hangs over each second of this game. Through the way villagers grow frustrated with their laid-back chief’s lack of conviction, it becomes clear how terrified they are of their uncertain future. Any façade of lightheartedness falls apart as you locate the spiritual recordings of the dungeon divers, poor souls attempting to come to terms with their impending demise.
Anuchard gives us an incredibly bleak setting where there seems to be no sign of hope whatsoever, until your character picks up their magic bell. Through all of this, however, the survivors continue to laugh with each other as they try to rebuild. When I saw this, I felt as if I’d found something I hadn’t known I was looking for. This feels like the most optimistic perception of humanity, of our resilience through the darkest of nights. We don’t stop being human when things fall apart. Even when it all comes crashing down, we pick ourselves up and keep going.
Anuchard is one of those games that I walk away from still thinking about for a while, which is one of the best things any video game can do. It tells a tremendously impactful story all while being beautiful to look at and tons of fun to play through. I struggle to come up with anything negative to say about it. The only real annoyance is the fact that you have to manually save in a specific location rather than through the menu. This feels like a dated and unnecessary choice, and it definitely irritated me having to continually run back to the chief’s journal every time I needed to save. If my biggest complaint is an extremely minor annoyance, though, I feel like that says a lot about the quality of the game as a whole. I really can’t recommend Anuchard enough.
Brendan Trump is a features writer and game reviewer for GoNintendo. His opinions about everything are entirely correct.