Chants of Sennaar: Communication is key in this single player adventure
We deciphered an ancient language in less than half an hour during Gamescom.
There was rarely one quiet moment during the recent Gamescom 2022. After three years of absence, we were anxious to get as many interviews and hands-on sessions as possible, and so, when I arrived at the Focus Entertainment booth late in the afternoon, my brain was pretty much fried from all the action. Surely, not the best time to be tired and exhausted as I was about to play Chants of Sennaar, an upcoming adventure game from Rundisc where you have to not only solve mechanical puzzles, but also decipher an ancient language!
Chants of Sennaar draws inspiration from the famous biblical myth of Babel. While most anthropologists would tell you differently, the story goes that in ancient times a united people, speaking a single language, tried to construct a tall and elaborate tower, only for the project to collapse when they loss their ability to speak together. In Chants of Sennaar it's pretty much reverse as you play as a lone traveller who must traverse a labyrinthian tower and, at the end, hopefully reunite the people living within. Or at least something of that order. Perhaps fittingly considering the theme, I struggled a bit with understanding the Focus employee's quite pronounced French accent and didn't really get all the details.
When starting the game, the first thing that drew my eye was the unique graphical style. With its pastel-like colours and high contrast between different surfaces it looks a bit like last year's open world game Sable that also took place in a desert setting. Being a French studio, Rundisc probably also drew some inspiration from classics such as Another World and Flashback. These games managed to create thrilling and unfamiliar world without using a single line of dialogue, and this is also what Chants of Sennaar aims at - at least in the beginning.
Controlling the game from an overhead perspective I moved my veiled character through a few corridors opening doors and looking for clues in the environment. It was pretty much standard stuff for the puzzle genre. At least until I encountered the first ancient symbols on a mechanical elevator.
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From here on, I had to rely on my own translations of these mysterious symbols to proceed. In the first instance, two levers controlled the elevators, and I initially jotted down 'up' and 'down' in the in-game notebook in front of their respective symbols. Another third symbol appeared beside both of the handles which I guessed must mean 'floor' or something of that order. This in turn helped choosing the right levers in the following puzzle, that I managed to solve, even though the signs actually meant 'open,' 'close' and 'room.'
See, sometimes, before going further, you are prompted to get your notes in order. The game then quizzes you with having to match symbols with the right pictures or illustrations, which in turn reveals the precise meaning of the words. It's a clever way to make sure a single failed translation doesn't lead to serious misunderstandings down the road, and it still validates your work even if you didn't quite get the precise meaning.
Armed with new words in my notebook I was able to confront a series of more complex puzzles where I, together with another character, had to direct the water flow through a series of damns. By combining my existing knowledge with new symbols and seeing them in new contexts, I was able to expand my vocabulary with useful terms such as me, you, follow and wait. I'm no expert but this method probably doesn't stray too far from how actual lost languages are translated.
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Of course, the demo only offered a brief glimpse of the various mechanics in Chants of Sennaar. There will be a lot more to explore in the full game, and I'm quite excited to see how the puzzles and the story will evolve from the promising beginning. The press material even promises sections where we must "use stealth and cunning to outwit the Guardians and cross the forbidden zones" something that I didn't get to see during the demo.
All in all, I'm quite excited to delve further into Chants of Sennaar when it launches next year. One thing is certain though. At that time, I will have a seasonally appropriate drink by my side and the phone set on mute, because these sorts of challenges are not for when you are running around sweating in Cologne.