Chants of Sennaar is speaking my language

Do you like puzzle games? Does figuring out a strange language sound like it might be fun? Then you should check out Chants of Sennaar!

The other day, we finished playing the short, indie puzzle adventure, Chants of Sennaar. We had a lovely experience with the game, and I think a lot of my friends would enjoy it, too.

Chants of Sennaar takes place in a tower, in which each section of the tower speaks a different language. Yes, this is very much like the Tower of Babel. And religion does indeed play a significant role in the game. You play as a silent character who wakes up in the bottom of the tower. Before long, you encounter a closed door with a lever next to it. There are two strange symbols next to the lever, and when you pull the lever, the door opens. Hmm… do those symbols mean “Open” and “Close”, I wonder?

As you go, each new symbol will be recorded in an in-game notebook. You’ll also be able to note down your guess as to the meaning of that symbol. Every so often, you’ll unlock a page in your journal, in which you’ll be presented with three or four drawings, with a space for a symbol next to each. If you can fill in the correct symbols, those will be validated, and you’ll be told the precise translation for that sign.

That’s the central mechanism of the game: encounter new symbols, guess at their meaning, try to solve puzzles using your understanding of the language. Eventually, you’ll encounter a second (and more, though I won’t spoil how many) language with more advanced syntax, and you’ll have to translate from one language to the other.

The above description sounds fairly mechanical. But the game wraps all this up in such an appealing and tasteful package. The art style and sound design are both fairly minimalist, but both really serve the game well. Even though everything is done in a very geometric and simple 3D art style, many small choices makes each section stand out. Each section has a particular colour scheme that underlines something about the people inhabiting that section, just like particular types of décor and furniture repeat in each area. There are a lot of wide angles, and the game will very often add little charming touches to otherwise sparse screens – like little cats, lizards or birds in the foreground, while the unnamed protagonist roams around in the background. The music, similarly, is very simple, but used very effectively. Towards the end, I noticed a very Pavlovian response to a little jingle that plays every time we solved a puzzle in the game.

I do have a few quibbles with the game. First and foremost, it can be very tricky to navigate. That’s particularly true when you have to backtrack. Where was that place again? There is no map to help you navigate, and you can very easily get turned around. That can cause you to miss parts of the game – as we were trying to finish the game, we realized that we had missed certain areas of the game that would have allowed us to validate certain words. In at least one other case, the fact that we had missed looking at a particular display case meant we hadn’t been given the option to validate four words. This was a minor annoyance, but an annoyance, nonetheless.

Speaking of annoyances, the game has a couple of stealth or speed sections. Unfortunately, the controls aren’t all that precise, which sometimes made those sections more frustrating than challenging.

Those are minor things, however. Overall, I was impressed by the qualities of the game. It’s an engaging puzzle, without being too challenging, and it manages to build an interesting and engaging world with some very basic tools. If any of the above sounds interesting to you, I recommend taking a look at Chants of Sennaar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.