This text declares my love for a beautiful action RPG from my youth. It’s also a declaration of love to the Indonesian studio stellarNull for making Anuchard. Their new game is full of love for its role model so that basically, this is a tri-fold declaration of love.
So, enough of the touchy-feely introduction. What is this all about? To answer this, we have to jump back to 1995 when Terranigma was released for the Super Famicom in Japan. “Terranigma?” many of you will now ask, “what is that supposed to be? Never heard”. “Perhaps the best action RPG of all time,” I’ll probably reply, even though I most likely didn’t play the game until 1997, shortly after it was released in Europe. The reason you may not know the game is because it was released quite late for Nintendo’s outgoing console and never reached the USA as an official release.
Ever since I borrowed a console from my best friend Timo in the summer of 1997 to play through Terranigma in one go, this game has never left my side. I regularly dig out my now quite yellowed SNES and play through this game – no other title knows how to inspire me to this day the way Terranigma does. The story about the young Ark, who lives in a parallel world and has to bring the earth and its inhabitants, flora, and fauna to life, touched me so much that I still rave about it today.
Quintet, a Japanese game studio, developed this extraordinary game. Terranigma is the culmination of a series that began with Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. All games in the series take up religious themes, deal with life and death in different forms and do not shy away from complicated topics such as cannibalism, but wrap everything in a beautiful 2D pixel panorama with sometimes light-hearted, sometimes heavy tones as only games of this era can. Despite only surely mediocre sales, the series has since been considered an insider tip for ARPG fans worldwide. And those fans must include the developers behind StellarNull, an Indonesian indie studio who now just released Anuchard.
Anuchard is a clear homage to Quintet’s early games, and its core elements are so deftly laid out that it’s an absolute delight. You take on the role of a reluctant hero who has been chosen to do nothing less than bring the world back to life. As a so-called Bellwielder, we are given a hammer-like weapon that we can use to ring the Audros Bell and transport the souls of our villagers back into their inanimate stone bodies. We find the souls in dungeons, in which we must defeat opponents, search for resources, and solve more or less complex logic and skill puzzles.
Between these dungeon passages, we chat with our friends in the village and do small side quests for them. This allows us to use the resources to expand the town and unlock new skills for our hammer.
In its simplicity, everything plays out so well that, in many respects, it comes close to the gameplay of Quintet’s great role models. The real-time combat system is simple but catchy and doesn’t bother with trivial things like statistics, values, or equipment. Instead, Anuchard tells an adventure story that focuses on the characters and the world – just like my beloved Terranigma.
In the game, we bring other areas and their “inhabitants” to life, learn to understand the world and its lore, and even experience one or the other twist that new players, in particular, will not necessarily see coming.
One thing needs to be emphasized: Although the Quintet games are massively extensive and only a handful of people work at StellarNull, the team behind Anuchard has not overestimated itself. A trap in which many indie studios step when trying to revive beloved classics. StellarNull succeeds because Anuchard plays more like a Terranigma light. After about 8 hours, you’ve beaten the game, the world is very clearly laid out, and the effects of your decisions don’t take to the same extent as the original. Nonetheless, the developer manages to convey the feel of the classic – you can just tell that they got the essence of the game.
Sure, Anuchard has a couple of problems too. The dialogues in the game are written in a rather amateurish way and are generally too “chatty,” which sometimes leads to excessive conversations that contribute little to the story. It’s also a pity that the dungeons offer too little variety overall. We’re always solving variants of the same switch puzzles and fighting opponents that are only slightly stronger than reskins of the first-level encounters. We liked the final bosses though, which were designed to be pleasantly challenging but doable. The cooking system is also particularly clever, as we prepare various dishes (Gado-Gado anyone?) that give us bonuses and special attacks.
Anuchard is the best possible current variant to experience the good old Terranigma feeling as a fan of the classics. Everyone else can expect a solid action RPG with beautiful pixel graphics and animations that focus on worldbuilding, accessibility, and fun gameplay, unlike many of its genre peers. On the other hand, you will probably be disappointed if you expect an hour-long and very demanding JRPG full of complex mechanics.
Anuchard is a declaration of love for the games of Quintet, which does not stray into blind imitation but cleverly implements the classic saga’s principles with its own means. For this alone, the developers have earned this declaration of love. If you’re also a fan of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma, or if you want to immerse yourself in this world without using a SNES emulator, you’ll find Anuchard as an excellent alternative on PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, or Xbox.
This review is based on a free review copy provided by the publisher Freedom Games. Both the Steam and Nintendo Switch versions were tested.