Inspired by the legend of the Tower of Babel, Chants of Sennaar uses a globally popular myth to take you on a unique and innovative journey. You play as a faceless, voiceless traveler destined to ascend the Tower and unite the fractured communities living within.
Chants of Sennaar is a stunning game to look at. It uses bold colors and unusual camera angles to give every setting a mythological feel. The way you gaze down over the tower makes you feel like a cosmic entity observing the habits of small yet significant beings. It captures the philosophical essence of the original myth without intruding on the story or gameplay.
Each community you come across has its own design. The art style stays consistent, and the protagonist manages to blend in well enough with each one. But the clever use of shifting color palettes and characteristics that develop with the increasingly complex societies give them each a clear identity.
The places where they intersect are also wonderfully crafted. The details you can glean hint at the historical relationships between the different groups. You can gather ideas about how different positions within the tower influenced each separate culture and beliefs.
Chants of Sennaar offers no written instruction. The game shows you how to use your notebook to record what you think the symbols you come across might mean. Then you are left on your own to decipher the various foreign languages you encounter.
There are signs to translate and people who will talk to you. You can jot down your own thoughts as you progress. When you have received enough clues that you should be able to figure out a translation, images appear in the notebook that you have to match to their corresponding glyph.
The lower tiers of the tower establish the core translation aspect of the game with a relatively simple puzzle that requires you to pull levers to open doors and clear obstacles. Once you’ve got the hang of the translation mechanic, new elements are introduced that require different skills to cross the advancing cultures.
As you get higher up, and closer to unravelling the secrets of the tower, you will need to incorporate more complex puzzle-solving and language-deciphering skills into your journey. You’ll also need to use stealth and cunning to avoid soldiers and monsters that haunt the labyrinth. These additional mechanics keep the game feeling fresh right up to the very end.
Each of the languages are distinctly different, with clearly separate visual styles and even different grammatical structures. Even though you only learn a few dozen words in each language, they do feel real and complete, each with nuances that don’t always translate directly between groups. In the elements of the game where you have to facilitate communication, there are times when you have to guess the most appropriate translation for a word that simply doesn’t exist for another community.
Chants of Sennaar is a genuinely absorbing and captivating game. Despite how little they can speak to you, the societies feel real and complete. The connections between them make sense and give the overall world a coherent history that is delightful to see unfold as you discover more about each group and the relationships between them. The languages are interesting and fun to decipher. They have been constructed in ways that reflect the structural differences between real world languages and hint at each community’s values in their most frequently used words and phrases. The puzzles are engaging, requiring a sense of intuition and an understanding of the way that language works in specific contexts.
It is obvious that a lot of thought and effort has gone into fine-tuning every aspect of Chants of Sennaar and there isn’t a single moment where it hasn’t paid off.
Review: Chants of Sennaar (Nintendo Switch)
A strikingly beautiful game, Chants of Sennaar takes you on a journey through a number of finely crafted cultures that challenge your puzzle skills and absorb you fully into the looming secrets of the labyrinth.