‘Tunic’ is the Legend of Zelda game I never knew I wanted

As with most recent hit indie games such as “Cuphead,” “Celeste” and “Stardew Valley,” “Tunic” feels like a near-impossible labor of time — seven years worth, to be exact. The mysterious action-adventure title took me by surprise when it was released on Steam and Xbox last week, even though it’s been five years since it was first announced at E3 in 2017. Though I currently have no intention of playing this year’s other exploration-fueled fantasy RPG, “Elden Ring,” something about the game’s premise of mysterious treasure, and its undeniably cute fox protagonist, piqued my curiosity. It turns out that “Tunic” feasts on this sense of curiosity, presenting players with an intricate world that slowly reveals itself as you peer deeper and deeper into its cracks and crevices.

The main method that “Tunic” uses to tell its story is through exploration. I won’t spoil any of it here, but what few details you are given about the game’s events are subtle. Without a single line of dialogue, the game trickles out bits of the story as you explore its beautiful environments. Crumbling, mossy structures give way to grand palaces and areas filled with strange and futuristic technology as you investigate more and more of the world’s map. The level of detail in each area is astounding, and each one is effective in communicating mood to the player. A grand library filled with heaping piles of books feels lonely and forgotten, while an ancient temple filled with the game’s runic language conveys that you are somewhere both alien and vaguely familiar. There is a real sense of progression created from these transitions that continues to drive the story forward and makes exploration all the more exciting. 

Exploring also rewards you with a wealth of secrets, of which the world of “Tunic” is crammed full. Each of these secrets is prompted to you in some way, whether it be through clues on the game’s maps or subtle hints in the environment. A cliff that seems impossible to reach or the dark corner of a crumbling temple gains a new feeling of wonder and speculation that only builds as the game progresses. There were countless times when I would follow a path for longer than I felt I was “supposed” to, only to be rewarded for my curiosity with some sort of treasure. Each secret is so deliberately placed that you instantly feel rewarded, and I never felt that my exploration was a waste of time. 

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