During the busy bustle of PAX East, I was able to find some time to saunter over to the Finji booth and take a look at the highly anticipated Tunic. I was met with a darling, daring, and quizzical adventure that left several questions hanging in the air. During my demo, I found out that Andrew Shouldice, the solo developer behind the game, was hanging around to chat with fans, and managed to snag a small bit of his time for some questions I had after my playthrough.
The demo began with the hero waking up on a small shore, no equipment on-hand and no insight into where I was or how I ended up there. Immediately, I was met with a beautiful polygonal forest riddled with stone ruins. The art style is evocative of the recent Link’s Awakening remake, which only added to the Zelda-like comparison. The ambient noises were soothing and revitalizing, giving the world the feel of solace.
A few seconds was all I needed to orient myself and find my first item: the mighty stick. With a weapon, I was ready to take on the enemies I would face on my journey. Small slime blobs plopped around the ruins waiting to take on any trespasser in sight. Before long, I had gotten the hang of bashing baddies, and eventually stumbled upon a sword in a stone that let me upgrade from my stick. Defeating enemies started to get easier and my mind began to move from mechanics to the world around me. I started asking myself why a cute fox is in this ruined forest attacking slimes.
I eventually found ruinous cave systems that resembled medieval fortresses of some sort. A new type of enemy, tiny black knights, flared their nostrils and reared back at me as I approached them here. The platforming and puzzling systems were easy enough to solve in these caverns, but I was also met with areas marked completely off limits hinting towards a higher difficulty curve. Notably, as I neared one of these prohibited areas, I was met with enemies that assuredly were from a much later section of the game, and were able to eradicate me in nearly one ranged attack. This gave me assurance that, while aesthetically calming, Tunic will still challenge players in certain aspects.
All throughout the demo, I kept encountering runic symbols in place of any actual language. The symbols were displayed in many locations: signs and UI screens after opening chests, to name a few. The runes were impossible to decipher themselves, but little things like a controller button or a skull with exclamation marks made clear what the runes were trying to convey.
Nearing the end of the demo, I was met with an intense boss fight, which changed the entire atmosphere of the game. The boss was a giant mechanical supernatural knight who drew its giant blade at me; it seemed equal parts machine and magic, and entirely ready to kick my fox butt. I took the tactics learned earlier on and dodged and rolled as much as possible but this hulking machine-like entity finally claimed victory shooting me back to the main menu.
After my demo I stepped over to Andrew Shouldice to ask him a few short questions on what I had just experienced. Primarily, I asked him about the runes and their meaning, whether or not we would be able to decipher them, and why he included them to begin with. He responded with what I had already assumed to be true: the protagonist does not belong to this world. As we were experiencing these things for the first time, so too is our hero. Shouldice told me that the runes are integral to the story and that the journey may feature ways of deciphering them later on.
Shouldice told me that, while the majority of the game will be linear, it will have times when the player will receive a new item that will allow them to further explore a previous area. During the demo, I was unable to cut bushes until I had the sword; had I returned to early parts of the game, I would have been able to carve my way to new areas.
Tunic was expectedly cute and unexpectedly uncomfortable. An apparent and deliberate message is left to the player about making their way through unknown lands. Shouldice seems to have a great vision for where he wants Tunic to go, and from the demo I played, it landed, and will hopefully make its way through to the end.