Like the land it so lovingly recreates, Tchia has its peaks and valleys. I was filled with awe every time I picked up the controller to sail through, soar over, and trek across across the stunning environment. The heroine’s adventurous and open heart also made her easy to love. My heart was less engaged by the narrative, technical roughness, and certain, tedious missions. But where Tchia lacks design elegance, its personality shouts for the mountaintops.
The game begins in an unexpected place. A new addition to a local orphanage goes through his first day, making friends and finding his place. As night falls, the children gather around a campfire to here an obviously beloved tale: The story of Tchia.
A gentle, engaging narration guides me into Tchia’s life giving it a fairytale feeling. But the likeness isn’t always good for the game. Like a fairytale, the story is disjointed and I have to suspend my disbelief for some of the things that happen. For cool abilities, like Tchia’s soul jump — which lets me take possession of surrounding wildlife and particular objects — I’m more that willing to let my ration mind go. I find it harder, however, to be cool with the fact that grown adults are just letting this young child head into deadly danger alone.
Like a giant wolf eating a grandmother, Tchia’s narrative also has a markedly casual attitude towards objectively horrific violence. In one scene the villain, Meavora — an unsettling mix between a vampire and the Michelin Man — straight up eats a baby. Though it seems this child-devouring is a common thing, it doesn’t keep people from moving to, and appearing perfectly happy in, the surrounding town.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a story to eschew mundane reality, and the human snack tells me everything I need to know about my adversary. However, with such fantastical elements, it’s hard to feel deep emotions following the game’s twists and turns. Death isn’t a sad, nothing has urgency, and the protagonist is beyond danger.
Which is why it feels so frustrating when I am tasked with taking the fight to Meavora. Tchia is at its best when I’m left alone to climb up towering mountains, dive into shimmering seas, and discover new places to explore. It’s not a game much suited to action. Its grunts consist of an inexplicable sentient cloth army, and defeating them requires only a child with a lit match.
In the game’s weakest section, I’m forced to infiltrate a series of factories and take on waves of these fabric foes. Throwing lamps and exploding rocks over and over again quickly grows tedious. Once I clear the enemies, I then have to complete another series of objectives to put the main complex out of commission and save a bunch of people who have been imprisoned there.
The set up is almost too unbelievable. I, a kid with some gas canisters, decimate the supernatural force, burning them by the dozens, but an entire host of capable adults couldn’t fight past a few cloth guards? Also, what does a magical kid-chomping ruler needs with a bunch of factories?
After finishing this mission, I’m soon back to gliding over the glassy ocean and it is hard to hold on to any bad feelings. I soul jump into a bird as I reach a white sandy beach and take flight, looking down over the breathtaking land. Each animal I control has its own skill. A cat has night vision. Crabs can pinch. Boars dig in the dirt. And there are so many more creatures to discover. Every one of them has something to offer that I enjoy doing.
I have to keep in mind though, that I can only soul jump into something for so long. A meter, which starts with only three bars, limits my time. Luckily, the islands offer scores of boosting activities. Totem shrines increase the soul meter, rock balancing areas teach me magical songs, and stamina-augmenting fruit dot the landscape.
The creators undoubtedly took inspiration from Breath of the Wild in the best ways. I have a glider to make jumping off of mountains irresistible, every part of the landscape is climbable, and sliding down a steep hill is exhilarating. It’s wonderful spending an afternoon getting lost in the wilderness and finding new ways to grow stronger along the way.
If you plan to pick up Tchia‘s tale, I urge you to take it slow. Let yourself wander through every beautifully-crafted island. Make friends with the inhabitants, taking part in culturally rich musical experiences. Dive for pearls in the glittering waves. And take full advantage of the protagonist’s brilliant power to inhabit other creatures. These make up for the game’s more lacking mainline quest and less polished design elements.