Chants of Sennaar Impressions: Hooked On Phonics

It’s an odd problem to have, having too many amazing games to play. And as we barrel through the rest of 2023, I have the sneaking suspicion indie fans’ backlogs are only going to grow. To my shame, I missed playing Chants of Sennaar out of the gate — a game I’ve been looking forward to for months — due to attending PAX West to play some fantastic unreleased titles. Don’t make the same mistake.

Chants of Sennaar is one of the most original puzzle games I’ve played this year. Considering the truly staggering amount of unique games released in 2023, I don’t say that lightly. The dazzling aesthetic provides an energetic canvas for gameplay that transforms players into a word detective out to connect a people torn asunder and unable to communicate. So far, it’s smart, stylish, and captivating.

Besides the brilliant yellows, fiery reds, and pops of green that make up the vibrant landscape, what initially caught my attention was the game’s Tower of Babble inspirations. There’s no way I could miss out on a game featuring such untrod mythologic avenues.

Following the legend’s tradition, no one in the soaring tower city I explore is capable of talking to one another. All writing and dialogue take the form of indecipherable glyphs. But when I stumble across a new scribble, my character immediately writes it in a journal, giving me the option to take notes on what I think it might mean.

Once I’ve marked down a guess for a large enough group of glyphs, I get the chance to match them to drawings in my handy notebook. Correctly matching image and word reveals the glyph’s true translation and makes navigating the world just that much easier.

The first challenge is a perfect way to onboard players for this system. Before me stands a closed door. To the right, a lever on a pedestal. Just above and just below the lever are glyphs I can’t decipher. However, pulling the lever up or down either opens or closes the door, giving me a pretty good feeling that the words indicate “open,” “close,” and “door.” So, I write those guesses in and my journal snaps open with sketches that confirm my suspicion.

When I walk through the door, I encounter a person who addresses me. Though I don’t catch a majority of what’s said, I do understand the robed individual wants me to help open a series of doors to get through a flooded a passageway. Getting to the end requires solving the physical puzzle but also the proverbial one. Succeeding feels like a real accomplishment.

In the town proper, I also reflect on how wonderful the sound design is. For a game with, understandably, little voice acting, the environment supplies all the auditory interest. Rushing wind, flowing water, bell chimes, footsteps on polished stone, it all creates a delightful symphony in a world noticeably empty of human verbalization.

This creative and challenging title is, even in an outstandingly packed year, worth checking out. Players seeking a unique puzzler with beautiful art and brain-teasing trials shouldn’t miss out on Chants of Sennaar.

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