I’ve been sort of struggling to write this review. Which is funny because I’ve really wanted to! I really, really liked Tchia! If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen me post about it, at least a little bit. I watched Mint play it on stream and when he mentioned that it was on Playstation Plus, said “bet, I have about a week to play it,” and then did.
And it was incredible.
Tchia is a game that came out this past March, and it is explicitly, joyfully, and beautifully inspired by New Caledonia, a Pacific archipelago. In particular, it is heavily influenced by Kanak culture, which is the name of the Indigenous people of New Caledonia who make up about 41% of their population. The two lead designers wanted the game to feel like their youth exploring New Caledonia. To deepen this experience, all the characters in the game speak Drehu or French, the two languages spoken in New Caledonia. Passion projects like these, which seek to invoke a specific feeling or pay tribute to a particular place or theme are generally attractive to me. They might not always click with me, but when they do, it blows me away.
So, what the heck is this game actually? Tchia is an open world adventure game in which you play as the titular character, a 12 year old girl who sees her father kidnapped, which unlocks her ability to “soul jump.” This power is one of the game's core mechanics, and allows the player to possess and take control of various objects and animals throughout the two main islands you explore.. You can’t possess everything, but the array is pretty wide: birds, lanterns, cows, grasshoppers, dogs, cats, plates, cups, the list goes on and on.
Some of these present fun and interesting mechanical options: birds obviously allow you to fly; cats have night vision; almost all flammable objects can explode! And some are just kind of fun to mess with: often when climbing down a mountain, I’d possess a rock because it allowed me to bounce down faster than I could run, and wouldn't get fall damage as opposed to in my human form. Additionally, possessing objects allows you to perform a soul throw, where you aim and throw the object. Whenever you leave a possessed object, you gain some distance from it, but this is especially true when using the soul throw; the game even gives you an achievement for throwing something and then immediately possessing it again while in mid-air. It’s incredibly fun!
Beyond the soul jump, one more pillar of Tchia's gameplay involves enemies called Maano, animate creatures made of cloth that serve the villain of the story, Meavara. While much of the game is a fun romp around the archipelago, there are some sections where you have to engage with the Maano camps to progress the story. This is where I begin to see one of the more frustrating parts of the game: navigation.
Tchia tries to replicate the feeling of actually navigating in the world without a GPS. There's no icon to show where Tchia is on the map. Rather, you carry a paper map that the character opens up, and as you run about the world, you only have a compass or minimap to guide you. When you have the full map open and you click the option to see “where am I?”, Tchia gives an approximate guess as to where she might be, referring to some prominent feature of the map. In theory and practice, this is pretty cute and fun. However, when it comes to the Maano dungeons, which are expansive and difficult to navigate, it can be frustrating because you will only know your approximate position within the space, not where you are exactly, which can make eliminating where you’ve already explored difficult. It’s one of the few complaints I have for Tchia and it only really comes up in these circumstances.
But, there’s so much more to love in this game. The game is often compared to Breath of the Wild because of its bright and vividly colored world and, let’s be honest, the fact that you have a gliding mechanic. And that part is true. But for me, it felt more like the Sony Spider-man games. The marks all over your map, giving you things to look for and treasures to find is much more reminiscent of that experience for me. And that’s sort of another thing that sets the game apart; so many open-world games are these enormous, largely empty spaces. You run from quest giver to quest giver, doing a thing and then going back and talking to the quest giver again until eventually, the game is over. But there are so many things to do in Tchia; one of the important collectibles that you’re introduced to early on are braided trinkets, which are scattered all around. These and pearls are the closest thing this game has to a currency. There are 180 of these braided trinkets to collect and 80 pearls to gather. And that’s only two of the categories always marked on your map. I honestly can’t tell you how many hours I put into the game and I got maybe two-thirds of the way through collecting these things?
And that’s maybe the thing I love most. There’s so much in this game. It’s densely packed, but not overwhelmingly so. Much to the contrary, it feels entirely achievable to complete any of these tasks. For example, one of the important mechanics I haven’t mentioned yet is your ukulele. The game has several rhythm game sections, during many of which Tchia plays her instrument, but also it has an ocarina of time function: you learn songs throughout the game that let you alter the world. In particular, you get songs that let you summon critters to possess or set the time of day. While some of the places you have to go to acquire these are far removed or amusingly hidden, it’s entirely possible to get all of them without much trouble. The only collectibles that felt out of reach for me were cosmetics, of which there are so many, and the diving challenges. But again, if you don’t want to, there’s no need to engage with these things.
Although, why wouldn’t you go about collecting the cosmetic items? The options for dressing Tchia and changing her hair are incredible! I spent a fair portion of the game running around in different “traditional” outfits. After beating it, I hunted down the last Maano camps wearing the armor of a mysterious figure from the story and a threatening mask like some kind of pint-sized avenging spirit.
Accessibility is another aspect of this game I think deserves some acclaim. Whenever you start a rhythm game segment for example, you’ll see an option to set it to auto. You can just look at the rhythm part and say “I simply do not wish to participate in this” and the scene will play without your input so that you watch a musical cut scene. And beyond that, when you’re running about the world, there’s always an option in the pause menu to “skip gameplay segment.” Now obviously I never did this because I’m a freak and I want to be a li’l guy shooting green fireballs at my enemies. But this means that if you find some parts of the gameplay to be frustrating, you can theoretically just skip to the next story beat. And I think that’s pretty damn cool! Not everyone is able to play games to completion because of difficulty or disability and adding an option like this that lets more people play the game is an enormous step forward in my opinion.
The last thing I’ll mention before wrapping up is this: Tchia is glitchy. It’s not particularly well-optimized. It was jittery on Mint’s high power gaming rig and there were about three different cutscenes that I had to skip because the game crashed on my PS4 whenever I tried to watch them. There was a patch for the game after my sub ran out, so maybe some of this has been fixed, but it is a pain. Especially because the other thing that most frequently crashed the game for me was trying to take a picture. The picture taking mode is fun to play with and, like the game itself, has a fair number of options to play around with, but I tried to take a picture of a deer once and the game crashed. Maybe that deer was haunted though. Who knows?
As I said, there’s just so much in this game. It’s incredible to play a game that has so much to do and yet isn’t overwhelming and isn't even centered around combat! Combat exists, but there are few scenes where it’s the main action. The bulk of the game is actually exploring; running around this island, collecting things for folks, taking pictures of things, making friends. There was something so serene and enjoyable about simply steering the little raft around this archipelago that I want to jump back in just to do that! There’s plenty of other stuff that I haven’t even touched on, but why not find out for yourself? Give the game a try, support a small studio, play a fun game, and learn about New Caledonia - you won't be disappointed!