Bells are awesome and, unless one is playing as the Geomancer class in a Final Fantasy game, often underrepresented in the multitude of weapons available in an RPG protagonist’s vast arsenal. Action RPG Anuchard seeks to rectify this with the mighty and rather mystical Audros Bell as the sole weapon available to its hero. The many actions one can take with this bell are as multilayered as an onion, extremely fitting for the overall structure of Anuchard and its narrative — which appear as one thing on the surface but, after you peel back their layers, reveal surprising depth and complexity.
Anuchard’s narrative kicks off in a small farming community known as the Orchard. Once upon a time, the Orchard was part of a floating utopia called Anuchard. Back then, the five Guardians who watched over the land blessed humanity with various life-improving gifts. After a dreadful event, the Guardians abandoned their duty, causing Anuchard to crumble and split into remnants left struggling for survival. One of the Guardians hid away in a mystical Dungeon near the Orchard, and they exact a hefty price from humans who enter that treacherous and monster-filled domain: they kill adventurers and return their bodies to the outside world as stone statues. Only the Bellwielder, the hero chosen to wield the legendary Audros Bell, can safely venture into the Dungeon and revive those lost to it.
The player character is the village chief’s student, naturally chosen to become the next Bellwielder. Guided by the spirits of previous Bellwielders, they venture into the Dungeon to revive missing villagers while hopefully bringing back the Guardians and returning their blessings to the people. However, the further along they get in accomplishing their goal, the more it becomes obvious that there were reasons for the fall of Anuchard in the first place and that the quest for a utopia might not be so clear-cut. In Anuchard, what seems like a simple story on the surface ends up offering some surprising commentary on human nature. Ultimately, the player must decide if bringing back paradise is even the right path to take.
At first, I thought Anuchard was geared toward younger players. The plot initially seems simple, and though the characters are all quirky and colorful, you don’t explore them deeply. But the more you advance the story, the darker and more mature it becomes. I greatly enjoyed the two ending choices you can make and the open-ended speculation and commentary the later narrative reveals. Unfortunately, Anuchard doesn’t explore or develop the cast as much as I would’ve liked — though the villagers all have distinct personalities, and I appreciate the story beats they represent as the plot develops. Sadly, the English localization of the script isn’t the best and doesn’t excel at conveying the plot, which is a shame because the story goes in interesting directions as it progresses.
Anuchard‘s gameplay loop is pretty straightforward. You interact with townsfolk in peaceful areas outside the Dungeon and acquire a relic that links the Dungeon to a missing person or Guardian. Using that relic, you then access a level of the Dungeon. You traverse that level by solving puzzles or battling monsters while spirits of previous Bellwielders offer commentary that furthers the plot. Occasionally, you also run into holograms that provide insight into the perspectives of people who previously ventured into the Dungeon. When you reach the end of the level, you face off against a boss monster you must defeat before you can reclaim the spirit of a missing person. You’re transported out of the Dungeon following your victory, and a ritual to revive a person lost to the Dungeon takes place. This process repeats until you finally face off against one of the Guardians to acquire their blessing. After you receive the blessing of a Guardian, you unlock access to a new level of the Dungeon and another outside area, and the entire loop begins anew as you learn more about the world and what happened to Anuchard of the past.
Dungeon exploration is the driving point of Anuchard, and it involves a fair bit of battling. Combat centers on light and heavy attacks, with some monsters requiring that you “break” their defenses by using heavy attacks to slam them into walls or other obstacles before you can damage them. The combo commands are simple and easy enough to pick up, and you can even choose to place a spire on the ground that aids you temporarily in combat. I don’t have any serious criticisms of the game’s combat, though it isn’t too innovative for those already familiar with action RPG mechanics. If you’re having difficulty overcoming certain monsters or boss fights, you can toggle an accessibility option that halves or nullifies the damage you receive. Considering that you can only save during free exploration outside the Dungeon, in the village, this option can be helpful to those who just want to advance the game in a timely fashion without worrying about their health.
Puzzles are where the game gets a bit more creative, as you must wield the Audros Bell cleverly to complete them. They often require you to hit a switch, or multiple switches, to unlock a door and progress. Switches can be hidden behind obstacles that keep you from reaching them directly. In those cases, you use your bell to knock energy balls into them instead — requiring you to either time when to strike the energy ball or position yourself to ricochet a ball into the switch. Later levels of the Dungeon get tricky by requiring you to hit multiple switches with the same ball, circumvent energy bars before you can strike switches, or deal with portals that send you or the ball to different areas. As the game progresses, puzzles also get harder to solve. Fortunately, none ever boil over into “nearly impossible” or frustrating territory. Battles against Guardians also require you to employ different puzzle-solving strategies using the Audros Bell, infusing the gameplay with even more creativity.
During exploration time in the village, players can elect to participate in a sidequest before returning to the Dungeon. There is only ever one sidequest per story chapter, and it’s often of the “find or gather this item” variety — though sidequests do provide further insight into the characters and plot. Additionally, you can revive any villagers whose souls you recovered in the Dungeon, and you can try your hand at a simple cooking minigame that temporarily boosts your stats for your next Dungeon run. Using materials you collect in the Dungeon, you can also improve the Bellwielder’s stats and abilities or the village’s appearance through a relatively simple crafting process. The boons you get from doing so aren’t drastic, but crafting adds a bit more interactivity to the gameplay loop.
You can only manually save your progress during free exploration periods at one location. Autosaves within the Dungeon or between the sometimes-lengthy story scenes would’ve been welcome. Should you feel you missed something in a given Dungeon run, you can choose to backtrack to completed areas, which is a nice touch for those with a completionist streak.
Anuchard‘s sprites and backgrounds are wonderfully colorful and detailed, though the developers chose to omit facial feature details for the character models. It’s an artistic choice I don’t think everyone will care for, but it certainly helps the game stand out visually. Despite this, I like the added emoji expression text bubbles that help convey a character’s mood and feeling. I also appreciate how each unlocked area and Dungeon level has a different look and feel. Anuchard is still an eye-catching and expressive game, albeit in a different way than some might expect. There is no voice acting to speak of, but sound effects are used to great effect, and the music is surprisingly catchy. I especially adore the Dungeon’s various themes, which convey a sense of exploration that fits this setting and gameplay loop perfectly.
Each of Anuchard‘s chapters takes roughly an hour or so to complete if you do everything before clearing it, and my playtime was about 12 hours when all was said and done. This is a shorter game that still manages to feel like a complete experience, and it ends up providing many activities for players to enjoy. Anuchard isn’t exactly breaking the mold as far as action RPGs go, but those looking for a solid gaming experience whose narrative leaves a little room for thought might want to give this bell a ring.