Tchia Review: A Laid-Back Island Odyssey
I will readily admit that I do not like traveling, even for the purposes of a vacation. I’ve only ever been outside the United States twice in my life, and the mere process of traveling sours a large portion of appreciation I may have for cultures outside my own. This is why I like stories like Tchia that can paint a picture of exotic locales to help make up the difference lost to my sour disposition.
Case in point, I didn’t know much about the real-life archipelago of New Caledonia prior to playing Tchia, but now that I have played it, I think I am sufficiently intrigued by the local culture that even the awful process of traveling wouldn’t ruin a trip there for me.
Welcome to the Archipelago
Tchia follows the adventures of, well, Tchia, a young girl who lives on a tiny island in the middle of an archipelago that isn’t precisely New Caledonia but is very much reminiscent of it in size and local culture. She lives by herself with her father, but on the day she comes of age, a mysterious man appears and kidnaps him. Turns out the captor is a stooge for Meavora, the supernatural ruler of the archipelago with a bone to pick with both Tchia and her father. To rescue her dad and put a stop to Meavora’s ambitions, Tchia needs to traverse the archipelago, meet new people, and uncover her own mysterious abilities.
A Feast of Sights and Sounds
Right off the bat, I would call Tchia’s setting very laid-back. It’s very light on dialogue; you can count the number of times Tchia speaks a complete sentence on two hands, and for the most part, the rest of the cast is the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The game builds its setting more through visuals and sound. Especially sound, given the surprising frequency of musical numbers both modern and traditional. It kind of feels like one of those Pixar shorts that can tell a whole story through presentation alone.
Related: How to Unlock Cosmetics in Tchia
There’s Adventure Everywhere
After a few introductory scenes and tutorials, you’re given a boat and have more or less free rein over the entire archipelago. There are goals to accomplish for the story, certainly, and a couple of areas won’t reveal their full secrets without abilities you obtain later, but for the most part, you can start exploring at your leisure. If we were to make a graph of large-scale sandbox adventure games, I think I’d call Tchia a midpoint between The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Lil Gator Game. It’s much more relaxed and freeform than the former, but also a bit more serious and goal-oriented than the latter.
As you’d expect from that comparison, movement is a central point of the exploration mechanics. You have a glider you can use to cruise through the air and a boat for crossing the ocean, you can slide down mountains and hills at high speed, and even fling yourself from trees to get a bit of an aerial boost. It all feels very smooth and satisfying, though the linchpin to the system is Tchia’s signature ability, Soul Jumping.
A Song for the Soul
Tchia has the ability to jump into any animal or inanimate object within her perimeter and line of sight, moving it around and using any unique abilities they may have. This power is equal parts convenient, crafty, and hilarious. The most obvious application is jumping into a bird and flying over the islands, but you can also jump into a dog and dig up treasure, or even jump into a rock and roll around (which is a surprisingly effective means of travel in itself).
Using all these movement abilities, you can explore the islands to find all sorts of goodies, ranging from practical upgrades to your stamina or Soul Jump duration to oodles of cosmetics you can use to customize Tchia’s outfit and boat.
In an overview video posted prior to the game’s release, the developers said that they really want players to explore the island for themselves and uncover its treasures. It’s for this reason that the game utilizes a somewhat-unusual map system. While you have a full map of the archipelago, it doesn’t track your position at all times. Rather, Tchia can only make an educated guess at her position from the map and narrow it down further from designated landmarks. This takes a bit of getting used to, as you can’t verify your position by just opening the map, but it does encourage you to memorize landmarks and topography and really get a feel for the archipelago’s layout. You do have a compass and waypoints, plus custom pins, so there’s plenty to keep you from getting lost, you just need to be a bit more engaged in navigation than in other games.
Related: How to Use the Map in Tchia
The game does get a bit more creative with this element in its sidequests, some of which require you to extrapolate the location of treasure from mere map clues and landmarks rather than precise locations. Some of these can be a bit of a slog due to vague clues, but I can’t deny I got a nice little rush of dopamine every time I managed to successfully pin down a location.
What’s on the Trip Itinerary?
Speaking of side content, like any good sandbox game, Tchia is packed with side activities. In addition to the aforementioned musical numbers, each of which is a rhythm minigame, there are also various races, slingshot target challenges, diving challenges, and collectibles. Some of the coolest side activities are the Rock Balancing spots and Totem Shrines. The former has you balancing rocks in a zen tower, rewarding you with ukulele songs with magical effects, Wind Waker-style, while the latter has you carve a wooden totem to open a pocket realm, within which you’ll find even more challenges like target hunts and red-light-green-light. They’re all there if you want to do them, and provide rewards if you do, but you’re also more than welcome to disregard them and just explore.
Ditch the Tour Group
I think if Tchia falls short in any aspect, it’s that its side content feels a bit more engaging than its critical path. A lot of the main story quests are either of the “go-here-do-this” variety or just fetch quests, both flanked by the same kind of low-key cutscenes. As much as I like the chill vibe of the game, it does suck some of the tension out of the story, which is why it can also be a bit jarring when something really dark suddenly comes out of nowhere. Remember that supernatural evil ruler I mentioned before? Yeah, the first time you meet him, he eats a baby. No particular pomp or circumstance to it, he just levitates a baby out of its mother’s arms, out of a cage, and drops it in his oversized maw. The extremely sudden baby-eating was so jarring it made me laugh, which I’m not entirely sure was the emotion I was supposed to be feeling at that moment.
Some of the quests are let down a bit by the vague map system. There was one instance where I needed to find a crab in a marsh for a fetch quest, and I spent about 30 minutes running in circles through the mud because the quest waypoint only highlighted a general area rather than a precise location. It’s these story parts that make me say “alright, let’s get this over with so I can get back to exploring,” which is unfortunate. The game also occasionally engages in its own flavor of combat via camps of magically-animated cloth soldiers you need to burn, though the means by which you can burn them are always fairly obvious. It’s designed just well enough so as not to feel overtly tedious, but not quite varied enough to be especially interesting, at least compared to the other side activities.
Whoops, The Island Crashed
I also feel obligated to mention that during my time with Tchia, I was hounded by a particularly nasty bug that would hard-crash the game whenever I pressed a certain button on my controller or keyboard. After one of these crashes, the game would absolutely refuse to load back up until I fiddled with the files on the back end. The particular cursed button wasn’t especially vital to gameplay, so I managed to avoid tripping the crash for the most part after I figured it out, but it’s still a pretty severe error for a game to ship with.
Why You Should Buy Tchia
Tchia is at its absolute best when it gives you the reins and lets you explore at your leisure. Thanks to Soul Jumping, travel is a genuine delight, giving you all kinds of collectibles to grab and activities to try as you go. You’re also more than encouraged to make your own fun, whether that be finding and petting every animal in the game or just finding a shady spot to noodle on your ukulele. It’s in this way, I feel, you get the best sense of what these beautiful islands are all about, both topographically and culturally speaking.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy Tchia
If you’re the kind of person who prefers to stick exclusively to the critical path, Tchia may feel a bit lacking to you. The main story quests are somewhat bland, and while the story has some cool lore and setpieces, the individual cutscenes aren’t particularly exciting. If you’re only here to finish the story and call it a day, this won’t be a very gratifying vacation.
Tchia Availability and Game Length
Tchia is available to play on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC via the Epic Games Store (a Steam release is set to follow at an unannounced later date).
Based on my gameplay, you can clear Tchia’s critical story in around 6 hours, but if you engage in side content, you can easily stretch that to 10 or more hours.
If you’re interested in more island-hopping adventures in Tchia, check out our guides on unlocking and using Soul Melodies and increasing your Stamina. Visit our Facebook page as well for more news, guides, and more.