Suli: Fallen Harmony review
Suli: Fallen Harmony is a 2.5D point-and-click adventure that takes place on an island where humans and anthropomorphic animals coexist. It offers an interesting and original world inhabited by fun characters, all presented with some beautiful artwork. Frustrating puzzles are the game’s Achilles heel, however, and they diminish the experience. It’s a charming little game that gets a lot right, but it also gets some key areas wrong that make for an uneven experience overall.
Suli, the player-controlled protagonist, is a flightless young bird who works in the local temple as an assistant to the priest of Osir, a bird-god. The intro cutscene wastes no time in setting the stage: one night Suli comes across a damning prophecy while studying ancient manuscripts in the temple, which speaks of – and unfortunately summons – chaos to the island. This cinematic is voiced entirely in French, and the dulcet tones of the narrator, one of the three women comprising French indie developer Coutal Games, instantly gives the game a smooth and appealing quality. During the game itself, however, the characters are not voiced, though they do make Sims-like noises during conversation.
Another immediately striking aspect of Suli is its graphics. The hand-painted artwork is bright and fun, depicting a world that is reminiscent of SpongeBob SquarePants. There are some nicely conceived designs on display here, such as the merchant who is a flatfish. You approach its stall, thinking nobody is around while contemplating thievery, only for the fish to turn sideways and announce that it was there the whole time. There are other similarly lovely touches sprinkled throughout, like Suli’s birth eggshell, which his mother keeps in their home.
The chaos wrought on the island is manifested as an overnight storm that causes the nearby ocean to completely recede, as well as the appearance of sinister tree roots and brambles that block sections of the environment. Your main quest is to find three relics—one for each of the gods worshipped on the island—which will allow Suli to restore order. It’s no coincidence, then, that there are only three main locations to explore—the bird village, an underwater kingdom, and a temple complex area, although there are smaller scenes within each, like a beach, a dock, and a forest.
Over the course of the game, each of these locations changes multiple times. The atmosphere gets darker as the chaos increases, and what was once a peaceful area will be overcome with barriers while various characters will move, disappear, or change appearance slightly. Even more drastic is what happens to the ocean, which has completely receded at the start of the game but is filled back in over time, requiring a whole new means of exploring its once-dry environs. In this respect, Suli is a great example of an adventure game that does a lot of interesting things within its limitations. When backtracking, I was tempted to hurriedly clicking through places I’d already been to get to my destination, expecting everything to remain the same, only to repeatedly be proven wrong.
The differences aren’t merely cosmetic, either, as the characters change their attitudes and behaviours, too. Suli is full of charming characters that will tug at your heartstrings: there is a wisp who has lost its parents and is scared, a fish whose wife is trapped inside their home, and a cute little mouse that you help equip with miniature weapons. If there’s one thing this game doesn’t lack, it’s personality—it has it in spades.
There are some aspects that aren’t so great, though. Some scene transitions are located in the foreground, but there aren’t any signposts or paths to indicate you should move in that direction. This can lead to you missing entire areas, wondering where to go next. Also, while everything is gorgeous when standing still, it’s a different story when things start to move. Although the animation is generally solid, ambient effects are minimal and as characters move laterally across the screen they sometimes begin to jitter, giving off a jarring low-framerate effect. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it is noticeable as you go about your business. It’s this sort of good-bad contrast that characterises the game as a whole.
In general, most of Suli’s puzzles are solved by using or combining objects, but there are some conversational and environmental tasks mixed in, too. Unfortunately, this is the area where the game takes a huge nosedive, and it had me frustrated right from the off. One of the first puzzles requires you to answer four riddles correctly. If you answer one wrong at any point, you will fail, but you don’t find out if you’ve failed until after answering all four, leaving you to go through the dialogue over and over. This was so frustrating that I had to look up the solution, because the answers are not clued well and may be a by-product of the French to English translation.
Another puzzle that doesn’t land well is one that has you looking for a lost item with the aim of returning it to its owner so that they will help you. There are no hints—it’s a pure fetch quest and it will have you aimlessly wandering the same scenes again and again, unless you’re lucky enough to quickly click on a random object and find the requested item inside. These types of puzzles are among my most hated; no hints, no logic, just sheer mad clickery that wastes the player’s time and leaves you praying that it’s just a blip on the game’s puzzle radar. It wasn’t.
The worst was yet to come for me and my time with Suli’s puzzles. There is one final musical puzzle that had me pulling out my hair until I resorted to using the lone walkthrough I could find, which was in Dutch (thank you, Google translate). You have to play three songs on a flute, and there are clues in the nearby environment to the tunes you must play. But it is never indicated that the corresponding instrument notes (1,2,3,4,5) are actually bottom to top, meaning note 1 is on the bottom, furthest from Suli’s mouth. I have no idea if this is realistic or not, but it wasn’t logical to me, and there was nothing to alert me to my misunderstanding. Nor were the clues themselves particularly evident in a way that makes you exclaim “A-ha!” These few puzzles left a sour taste in my mouth, and it really is a shame because such moments of insanity detract from an otherwise positive experience.
The foreboding music that plays in the run-up to key moments has all the hallmarks and polish of a game made by a bigger studio, although the score does contain some tracks that can be found in other media (one in particular I recognized from Kerbal Space Program). The ambient score is fitting, and the gameplay is accompanied by the folksy plucks of string instruments, the beat of drums, relaxing piano, and airy woodwinds. Sound effects do a good job of setting the stage: crickets chirp as you wander the woods, and there are ominous wails as you navigate through eerie environments overtaken by the chaos, putting you on edge.
Cutscenes are well made. Only three of them have voice acting, but when present it’s in French with English subtitles. One salient scene has bad guys brought by the chaos discussing their evil plans for the island, and the tone affected by the voice actors, one very deep and the other very high-pitched, evokes a sense of comical styling similar to a cartoon. It’s too bad there aren’t more voice-overs, because they give the game a degree of whimsy.
One can’t help but come away from Suli: Fallen Harmony with the impression that the whole game is conflicted: the artwork is gorgeous, but the animation can be stilted; when cutscenes are voiced they are great, but only a few are; the varied environments are fun, but are let down by a few frustrating puzzles. Suli: Fallen Harmony is by no means a poor game, and I would actually recommend trying it if you’re so inclined because it is a decent game with an interesting world, but be prepared to be frustrated at some points during its two to four hours of play time.
Indie French developer Coutal Games have created a unique world with charming characters in Suli: Fallen Harmony, but a lack of polish and a few puzzle problems mean that, like its flightless bird protagonist, it is unable to truly take off.