Chants of Sennaar, 2023’s Best Puzzler, Is Now On Game Pass

A hand reaches over multiple tarot like cards

Image: Focus Entertainment

The latest offerings available to Xbox Game Pass subscribers include a slew of underrated titles that many gamers probably missed when they first released. But if you have to choose one game in the lineup to play, it should be Chants of Sennaar. The endearing art style and enthralling puzzle design made it one of 2023’s best games, and now it’s easier than ever to fall in love with.

Developed by Rundisc, Chants of Sennaar is a logic-based puzzle game that requires player deduction. It’s in the same vein as titles like 2019’s Return of the Obra Dinn or 2022’s Case of the Golden Idol. But unlike those games, which require you to guess and check the facts of murders and other mysterious events, Chants of Sennaar centers its brain games around language.

That starts with the setting and basic premise of the game. Taking inspiration from the biblical Tower of Babel, Chants of Sennaar takes place at the very base of a large, winding structure that has been stratified into different societies. Each has its own spoken language, written alphabet, and culture. Your job is to make it to the top of the tower, a task that requires talking to and understanding the many people you come into contact with. But at the start of the game, you can’t understand anything at all, and the game doesn’t hold your hand through the process of learning these languages. Instead, it’s about putting together context clues and thinking about the way we utilize words.

A notebook with images and symbols to decode

Image: Focus Entertainment

As you encounter characters in the game that speak to you in foreign tongues, an in-game notebook will fill with every letter in the alphabet. Based on how they are saying things or in what situation they are saying them, it’s up to you to start making working translations. Pick a symbol and fill in what you think it means. As you continue through the world, your guess will either be confirmed by how it fits into what more characters say, or you will quickly realize you were way off base.

The puzzles start with something as simple as translating “open” and “close” in the game’s opening minutes when you’re blocked by a closed-off gate, and quickly progress into linguistic detective work about understanding tenses, different ways sentences can be structured, and punctuation. It’s not long before you also have to translate between multiple languages at the same time. If that sounds boring, I can’t tell you how wrong you are. At one point I realized one language would repeat a noun’s symbol to indicate it was plural while another had a specific symbol to denote a noun was plural and I felt like the smartest person in the world.

Chants of Sennaar is a game for people whose favorite gaming accessory is a pen and notebook. It rewards critical thinking and observation of the game world. But even with its complex challenges, the game can be finished in less than ten hours. It’s a rewarding but brisk treat for puzzle aficionados.

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