Chants of Sennaar: a puzzle game between puzzles and linguistics

Chants of Sennaar: a puzzle game between puzzles and linguistics

Chants of Sennaar

For some of us, languages ​​are a real conundrum. Images and symbols that hide a meaning, evident only to those who clearly know it. Fortunately, nowadays, those who want to approach the study of a new language have numerous teaching tools at their disposal, but what would it be like to study an unknown language only through intuition?

Chants of Sennaar tries to answer this question, catapulting the player into a mysterious land where no one speaks his language, and his understanding passes through the solution of numerous puzzles. The puzzle game developed by Rundisc and produced by Focus Entertainment will arrive in 2023 on PC and Nintendo Switch and, in our opinion, you should really keep an eye on it.

Why? We played it at Gamescom 2022 and we tell you about our enthusiasm in the Chants of Sennar tried.

Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel is a mysterious and suggestive place Compared to many other demos try during the German fair, which were accompanied by rich presentations from developers and publishers, when we sat at the Chants of Sennaar booth, the only question they asked us was "Do you know the myth of the Tower of Babel?". Not wanting to take anything for granted, a little parenthesis to explain the setting of the game.

The Tower of Babel, also known as Babylon, is the mythical construction of which the Bible narrates in the verses of Genesis: built in Mesopotamia, in some ancient writings Babel is referred to with the archaic name of Sennaar, from which the title of Rundisc takes its name, while the Tower is visible in the logo. Genesis tells the story of this immense city developed in height, at a time in human history when everyone spoke the same language. The plan of men was to physically get as close to God as possible, bringing the construction of the Tower ever more to the top. On the contrary, God wanted men to divide and populate the Earth. For this reason the Lord decided to block the construction of the Tower by subtracting the only true instrument of union that humanity possessed: the language. Thus various languages ​​were born and the people stopped talking to each other, abandoning the construction of the Tower.

Scholars trace the name "Babel" to the Hebrew word "bālal", which means "to confuse", in this case the languages ​​spoken.

In Chats of Sennaar, the player's goal is to reconstruct the lost language and again allow the citizens of the Tower to communicate with each other, so divided that they have even forgotten the past of Babylon. The game world is incredibly evocative, thanks to the artistic choices made by the development team. The isometric view and the choice of using sharp and clean lines to delineate the scenery, create hypnotic geometries, which blend with the arabesques that decorate the city of Babylon.

The chromatic palette, characterized by warm and saturated colors. , instinctively brings to mind Journey and the colors of its desert, contrasted in a balanced way with the soft color of the water of the fountains and the sky. Visually Chats of Sennaar is beautiful and the sceneries are meticulously finished; sometimes the perspective or the shadows may hide some small details useful for solving the puzzles, but it will be up to the player to carefully explore the surroundings in order to solve the puzzles.

Gameplay and solving the puzzles

Cards depicting concepts, shown below through the corresponding glyph In Chants of Sennar, the player plays a faceless stranger, a hooded man who roams the city of Babylon taking notes. As mentioned, the men and women of the Tower no longer speak to each other and, forgetting the language that was once spoken, they have forgotten the past of the place where they live. The player will have the task of translating the lost language, revealing the secrets of the Tower and becoming a universal translator, a real Babel Fish (citation to the Galaxy Guide for Hitchhikers necessary, ed).

The player will only have a notebook, which can be consulted from the game menu. This consists of a set of thirty-six glyphs shown on the right side of the screen, and the pages of the notebook on the left, in which the Wanderer will draw different images. The goal is, as the adventure progresses, to assign a meaning to a glyph, and then validate it by associating it with the image that represents it. The player is allowed to take notes: to do this, click on a glyph, write the meaning you think is correct and confirm. In that case, the meaning of the glyph will appear written with a question mark. To confirm the deduction it is necessary to wait for the images representing the concepts to be scribbled in the notebook. When these appear, the player will have to drag the glyph into the space next to the corresponding drawing: if the association is correct from that moment on, the question mark will disappear and in the future, whenever the Wanderer comes across that glyph, the player will read it "translated", in English (language of the demo).

To make these associations there is obviously a method, which goes through solving puzzles: during our test, in which we crossed an aqueduct at the base of the Tower, we found signs and non-player characters, who gave us various commands, thus deducing the meaning of the instructions starting from the solution of the riddle. First you solve the puzzles and then you try to give meaning to the glyphs.

The game menu is made up of the glyphs and the protagonist's notebook It might seem like a very laborious process, but in reality, it is very simpler than you might think. Let us give you an example to clarify the logical procedure even more. The first series of puzzles faced began with a closed door: next to it a lever to open and close it. Hanging above the switch was a sign bearing three different glyphs, written on two lines of text, one upper and one lower. Both lines of text started with the same glyph but continued with two different symbols. By activating the lever, moving it from a high to a low position, the door opened. From here we deduce that the glyph repeated in both lines means "door" and that the other two indicate the concepts of "closed" and "open". To understand which is one and which is the other, it was enough to see the position of the lever and associate it with that of the lines (at the top it is closed, at the bottom open).

At that point, in the second room, we are found in front of six switches which, when activated, opened or closed water flows. Next to the series of levers was the usual instruction sign, which proposed the glyphs of "open" and "closed", shown in sequence. Thus we understand that each glyph was associated with a flow of water, indicating which were to be blocked and which were allowed to flow. An enigma proposed to the player to reinforce the concept, so much so that, once the riddle was solved, three images appeared on the notebook: a door, a closed padlock and an open one. Writing first the words "door", "close" and "open" in the meanings of the relative glyphs, we subsequently assigned the glyphs to the three images, adding the three words correctly to the vocabulary.

Next we encountered a character who was not player who, indicating with a series of gestures, asked us to help him open and close a series of dams. After this comparison we added "hello", "help" and "thank you" to the vocabulary.

The enigma of the bas-reliefs thrilled us The twist, which however left us quite stunned and infinitely thrilled, arrived towards the end of our test, when we came across the glyph of "man", " man". The symbol was shown in a series of four bas-reliefs carved on a long wall: here the story of a man was told who, having found other similar ones, began to worship the sun (glyph of "God", "God"), and then being oppressed by an enemy. In the first illustration the glyph man was shown only once, but when there were more men in the image, the symbol was repeated twice. The repetition of a glyph therefore conveys the number of the noun, the plural, creating persistent rules in the grammar of this unknown language.

Contents and control system

An area of ​​the game probably belonging to the advanced stages of the game In about thirty minutes of play, we are sure that we have only scratched the surface of Chants of Sennaar, also because in the trailer released during PAX East in April 2022, you can see much more than we could play. To begin with, you can clearly see a page of glyphs that are not those encountered during the Gamescom demo: this makes us think that those encountered during our test are not simply thirty-six glyphs, but only the first thirty-six. We may also have played a demo specially tailored for the German fair, but we were not made aware of this information during the test, so we assume that our demo was from the first minutes of the adventure game.

Secondly, in the trailer you can see some stealth phases, in which the Wanderer tries to escape the eyes of some guards; in the sequence it can also be seen that night has fallen and that the moon seems to be very close to the windows. This is just a guess, but it would seem quite logical to think of the player's path as an ascent of the Tower, encountering an increasing degree of complexity in the puzzles. At least, we very much hope so.

Visually, Chants of Sennaar is enchanting. The only marginal consideration is the control system. In the Focus Entertainment booth, the game ran on a PC version and could be played with either a mouse and keyboard or an Xbox gamepad. We have tried both solutions but, being a game in which you have to literally write words, you will understand without a shadow of a doubt that the MnK solution is the most functional. However, we also wanted to try the pad solution because the title will also be released on Nintendo Switch and it does not seem absurd to us a subsequent post-launch port for Xbox and Playstation. With gamepad it is definitely more uncomfortable, but it is also true that part of the discomfort could be circumvented by using the touch functions of the Switch screen; an option that, moreover, would also open the door to a future mobile conversion.

For the writer, Chants of Sennaar is undoubtedly the best game tried at Gamescom 2022. Mentally stimulating and visually appealing, the production of Rundisc it is configured as a work of undoubted depth. Not many video games have worked with the concept of languages, and the few who have tried (even successfully, No Man's Sky comes to mind) have never deepened the subject with a syntactic and grammatical approach. In some respects, Chants of Sennaar's decoding system seems to hark back to modern e-learning apps, adding a bit of logical deduction. We also find the choice of setting the game in the Tower of Babel very fascinating, noting how the understanding of truth and language go hand in hand in the adventure. Creating a gameplay system based on the intrinsic relationship between meaning and signifier is already intriguing in itself, but the way it is proposed to the player has an almost intimate nuance, as indeed every human language possesses.


Mentally stimulating and visually appealing Logical and grammatical approach to puzzles at the same time DOUBT To be appreciated at its best, it must be played in its own language. Played with mouse and keyboard it is more comfortable and satisfying than with pad Have you noticed mistakes?

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