One look at the main character, Fox, says it all; Tunic appears to be just another old-school, isometric Zelda clone. Tunic throws the player into a world with no weapon, shield, or hints at where to go or what to do other than some red arrows in its environment, very reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. But there's a catch; most games would immediately run the player through concepts and controls via an in-game tutorial. Tunic offers no such education. Instead, players learn the game by reading the digital version of the instruction manual. The only catch? Well…there are a couple.
Tunic’s manual pages aren't fully available from the start of the game but are scattered throughout the world. It's up to the player to find each of the double-sided pages throughout your journey.
To further complicate things, each page of the manual is a mix of English and the Tunic's invented runic language. Deciphering the true meaning of each page is a large part of completing the game.
Very quickly, Tunic reveals that it is very much a throwback to a time in gaming when the manual was required reading material, as it teaches the game’s systems, and even provides hints essential to advancing through the game. The fact that the manual’s pages are a mix of English and a mysterious rune language only adds to the enjoyment of comprehending its puzzles and the plot of Tunic. Finding a new page behind an environmental puzzle, only to notice that it includes “handwritten” notes is, put simply, astonishing. It's as if you had stumbled upon an imported Japanese copy of a SNES game where the previous owner attempted to translate their discoveries physically into the manual via pen. The final pages of the booklet even include a memo section, that has been filled out by the mysterious, previous owner!
Tunic masterfully incorporates the manual with its puzzles and secrets
The fact that the manual's pages are scattered throughout Tunic’s world in a piecemeal fashion allows for mind-blowing discovery in nearly every play session. Without spoiling much, know that Tunic’s manual consists of mind-boggling secrets on par with those found in the famous (or infamous) puzzle platformer, Fez. I was still uncovering secrets of the manual during the final boss fight; a hint that resided on a page that I had glossed over many times, was actually one that helped me conquer the game. This whole system sets up a very interesting dynamic for Tunic, as studying every inch of the manual is paramount. When a new discovery finally clicks, it is truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a video game before, thus promoting the discovery of new manual pages nearly as important (if not more), as conquering a zone’s boss, for example.
It’s such a simple concept that it’s almost unbelievable this system hasn’t been incorporated into a video game before. So many games provide a hand-holding experience, forcing gamers upon what seems like hours of tutorials that require you to pass tests to confirm that you “understand” the game's systems before allowing you to play the game proper. Tunic simply throws you into its world and you’re off to the races, promoting exploration.
Not everyone is looking for that specific experience of simply wandering around a game world until you “Git Gud” and figure out how to advance the story. Simply looking up a walkthrough or a guide when we become stuck in a video game, is never more than a few clicks away; we’ve all done it. If you find yourself struggling with Tunic, I would strongly recommend taking a step back before scouring the internet for the answer, as uncovering both the game’s basic abilities and its vast secrets are a large part of Tunic’s charm and enjoyment.
Everything you need really is buried in that manual. Now make sure you go and find all those pages!
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