REVIEW: Tchia's culture-driven island experience wows with representation and coziness
Representation is so important and the entertainment industry is seeing that in a big way right now. At the time of review, the amount of thriving multicultural representation is almost baffling.
In Hollywood, a film centered around an Asian immigrant family traveling through the multiverse became the most awarded film of all time. In sports, an ongoing global baseball tournament saw the Czech Republic win its first-ever game on a stage it’s never seen before, allowing electricians and teachers a taste of the glory major leaguers get every day. And in gaming, a small island nation just off the Australian coast saw itself placed at the center of an amazing little game called Tchia.
Just the Facts
Publisher: Awaceb, Kepler Interactive
Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 4 and 5 *platform reviewed on
Release Date: March 21, 2023
Review key provided by Tinsley PR.
Tchia is an open-world adventure set on an archipelago heavily inspired by and based on New Caledonia. The founders of the development studio, Awaceb, decided to make their sophomore release entirely dedicated to this cross-cultural island nation that they grew up in. Just as Zelda was born out of Miyamoto’s adventures through the hills, forests, and caves of Japan, you certainly get the sense that Tchia was born out of the adventuring and learning that co-founders Phil Crifo and Thierry Boura did throughout childhood in New Caledonia.
Tchia’s New Caledonia-inspired story focuses in on its eponymous hero, Tchia, as she travels across a fictional archipelago to rescue her kidnapped father and restore the land to its natural order. Evil spirit and disgusting worm beast Meavora has taken control of the islands, with the help of the hatchet-wielding baddie Pwi Dua and a legion of evil cloth spirits known as Maano. Together, their forces are sapping the energy of the island’s natural resources and its people to fuel his growing power. To fight back, Tchia teams up with the island’s inhabitants, both physical and spiritual, on a quest to restore peace and reunite with her family.
Armed with her trusty slingshot and a child’s natural curiosity, plus a newly discovered soul-jumping ability, a power that allows her to inhabit animals and inanimate objects alike, Tchia is a pitch-perfect hero. Having grown up on a remote island with her dad, Tchia’s perspective being the focal point is the perfect way to help foster this feeling of childlike wonder as you make your way through the islands.
Forced into tasks she can’t possibly understand the stakes of, Tchia finds friendship, young love, and new purpose along her journey, and all the while maintains an unending charm and youthful character… even when she’s just rolling around as a rock.
The framework of the narrative, being an elder passing on a story to a new generation of children, adds to that as well. That sharing of culture, passing down of legends and lore… It’s one of the key pieces of the experience. From the entire team’s trips to New Caledonia to make sure they got it right, to the quiet moments Tchia and her companions share around a campfire, what’s put at the center of everything here is the region’s culture. Music, stories, art.
On all levels, it’s a celebration of New Caledonian culture and of the indigenous Kanak culture. And while I personally can’t speak to how it may have been received, I can say this much: it’s beautiful and I can only hope to see this level of representation for Filipino culture one day.
One of my favorite parts is the use of Drehu, the primary language of the Kanak people. Working with local voice actors, the game is entirely voiced in Drehu and French, layering in just another bit of valuable cultural immersion by showcasing a language that has only around 12,000 fluent speakers in the world.
Even in the gameplay, cultural learning is a big part of Tchia’s journey. Every village she visits, every subculture she interacts with, Tchia not only learns new mechanics from them, but also brings a bit of their visual style with her. Whether it's the French-speaking rancher-focused town of Welele that passes down to her cowboy apparel or the more traditional indigenous village of Huanhmi that teaches her face painting and traditional wood totem carving, Tchia becomes a fuller person and better representative for the land as a whole as the game progresses. You’ll find a DEEP customization system in Tchia, with tons of clothes, hairstyles, boat paint styles, and more. Awaceb does incredibly well weaving their love for the land into all aspects of the art design and story.
Tchia presents itself like a classic Disney Renaissance-era movie, not just for its bright and colorful island setting or its expressive and emotive character animation or its animal-centric shenanigans… but for its use of music.
Music is used as a main communication source for Tchia. When emotions are too strong to explain with words, she breaks out her ukulele and plays, making music with someone in the scene as a light rhythm minigame starts up and a cinematic music video plays in the background. Music unifies her with these varied people. And the variety of styles on display is incredible. It's not a full-on musical by any stretch of the imagination, but it's powerful, especially when you consider the indigenous roots of these tracks.
The work done here by composer John Robert Matz, in conjunction with locals from New Caledonia, is amazing. The soaring tracks that score Tchia’s rafting adventures, and the quiet ukulele ballads that underscore some of the more emotional moments, are so so good.
In Tchia, music has magic. Literally. With a Zelda-esque ability to change the weather or time of day, summon animals, and more, Tchia’s ukulele takes its place alongside the ocarina as one of gaming’s best instruments. There’s even a fully working ukulele tool that allows you to play any song you like, with note bending and the ability to alter notes on the fly. I don’t know music, but it seems pretty neat.
But most importantly, the Disney vibes come across in one important area as well. Even though it’s a fairly family-friendly adventure in most ways, there are moments of genuine horror and shocking emotional darkness across this adventure that you’d expect from folktales and classic Disney films alike.
The story is fun and manages a few genuine surprises across its runtime, but don’t expect this folk story to be an epic. It’s a quick play, especially if you mainline the story and leave the exploring for another day, with it clocking out somewhere between 10-15 hours your first time through. We wish there was more, but you know we always advocate for shorter reined-in experiences and Tchia delivers just that.
I could talk all day about the little ways that Awaceb’s New Caledonian representation and narrative awed us, but how does this island adventure play? Well… let’s start with Tchia’s open-world design.
Tchia’s take on the open world is in its own way a throwback to the early days of the concept. A cozier open world that doesn’t ask too much of the player. One that defies the usual overwhelming nature of other open worlds by stripping away waypoints, hiding its minimap to force you to navigate on your own, and keeping its focus on the beautiful nature around you. Lapping water, flowing vegetation, and the sound of nearby animals are mostly what you'll spend your time with, not piles of overlapping HUD elements and waypoint markers. Across the two main islands and the smattering of smaller islands, it can sometimes be a bit confusing and frustrating to lose some of those hand-holdy systems we’re used to, but… thanks to the coziness of it all, it works.
It's so easy to chart a path to some far off waypoint and find yourself wandering from landmark to landmark on the way. To head toward a main story quest and find yourself distracted by one of the island’s side activities, like races that take place on foot, boat, or hoof. Maybe you’re on your way to a meeting with Meavora and find yourself distracted with one of the few games on the island, like slingshot target practice or a classic claw machine.
Tchia is a wandering-first kind of adventure, one whose focus is on telling a fun story and selling the island vibes, so if you like your adventures a bit more guided, or if you need more than fun and vibes, keep that in mind.
Because of that stripped-back design philosophy, I realized that, despite my original comparison points that came to mind when the first few trailers came out, Tchia is not entirely like Breath of the Wild, with its free climbing and stamina-based action. It’s not totally Mario Odyssey with its flowing platforming or capture-based possession mechanic. No, after my time with Tchia, it's like something else I never expected... Red Dead Redemption 2. The calm navigation. The teeming wildlife. The “see what you see” vibe of its exploration. It’s not as alive, grounded, or nearly as feature full… but in its own way, Tchia can hold its own simply because of its amazing representation and the magnitudes-smaller team behind it all.
Navigating the island can initially be tricky, with the physics-driven and stamina-focused approach. But thanks to a handful of Tchia's incredible abilities, coming to understand the island and the best way to make your way through it turns out to be one of the game's best qualities.
For starters, Tchia puts Link and Mario to shame through her innate climbing and jumping abilities. It starts small with her power to climb any surface and do flips and tricks in the air, and eventually evolves into being able to fling herself from treetop to treetop, as if she's flying through the air. Stamina holds you back in the early going, but find a few stamina fruit in the open world, chomp them down, and before you know it… you’re a pro. It's one of the best feelings when you find the perfect path of trees to fling across, flipping and spinning in the air, flying from one end of an island to the other. A feeling only eclipsed by, well, actual flying.
As previously mentioned, Tchia has her own special kind of magic with her ability to soul jump. As her eye glows green, Tchia is able to jump into any of the fauna that populates the islands and even a smattering of inanimate objects, like rocks and oil lanterns. Inhabiting these animals comes with unique abilities that are used for fun little puzzle solutions in a 21-step treasure-hunting sidequest, improved movement that surpasses the limits of Tchia’s human form, and a few goofs and gaffs too.
It’s a fun concept that never quite feels like it reaches its potential. With the game’s hands-off “play how you want to play” mentality, it leaves things open for you to approach things however you like. But it holds a fun idea back from having genuinely game-changing execution by not making it more necessary. By not spotlighting it with clever story-driven puzzles or interesting combat scenarios that require you to jump from object to object to win. Regardless, the feeling of squeezing into secret areas as a tiny crab or soaring through the sky to get to your next objective? Pretty neat.
It's a shame that the main story doesn't offer much variety in gameplay, mostly amounting in going from Point A to Point B, collecting resources for a traditional coutume (an offering of mutual respect between two parties), or taking photos with your film camera of whatever Meavora is doing to destroy the island. A lot of the fun is hidden away in the side content, in the things that reward cosmetics, lore, and upgrades to your soul jump. Challenge rooms, races, combat encounters. You can miss it all if your focus is on the story, but if you roam like the game asks you to and take on whatever's waiting for you around the bend... you'll find lots to enjoy.
Tchia’s accessibility is another point worth mentioning. No singular aspect of this game is what I would call difficult. There’s no game over state, combat is fairly optional and straightforward, and the hardest thinking you’ll do is during one of the special totem-based challenge rooms or the aforementioned treasure sidequest. There are tons of “comfort” options that tackle not only controls but even some of the more intense moments in cutscenes, offering the chance to trigger an even more family-friendly version of the story that skips right past these. It’s a different kind of accessibility and we appreciate their approach.
Those seeking a challenge will be disappointed, but those seeking good vibes and a fun time will walk away satisfied.
I am a self-admitted open-world goblin and that kind of got in the way of what makes this game so great. I was looking for something more than cosmetics when accomplishing tasks and exploring through the world, for the numbers to go up on my gear and stats. But that’s not the kind of game Awaceb was making here. If anything, it’s the exact opposite.
Tchia got me to pull back, to stop and smell the roses, to be a kid again. It reminded me of the power of just wandering, of just picking a path and finding fun along the way. Of appreciating the land under my feet and the people and animals who walk it alongside me.
Video Games Are Good and Tchia is . . . GREAT. (8/10)
+ a calm and cozy open world that doesn't overwhelm, beautiful archipelago to explore, great use of music in a cute story born out of folklore and representation for New Caledonia, accessible in surprising ways
- lots of fun hidden away in optional content, no real difficulty to be found, wandering-first adventure hard to adjust to
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