To say Chia has been one of my most anticipated releases for this year would be an understatement.
Ever since it was first revealed by developer Awaceb and shown off through preview events, I’ve been dying to see how Chia would turn out. Its expansive tropical setting, and the flurry of ways it allows the player to interact with the world in order to get from one location to another, left me champing at the bit to get my hands on the final product so I could test the limits of what I could do and see exactly how immersive its take on New Caledonia would be.
Now, after having spent several dozen hours with the title, I can safely say Chia was worth the wait and stands as one of the better open-world games in recent memory. Or at least, it does so long as you can look past a few rough spots.
For those who haven’t been keeping up with the game for months on end, the game’s premise is pretty straightforward: After spending most of her childhood on a secluded island, the titular protagonist Tchia sees her world turned upside down when her father is kidnapped by a malevolent warlord. She fails to keep him from being taken away but manages to awaken a mysterious power that helps her to escape.
In time, she learns that this power of hers was the reason for her father’s kidnapping and that the evil god Maevora is intent on taking it from her by any means necessary. With no other options, she sets out to master this special ability, gather allies and find a way to rescue her father, all while trying to figure out why she was gifted with this ability in the first place.
It’s an easy enough plot to grasp, and the use of New Caledonian myths as set dressing gives it enough personality to stand out among other open-world titles. In execution though, it does leave something to be desired, and this is mainly due to the odd pacing and tone found throughout. The plot will frequently jump from slower or sillier moments straight into heavy or violent set pieces, resulting in incredibly jarring deliveries of big reveals that leave them feeling less impactful than they otherwise could have been.
The game also speeds through the development and introduction of certain side characters in a way that leaves them feeling underdeveloped. Tchia will meet a member of the cast briefly and establish a friendship with them, and then a major event will occur later on that the developers very clearly wanted to hit harder than it actually does. It can come off like the player missed something even if they went through every bit of available content, and leaves the story feeling like it had content missing for one reason or another.
These are far from deal-breaking flaws though, and the rest of Chia largely makes up for them. For proof, one needs to look no further than the gameplay. As one might expect, most of one’s time with the title will be spent exploring and traversing the sizable open world. This can be done in the usual array of ways seen in other open world titles, with Tchia able to run, jump, swim, and glide from one point to another with only her stamina slowing her down. There’s also the expected game physics which makes the world feel more interactive, allowing one to disrupt and dismantle certain parts of the world for function or fun.
Where the title stands apart is in Tchia’s special powers and how they play into the game itself. The most prominent of these powers is her ability to possess a wide variety of objects and animals, allowing her to move around and utilize special skills they’re privy to. Possessing a bird, for example, will allow her to fly high in the sky and bypass obstacles that they’d otherwise need to get past on foot. Taking control of a lantern, on the other hand, will allow Tchia to roll under small gaps in walls and hurl herself at enemies to set them ablaze.
Tchia can also alter the world around her through special songs played on her ukulele. These songs can do everything from altering the time of day to summoning animals and objects into the world, allowing the player to actively alter what they have available to them for specific tasks.
They’re both novel mechanics which present a huge array of options for overcoming problems and getting from one point to another. Likewise, they make the game’s slew of side content that much more fun to complete, with there being a wide array of ways to complete any given challenge or objective. I had a blast figuring out whether or not I could finish a side mission in the way the game wanted me to or if another method would work, and almost always found that there was more than one way to reach an objective successfully.
All of this is to say nothing of the visual and sound design of Chia, which ended up being some of its biggest draws. On the art and graphics front, the game is a visual marvel and makes it hard to believe it’s technically an Indie title. The lush forests and greenery, sparkling water, and dazzling glow of the sunlight off of surfaces are eye-catching in a way even some AAA titles can’t hold a candle to. I regularly found myself stopping to stare at a sunset on the water, dumbstruck by how gorgeous it looked.
The music and sound effects are just as masterfully handled. Though there may never be pounding and intense tracks fit for a thrilling battle or final boss confrontation, the musical tracks always complimented the gameplay perfectly and enhanced the experience. The sound effects, meanwhile, helped bring the world to life with the squawking of birds overhead or the creaking of rusted metal from a nearby boat in the sea.
Though it has its flaws, Chia is one of the best open world games I’ve played in a long time. The variety of things to do in its gorgeous world will keep most any player occupied for the duration of their playthrough, and will almost certainly leave them glad they gave the title a chance.
TechRaptor reviewed Chia using a PlayStation 5 review copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC and PlayStation 4.