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Tunic is a Zelda-style adventure that rekindled my love of strategy guides

As a kid, I was obsessed with Nintendo’s official player’s guides. I loved poring over the maps, hints, tips, and information in them so that I could use what I learned the next time I sat down in front of the TV. I have a particular fondness for the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask guides — without them, I would have never been able to find all of the pieces of heart or masks hidden in the games.

Thanks to the internet, I don’t really need player’s guides anymore, as there’s now a helpful article or video for almost every conceivable puzzle or challenge. (I’m embarrassed by how many Elden Ring tutorials I’ve googled.) And in exploring the world of Tunic, a new game from a small team and Chicory: A Colorful Tale publisher Finji, you’re going to want a little help. But you may not have to turn to the internet to get it: there’s a handy instruction manual that’s almost like a player’s guide built right into the game.

Tunic is like playing an old-school Zelda and a game from Elden Ring developer FromSoftware mashed together. The Zelda parts: you start the game washed up on a beach, and your character is in a green tunic, though instead of a blond-haired kid, you’re a cute fox. The world is littered with treasure chests. After some exploring, you’ll find a sword, shield, and other tools like bombs. The FromSoftware parts: enemies are tough, requiring you to skillfully dodge their attacks and sneak in your own when you can. Along your travels, you’ll rest at statues with torches to refill your health potions, though enemies you’ve defeated will be revived when you do.

There are many dangers in the world of Tunic.
Image: Finji

This might all sound like familiar territory. But what makes Tunic different from just about any game I’ve played before is that much of it features a mysterious, made-up language, which means you can’t always understand text that seems to be telling you what to do. Wooden signs can be written largely in the game’s language, making it difficult to know if you’re going in the right direction. When you find an item, the usual text box identifying it may include a series of undecipherable characters. Some items are fairly obvious — a stick is a weapon, while dynamite explodes — but you won’t know for sure until you try them out. It can all be a bit disorienting.

I guess there’s a town that way.
Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

The in-game manual can help fill in many of the gaps, and pulling it up requires just a button press. But much of it is also in Tunic’s made-up language, forcing you to really scrutinize what’s on the page to try and figure it out.

Thankfully, the manual is a joy to flip through, featuring full-page maps, beautiful illustrations of items and characters, and charming artwork of the game’s fox character, and they all make poring over the pages a lot of fun. There’s also some English (at least for me, as someone playing in the United States), but the amount varies — some info boxes may have a whole sentence of English, while others might include just a single word.

A page from the manual.
Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

You don’t have access to the entire manual all at once; you’ll pick up pages as you continue to explore the world. They aren’t in order, but what you find often has a clue about something relevant to where you are, like a new map, or a page explaining how a mechanic works. I found I actually liked the slow accumulation of knowledge, as it helped me not feel too overwhelmed by things I hadn’t seen or gotten to yet.

Isn’t the fox adorable? I love the illustrations.
Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

I do have some complaints. I learned purely on accident how to upgrade certain stats when I happened to look at something in the inventory menu at the right time. Perhaps the upgrade process is spelled out in a page I haven’t found yet, but if it is, I feel like it should be discoverable more easily. And it took me a long time to notice that maps showed a very tiny icon of my character’s location — if that icon was even a little bit bigger, I wouldn’t have been quite as lost in the early part of the game.

But as I played through Tunic, I found myself using its instruction manual just like I used those Zelda player’s guides back when I was a kid. I constantly flipped between maps, studied mechanics and enemies, and even paused just to admire the excellent artwork. And every time I saw glowing white pages in Tunic’s world, I rushed over to grab them, eager to see what surprises might be written inside.

Tunic launches March 16th on Xbox One, Xbox Series X / S, PC, and Mac.