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Chants of Sennaar’s Mind-Bending Language Puzzles Are Now On Xbox Game Pass

Now you’re speaking my language.

screenshot from Chants of Sennaar
Focus Entertainment
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How do you play a game when you can’t understand a single word of it? In 2023’s Chants of Sennaar, translation becomes a game, as you make your way through its environment by deciphering the languages spoken by locals one word at a time.

At the start of Chants of Sennaar, every word written on signs in the environment and spoken by NPCs will be a mystery, rendered only in strange glyphs with no recognizable meaning. The game’s challenge lies in figuring out the meaning behind each word and using that knowledge to solve a series of puzzles and climb higher on the tower that serves as its setting.

Figuring out how to understand the locals is just the first step to solving Chants of Sennaar’s puzzles.

Focus Entertainment

At first, this is simple. An NPC waves to you and says something, and you can assume their words are a greeting. A lever that opens a door has a sign next to it, and you can work out that the words on it mean “open.” But from there, puzzles get more complex and words get more abstract, forcing you to both think harder about solutions and dig deeper into language. Instead of commands and simple verbs, you’ll learn to translate abstract concepts, grammatical markers, and ideas that come into play in more complicated ways than just telling you how to open a door.

Each new word you encounter in Chants of Sennaar is automatically added to a notebook, whether you know its meaning or not. But while you can fumble your way through some puzzles by guessing and process of elimination, you need to really master the language to make meaningful progress. After every puzzle section that demands mastery of a set of words, you need to match those words to their definitions in your notebook to proceed. It’s here that comparisons to Return of the Obra Dinn come up, since locking in each word is a combination of using firm knowledge and making educated guesses. If you’ve started to get your head around a word but haven’t quite figured it out yet, locking them into your journal gives you a chance to do some guesswork as long as you’re certain of the rest of the words in the set.

Just learning a new word doesn’t guarantee that you can reliably use it for the rest of the game. Rather than a single language to decode, there are three distinct languages in Chants of Sennaar, each belonging to a different society that shares the tower they all call home. Learning one word can help you make a connection to the same word in a different language, but the real joy is in discovering the gap between one person’s understanding of a word and another’s. Different groups of people have different words for the same concept, of course, but they may also have various interpretations of how the word is used. Some may use the same word for both a common object and the culture of their neighbors, and here is where the real genius of Chants of Sennaar lies.

Your handy notebook helps you track your progress toward mastering Chants of Sennaar’s languages.

Focus Entertainment

Language isn’t just a key to the game’s puzzles — it’s an inextricable part of each of the cultures in its story. Yes, you use words to unlock doors and keep moving through the game, but they have meaning beyond just their utility to you. As you learn the secrets of the languages spoken in the game, you’re also learning how the tower’s inhabitants see the world, themselves, and each other. Myths, histories, and prejudices are all buried within language, and the more you learn about the words the tower’s residents speak, the more you learn about their cultures, in turn.

While the concepts it plays with are heady, Chants of Sennaar is a simple visual treat to look at. Its tower is rendered in large, flat shapes with fields of unbroken color, with architecture that varies greatly from region to region. From the sun-soaked tower exterior at the start of the game to glistening white plazas above and dark chambers at the structure’s heart, each setting changes the game’s mood as much as the language spoken there does.

This month has already had its share of well-received puzzles games, with both Animal Well and Lorelei and the Laser Eyes launching within the span of a week. If they leave you craving even more brain teasers — or you want to catch up on a gem from last year that’s included with Xbox Game PassChants of Sennaar is well worth adding to your puzzle game rotation.

Chants of Sennaar is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. It’s included with Xbox Game Pass starting May 16.

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