We first came across Chiaro and the Elixir of Life in May when developer Martov launched a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign for the virtual reality (VR) experience. While some developers use the platform to get a project off the ground Martov has been working on the videogame for over two years, constructing a fantasy, steampunk style world that’s all about making friends and saving the day. The studio gave us a look at some of the first few chapters, and initial impressions are positive.
Chiaro and the Elixir of Life is a story driven experience which Martov has said is inspired by the aesthetics of Studio Ghibli and the gameplay of Zelda. The narrative revolves around Chiaro, a young engineer who lost his parents in a great war involving machines that are brought to life with an ancient fuel called Elixir. All is right with the world and Chiaro has returned to his home of Neverain in a bid to find the lost Fountain of Elixir.
To do this Chiaro needs some help, so he’s created a small robot friend called Boka to help him on his travels, and that’s where the videogame begins. After the cinematic story intro – which happens to be on a wide screen at the moment – Chiaro and the Elixir of Life begins in a tower instructing you to pick up an object located on a plinth in front. There’s no specific tutorial to tell you what does what but the controls are simple enough. The menu system did show the button layout for HTC Vive, however we used Oculus Rift for the demo so that wasn’t much help.
The adventure continues to Chiaro’s home, a quaint cottage style abode with all the features you’d expect of a steampunk adventure, robot parts littered around, pipes and levers connected to various contraptions and more. The first job is to build your buddy Boka, snapping together its various parts onto an elevated body. It’s here that Chiaro and the Elixir of Life, like many a VR puzzle adventure, can frustrate to begin with due to its teleport system. There’s always a difficulty in finely moving around an area when there’s only teleportation on offer which is certainly noticeable when playing Chiaro and the Elixir of Life as a seated experience. In roomscale those problems are reduced, so hopefully Martov do plan on adding a direct locomotion system for those who prefer that gameplay style.
These first few chapters do feel very much like short but sweet training levels, with a couple of basic puzzles to solve and secret golden coins to find, each one lasting around 15 – 20 minutes. Chiaro and the Elixir of Life mainly consists of exploring at your own leisure the relatively small locations then completing story objectives by finding the relevant items. With Oculus Touch the grab function was a little hit and miss at points, requiring a couple of attempts to pick things up which can be annoying when it happens.
A big side to the gameplay will obviously be the interaction between you and your robotic mate Boka. While Boka’s personality is one of the jovial sidekick, who will jump about, fall over and generally cause a little mayhem, there will be those bonding moments. After stepping out into the world of Neverain Boka will want to play a game of catch, that traditional of all sports growing up. Hopefully Martov do explore this side of the gameplay further as they have confirmed several other characters will come into play.
Chiaro and the Elixir of Life already looks the part of an epic adventure, with gorgeous scenery and detailed characters. It certainly radiates years of work but there is some fine tuning still to be made, on the movement side especially. Yet that doesn’t diminish our interest in Chiaro and the Elixir of Life as another story-driven experience that will likely be welcomed by VR players.