Nairi: Tower of Shirin Review

Growing up, I never got to truly experience the heyday of adventure games. Being a Nintendo fanboy until midway through high school, I only played games on consoles like NES and Gamecube. The Monkey Island franchise and other puzzle-based graphic adventures were never on my radar, as my family didn’t have a gaming capable computer. The genre is making a resurgence recently, thanks to the indie field, and adventure games are finding their way onto consoles. It’s thanks to this trend that I find myself getting my second taste of graphic adventures with Nairi: Tower of Shirin.  

Back in September, I reviewed Detective Gallo, which you can find here. With Nairi: Tower of Shirin, I once again found myself having to branch events and use items I found to complete a story, but the differences between the games are quite apparent. Everything, from the tone of the tale to the environments and characters, crafts an experience that is overwhelmingly different.

One of the key features to talk about is the graphics, something I found to be a major highlight. A majority of the art is hand-drawn that gives the game a charming character. Everything fits nicely into the world, with locations, persons and environments coming across as cutesy. Adults and children alike are all similar in height, but their widths and facial cues excel at granting each character a powerful and distinct personality that is theirs alone.

The entire world you explore is accented with that bright charm throughout. Even the physically dark areas still retain the feeling of being light and airy. This is again thanks to the hand-crafted art, with rough edges mixing in with vibrant colors to create an aesthetic that is just pleasing to look at. 

Extremely juxtaposing the fluffy fun visuals is the tone of the fantasy. The story of Nairi: Tower of Shirin is extremely dark, with thematic elements that almost feel out of place in such a cheery world. Gang wars, kidnapping, corruption, and murder are all story beats that are hinted at or major pieces of the plot. It’s these dark components that are overlayed into a warm, inviting world, creating a contrast that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the game.

The plot stars a little human girl called Nairi, who starts off the game being told to flee by her family tutor, Sami. He quickly explains that Nairi’s parents have been taken away by the Royal Guard, and they are now looking for her. She escapes to the warehouse of the local merchant, Fredrick, who promises to smuggle her to safety. The plan goes haywire when a group of bandits attack the caravan carrying her, causing the cargo to be abandoned, Nairi included.

The bandits discover Nairi and take her back to their hideout, planning to ransom her off and collect a large paycheck. Correctly assuming she’s from the rich district of Shrin, they leave her locked in the basement of their desert fortress when they leave to matter business elsewhere. Unwilling to be resigned to her fate, Nairi starts to look around for a way to escape.

This is where the gameplay starts, and for those familiar with the adventure games, it’s fairly similar. Rather than move Nairi around maps, you see the entire game from her point of view, looking at static maps and exploring them or moving to the next. The touch controls were the easiest way for me, but using the analog sticks to move a cursor around was seamless and extremely valuable. The cursor that moved around with the analog sticks would change on the context, allowing to spot interactable points on the map.

Eventually, Nairi frees herself from the hideaway, only to come face to face with the bandits who have just returned. Coming impressed with her tenacity and abilities, the bandits befriend her, seeing her as a member of their gang rather than a prisoner to collect a random for.

At this point, I want to explain the world of Nairi: Tower of Shirin, as the characters of the world are a mixed bunch.  Nairi herself is a human child, but the bandits whom she meets are cats. A large majority of characters are anthropomorphic animals, such as ducks or bears. There is little explanation given as to the why there are mixed species, but in the end it doesn’t matter. In fact, I personally found it a brilliant design choice, allowing extra distinctions for the entire cast.

Moving back to the story, Nairi fears for her family and is escorted by the cat bandits back to Shirin. Looking to aid their new friend, they advise Nairi to meet up with their old colleague Rex, a turban-wearing rat. They tearfully say goodbye, as they are unable to enter Shirin due to their backstory which I won’t spoil here. Sneaking into the poor district, Nairi has to find Rex, and the plot truly begins from here.

The hideout of the cat bandits serves as a nice tutorial, as it allows for you to get a grasp on the main concept of the gameplay. Being isolated, the maps get overly familiar, and allow exploration without being inhibiting. Once you enter Shirin, the areas we explore are expanded upon through paths opening up to great effect. Items you can pick up are usually well-defined, and your inventory never gets overly cluttered.

A few interludes between exploring the town create a palate cleanser that is extremely powerful in its execution. While Shirin contains many puzzles and roadblocks to solve, these are sprinkled between story beats and consist of a few chains to complete. The interlude areas are similar in size to the cat bandits’ hideout and sit isolated, but they are complex and have evolving puzzle locations that will test your mental fortitude.

One negative aspect of Nairi: Tower of Shirin is that occasionally, a puzzle is a bit padded out, or requires you to find or interact with small or odd areas. These served to frustrate me to no end, though I found my anger subside due to the charming atmosphere the game painted. Still, some pieces getting a bit more defining artistic designs to call them out would have been helpful.

Nairi: Tower of Shirin has a perfectly executed pace, as the puzzles are challenging and follow logic for the most part. A journal, explained in through the story, gifts you with the answers to puzzles without being too blatant. The story was engaging and well-told, with great characters all moving through a dark and mystery filled plot.

I was honestly ready to gift the game a perfect score, until the ending. Coming abruptly, the end is a cliffhanger, with no strong conclusion to any pieces of the story. I actually played the game twice, spending my second playthrough trying to look for hidden secrets or things I missed, but to no avail. Ending suddenly without concluding literally any of the mysteries the story presented left a sour taste in my mouth, and painted the game as unfinished.

Despite this, I still believe Nairi: Tower of Shirin to be an exceptional game. Ending aside, every element of the game works in tandem to create a fun time. The soundtrack, too, was excellent with each song written brilliantly to breath extra life into the areas. My disappointment with the ending isn’t due to it being bad as a whole, but rather because it didn’t allow me to play more of this great game.

While I think Nairi: Tower of Shirin had a potential to be a perfectly-scored game, I have to dock enough points to keep it just below it. Subject yourself to the setback of an unsatisfactory ending but experience an otherwise extraordinary graphic adventure. I highly recommend you to join Nairi and Rex on their journey, and hope that I get to join them on a sequel very soon!