“Walking is my main method of relaxation. I don’t go over my lines or try to solve the world’s problems, I just enjoy the scenery and the wildlife.”
“The following is a contributor post by the Wandering Mage.”
Sometimes, people can get worn out by all the violence in games. The vast majority of them involve beating someone up in some form: the big bad and their minions, the opposing army, the dangerous and highly aggressive creatures, or regular people who, for one reason or another, are in your way. If there’s no combat, then it’s likely to be a puzzle game, a point-and-click, or a casual game with not much depth. Usually, if you want something with a large open world to explore and save, filled with interesting people to meet, items to find, and quests to accomplish, but without the stress of having to keep an eye on your back at all times, you’re out of luck.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, the first and currently only game by developer Prideful Sloth, fulfills that criteria, and it fulfills it beautifully. You are quickly dropped into the game with that “step out of a dark enclosed area to look over the world ahead of you” trope that you see in games like Breath of the Wild and Fallout 3. Like it’s saying, “Here it is. It’s all yours.” And in Yonder, it is. Taking place on an enormous island with eight distinct ecosystems, you can immediately run off to wherever you desire. The world is well and truly open, and there’s so much to find in it, with the exception of a single monster, enemy, or person who would wish you harm. This is a world at peace, and you can feel peaceful in it.
One of the best things about Yonder along with its peaceful nature is how generous and thoughtful it is. It’s a game that cares about your time both in the game and out of it, and tries its best not to waste it. In the similar Stardew Valley, you start off with a backpack that barely holds anything, forcing heavy inventory management early in, and it’s a good while before you get a fast travel system. Your backpack in Yonder has ninety spaces for items, and almost everything stacks up to fifty deep. It’s a long time before you have to worry about running out of space, although the items are so plentiful that eventually, you will. Kindly, you quickly get a universal storage space with a lot more room to shove things in you’re not using right away. Three different methods of fast travel can get you to wherever you need to go in the world and are available as soon as you find them. There’s a day/night cycle, a seasonal cycle, and weather effects, but their effects on the game are minor, such as dictating when certain fish appear, and time passes so quickly, it’s not a long wait if you miss something. You also don’t have to worry about health, food, sleep, or stamina. Once you start going, you keep going, with only your own personal limits to hinder you (don’t forget to get up and stretch every now and then).
If you want a game you can play casually with no worries about getting into an encounter you can’t handle, about your crops dying from lack of water or animals starving while you go explore, about quests timing out, about one misstep sending you plummeting to your death and emptying your pockets, or if you or someone you know is new to gaming and wants something to dip toes into and test the waters, Yonder just might be the game for you.
Welcome to the island of Gemea. It’s a peaceful land with peaceful people, and as is with all peaceful places, it has a dark problem lurking in the shadows. You see, some time ago, there was this kingdom that ruled the island with rulers fair and kind, using the great Cloud Catcher machine to purify the land of this impassable dark fog called Murk. But something happened, and the Cloud Catcher broke. The castle was plunged into impassable murk, its citizens and the king and queen lost. Over years, the murk spread, appearing as it would over roads, within towns, anywhere, and it seemed no one could possibly set things right.
And that, of course, is where you, the player, come in. You, with almost no knowledge of your origin aside from a letter telling you to follow your compass home, have chartered a ship to Gemea, where you believe you will finally find the answer to the age-old question: Who Am I? As video game ships are wont to do, though, yours is caught in a sudden violent storm just as you begin to see your destination. After a strange dream where an enormous being calls you “Sprite-Seer”, you wash up alone in a cave on the shore, the wreckage of the ship just outside. Before long, you encounter a strange little moth-like creature called a sprite, and it’s surprised you can see it. Apparently, most humans can’t. Well, that explains the dream. The sprite explains that they can clear the Murk, but it’s not something they can do alone. You’ll need to find their lost siblings if you want to clear as much as possible.
Eventually, your exploration takes you to the broken Cloud Catcher. Of course, you have to be the one to fix it. In your own time. There’s no rush. No invisible timer or creeping threat. The Murk will wait for you. If you choose to speed through the story, you can probably finish it in four or five hours. It’s not long, and it’s not deep. It doesn’t break any molds or push any limits, but it’s pleasant in its simplicity.
If you haven’t figured out from the pictures yet, this is a good-looking game. It’s often reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, with its bright colors and cartoony style. It benefits from its stand-out colors that make all the various collectibles and people pop. This isn’t a game where there’s green hidden in green or brown in brown. You won’t ever go, “How was I supposed to see that?” You also won’t go, “Oh, I thought this X I picked up was a Y.” Everything is unique and stands out as what it is, and once you know what to look for, you won’t have any problem finding more.
Similarly, you’re never going to be lost, and not purely because there’s an easy-to-access map. Every area looks different, and you can generally tell when you cross from one into the other. Different trees and plants grow in each section, and different animals wander their chosen terrains freely. You will never be lost in Gemea, even if you plant too many of the wrong trees in the wrong areas.
As far as the screen goes, the overlay is unobtrusive. In one corner, you have the usable item you have equipped and can cycle through with a single button press. In another corner, the slightly translucent local map, the time, and the season. The third corner has your selected quest and what you need. Nothing blocks your view or gets in your way. You know everything you need in the smallest possible space.
The music and sounds in Yonder aren’t anything special. It’s mostly atmospheric: there on occasion, not obtrusive or earwormy. Adding too, not distracting from the game. The music changes with the time of day, swelling as the sun rises and fades away as it sets for a quiet night of exploration. You could fall asleep to the sounds of rain. If you’re typically a gamer who keeps their sound low or off, you’ll want to turn it up just a little or drop some headphones on: there are a bunch of collectible cats around the world that meow for your attention when you’re nearby. It’s not a requirement, they’re usually easy to see, but it does help to find them.
I’m not even sure where to start here because there is just so. Much. To do. Yonder is one of those games that is what you make of it. Want to be an explorer and collect everything there is to find? You can cover almost every inch of the map from minute one, and the collectibles range from easy to “how was I supposed to find that without a hint” complicated. Itching to help people with quests? There’s plenty already programmed in to find around the world, and once you’ve finished those, there are bulletin boards in every town that you can get an infinite number of collection quests of varying difficulty from. Want to be a farmer? You get seven farms spread across the world you can fill with both crops and animals. Like crafting from items you find lying around in the wild? There are six guilds you can join that each teach you different crafting recipes as long as you can prove yourself with some basic tasks: stoneworking, woodworking, cooking, machinery, clothing, and dyes. Not into crafting or short on a material? That’s fine. You can trade for pretty much everything you could ever need. You can set animal traps to collect furs, you can fish (and as a fan of fishing minigames, this one is a good mix of “easy to pick up, only a little difficult to master”), you can spend all day setting off fireworks if that’s what you want to do. Befriend animals to bring on your adventure or raise on the nearest farm. Change your clothes, change your hairstyle, change your hair color. The world is yours to play in as you choose. Just don’t forget to replant the trees you cut down. You’re going to need the wood.
Because of its calm nature, Yonder is an excellent game for people who want to get into gaming but have reservations about violence or difficulty. There’s very little tutorial because very little tutorial is needed, and the ease of play keeps things flowing smoothly. There are no complicated inputs requiring an experienced and dextrous hand and no quicktime events. All dialogue is done through text, and while there are sound cues, they’re not necessary to find the cuddley cats you’re looking for. Simply put, this is a game made for anyone of any age to be able to play and have fun playing.
This is a question I think is going to vary by player, because there’s so much to get out of this game that replayability is going to vary by what you want to accomplish. There’s no new game plus, so there’s nothing to encourage a second playthrough. If you like to build different farms with different layouts and maximize production, you don’t even need to start a new game. The world is so big that playing a fresh save might take you to places you didn’t see before. If you’re an achievement hunter, it’s more than easy to complete the game in one playthrough. However, with as peaceful as this game is, I think it’s one that few players would mind coming back to time and time again just for a brief trek through Gemea and a few hours of relaxation.
I can think of lots of games that are like Yonder, old and new. Farming sims, crafting- and fetch quest-based games are old-hat in the gaming world. From Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, and Rune Factory to Stardew Valley and My Time At Portia, nothing Yonder does is truly new or even unique to a single game. But it is unique for its no-stress atmosphere. Even Animal Crossing has you paying off debts and getting yelled at if you stay away for a while. Yonder doesn’t pretend that you have any obligations to it or to anyone in the game. It’s there for you when you want to play it, and when you come back, everything will be just as you left it, waiting for you to pick up where you left off, whether it was a day ago or a year ago.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I loved this game. I was a little unsure going in based on reviews that complained about it being entirely fetch quests, but the cute cartoony style and idea that there was no combat drew me in to give it a try. The quests are plentiful and while they are mostly “get this and bring it here,” they rarely have you collecting the same things over and over. The ones that do, often building bridges, are either easy-to-acquire items or sell and restock in plenty at the various shops.
It’s rare to find a game that encourages you to play it your way and respects your time as much as Yonder does. It’s a highly pleasant experience from start to finish that I cannot recommend enough for anyone who enjoys a good casual game.
Aggregated score: 7.6
The Wandering Mage, aka Max, spends most of her days buried in her fiction writing, only coming up for air to dive into the escapism of video games, cartoons, or movies. She can usually be found on Twitter as @MaxNChachi or streaming on Twitch with her husband, also as MaxNChachi.
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Categories: Game Review