How far would you go for the ones you love?
This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to play so many games inspired by the icy cold North, and I’m confident that Röki, a point and click, narrative driven-adventure, is the top contender for my favorite of the bunch. Based on Scandinavian folklore, Röki is the debut title from Polygon Treehouse, a UK-based indie studio co-founded by two ex-Guerrilla Games art directors. Receiving a nomination for ‘Best Debut Game’ in The Game Awards 2020, it’s clear Röki made a tremendous impact on gamers with its scintillating story and hauntingly magical world.
Röki opens up on Tove, a young girl seemingly burdened with the task of raising her younger brother, Lars. Although its initially unclear how Tove’s mother died, her father has not been coping with the passing well, choosing to spend his days in a drunken slumber instead of caring for his children. Accepting her father’s lack of emotional accessibility, Tove does everything for Lars, including cooking, cleaning, and the entire nightly routine from storytime to bedtime.
One fateful night, a large monster suddenly appears, smashing their home to pieces and starting a fire that reduces the structure to smoldering rubble. Tove and Lars make their escape into the forest, where Lars is suddenly captured by the monster and whisked away into the unknown. As she frantically searches for her brother, the forest turns from mundane to magical right before Tove’s eyes, and she soon finds herself running all across the forest helping its folklore inhabitants with the hope of ultimately finding Lars. It is here she uncovers a far more sinister history — one which may be repeating itself right now. Can Tove save her brother and find their way back home?
Controls are pretty standard for a point and click, but due to the walking animation feeling more adventure-ish, I opted to use a controller. And while controllers aren’t usually my first pick for this genre, I found that this was a fairly smooth experience — rare for a point and click. The puzzles were fairly intuitive, and there were plenty of collectibles alongside the items that filled Tove’s journal as she penned her thoughts and feelings about all she experienced. The items and maps weren’t terribly spread out due to certain sections acting as a hub to shortcut to other areas, meaning more time was spent in story-mode and less time trekking around, which was a fantastic design choice that omitted a lot of filler walking.
The aesthetics of Röki have a dark whimsy to them; the art betrays a bitter cold that doesn’t just come from the snow, but from how foreign this new world is and somewhat alone Tove is throughout her journey. Sure, the beings of the forest help her in her quest, but she is a visitor in this mystical place, and there’s never a point in time where a welcome feels warm and comforting; the friends she meets along the way are conditional, and, for the most part, she has to prove her worth to continue existing. The sound design matches this sentiment, providing for a mildly lonely experience. My favorite part has to be the animation however, especially when focusing on the game’s villain. Something about the close-up facial focus and the movements reminded me of the beloved flash cartoons once watched on repeat back on Newgrounds. For those who don’t have those fond memories, it may not stick out as much; for me, it was really delightful, those scenes seriously captivating me.
I won’t spoil the story for anyone, but I must credit Röki for capturing childhood trauma in a way that gave me pause, especially in the beginning. Anyone who had an emotionally absent parent growing up will find the closure they’ve long wished for by the end of Röki, which, compared to the startling true-to-life experience (for me at least) in the beginning was something of a welcome reprieve. There have been a lot of emotionally touching stories told through gaming this year, but of all those I’ve played, I feel Röki has been the most important one simply for providing that closure, even if it’s through the eyes of a fictional character. Coupled with the fact that the world of Röki is filled to the brim with folktales from Scandinavian cultures that had me googling for hours on end, I can safely say this game will live rent free in my head for a very, very long time.
I left Röki on my backlog for far too long; don’t make the same mistake I did — play Röki sooner rather than later. A story of loss, love, trauma, and sacrifice told through the beautiful folklore of Scandinavian cultures and the lens of a heroic little girl, Röki will feel like an entirely new experience and is a welcome addition to the point and click genre. Don’t let the forest take another victim — grab Röki and save your family before it’s too late!
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Switch, PC (reviewed); Publisher: United Label, CI Games; Developer: Polygon Treehouse; Players: 1; Released: July 23, 2020; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Röki purchased by the reviewer.