Garden Story Review: Or, Cherry On My Wayward Son
RPG tropes exist for a reason; saving damsels in distress and preventing the total destruction of the world are tried and true staples of the genre. Garden Story, from Picogram (and published by Rose City Games from my hometown!), includes pretty much all the tropes you’d expect, and yet it manages to provide a truly special experience, standing out from so many other games in the genre. It truly is the tale of non-binary fruit you don’t know you need until you’re playing it.
A Quest for Peas
Garden Story takes place in a series of connected communities known as The Grove. Once a thriving utopia, the communities have become fractured and separated, and the insidious Rot has crept in, slowly but surely taking over a magical land of fruit, fungi, and frogs. It’s up to Concord, a young, plucky, indomitable grape, to become the newest Guardian of The Grove and do what he can to rebuild his broken community. The role of Guardian is an important, even integral, one to The Grove. It’s their job to keep the Rot at bay and find ways to help and inspire their fellow townsfruit/fungi/frogs.
Making Concord’s job harder is the fact that there are simply too few Guardians left to affect much change. Years before Concord ripened on the vine (quite literally!), there was a golden age of Guardians helping to keep the communities connected and holding the Rot at bay. Sadly, they went off on a grand adventure, never to be heard from again. Since then, the Rot has slowly been taking over, becoming more and more difficult to fight back. Even more distressingly, the Rot is both literal and figurative; the Rot is physically breaking down each town, but it’s also enervating the citizens, instilling apathy in many of them.
Although the story sounds bleak (and, okay, it is), it’s also strangely powerful and moving. You’ll get to see attitudes shift as Concord clears out more of the Rot and begins to restore each town to its former glory. Reopening the trade routes between them will help encourage growth and cooperation as well, helping to re-energize the citizenry.
Every Day I’m Brusselin’
There is quite a bit to do in Garden Story. Gameplay starts off fairly simple-ish, and grows steadily more complex as you progress through the game. At first, you’ll be given a simple garden pick to defend yourself against the Rot. This simple tool will also allow you to break certain items, such as stumps and certain plants, to gather resources. Resource gathering plays an important role in the game – resources can be used for daily quests (more on that in a moment), upgrading items and tools, used to restore libraries (more on that in a moment as well), or sold for some extra cash. As you progress, you’ll gain new tools/weapons that will allow you to harvest a wide array of items, and tackle enemies in new, interesting ways.
At the start of each day, you can check the billboard by your house to find up to three tasks that need to be completed to help improve the town. Each task will be for a different aspect of that town- for instance, certain tasks will increase the shop levels, so you can upgrade your equipment even further. Tasks range from finding certain materials and placing them in resource bins scattered about town to defeating a certain amount of Rot monsters that have spawned. As you progress and link more of the communities together, you’ll be able to temporarily relocate your home to a new town, which you’ll need to do in order to complete tasks for that specific town.
Restoring libraries is also important for restoring The Grove to its former glory. You can donate resources to the library, and in return, you’ll steadily unlock items that you can build to place around the town, such as lamps, additional resource boxes, and more. That’s right, there’s some town-building elements to Garden Story as well. You can repair broken bridges, lifts, and place items around each town. Talking to the residents of each area will give you an idea of what they’d like to see built and placed around. Building these items is another reason to frequently gather resources, as they’ll be used to create and/or repair items.
Time to Kick Some Asparagass
Combat in a game like Garden Story can often feel like a tacked-on afterthought. Thankfully, combat in this game is fairly intuitive and well-balanced. While there really isn’t much in the way of tutorials for fighting enemies, it shouldn’t take very long to figure it out. While you start with just a simple sword-like weapon, you’ll eventually unlock some enjoyable atypical weapons, such as a parasol, a sickle, and a fishing rod. Each weapon has its own parameters (damage, speed, and range) and attack style. The parasol allows you to attack swiftly, but only in a very narrow range. The hammer, conversely, is slow, but can be charged up to attack a much wider range. Some enemies require you to be resourceful, such as shelled enemies that must have their shell plucked off with the fishing rod before you can actually damage them.
You’ll eventually be able to equip a shield, which can be used to block projectiles shot by certain enemies, which can really come in handy. You’ll need to keep an eye on your health and stamina while you’re fighting, though, because it’s really easy to get caught up in the moment and ignore it. Concord will start with a set amount of stamina, which dictates how many times he can use his weapon, how far he can run, and if he can roll to dodge an attack or not. If you run out of stamina, you’ll have to wait several seconds for it to recharge before you can attack or run again. Thankfully, as you progress, you’ll unlock permanent upgrades that will increase your max HP and stamina. You’ll also gain access to “memories” that can be equipped for additional stat bonuses.
While most of the combat takes place outside, there are some dungeons scattered around The Grove. These dungeons involve some light puzzle-solving elements and tend to have more enemies inside of them than you’ll find just wandering around each town (especially at night, when the Rot becomes more active). At the end of each dungeon, there will be a boss, and while the difficulty spike is steep for these fights, the challenge they provide makes for a nice break from the overall peaceful feeling of most of the game.
Awesome Art and Sick Beets
I can’t talk about Garden Story without gushing about its art style, of course. Its adorable, pixelated, seemingly-simple exterior belies its surprisingly complex interior. The pixel art is undeniably charming and fits the theme of the game entirely too well. Each citizen of The Grove is unique, and each town has its own aesthetic/season. Spring Hamlet is lush and green, while the Summer Bar is beachy and bright. The music is utterly gorgeous. I found myself humming along more times than I can count, and it really can pluck at your heartstrings at times.
Honestly, I’m really struggling to find any faults with this game. If I had to be really nitpicky, I suppose that it could use a bit more in terms of tutorials, but honestly, I had no trouble figuring out the game’s mechanics without a lot of hand-holding. And even if you find the boss fights to be too difficult, you have the option of making it so that Concord can’t perish in battle (and it’s a simple option in the menu at that). Finding the days to be too short to get as much done as you’d like? You can slow down the clock as well. The controls are great and feel incredibly natural. There’s just… very, very little to grouse over in this game. Even the glitches (which I didn’t seem to experience) have been fixed with a massive update that was just released.
Don’t Be Melon-choly
Some games show that you don’t have to be flashy and dramatic to be epic, and I think Garden Story is a shining example of that. At its core, Garden Story is a game about community and the bonds we forge within our communities. It’s about not underestimating the value of a friendly gesture to someone in need, or just how much we all rely on one another. With a moving, heartfelt story, beautiful pixel art and music, and addictive gameplay, Garden Story is a must-have for your Switch collection.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC, Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Rose City Games; Developer: Picogram; Players: 1; Released: August 11th, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Garden Story provided by the publisher.