Haven Switch Review
Developer: The Game Bakers | Publisher: The Game Bakers | Genre: RPG, Adventure | Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, PC | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Haven is many things. It is an open-world exploration game, a survival simulator, and a turn-based RPG. But most importantly, it is a love story. In a genre known for its massive ensemble casts, Haven is an intimate roleplaying adventure that focuses almost exclusively on the relationship of two star-crossed lovers. The result is a calming and wholesome experience that may have a handful of rough edges, but its heartwarming story, excellent writing, and striking art direction still make for a heavenly escape.
A Familiar Story
Haven’s plot sticks to one of the romance genre’s great narrative archetypes: young love defying insurmountable odds to be together. Balking at their society’s forced arranged marriages, young couple Yu and Kay flee their homeworld to an abandoned planet called Source, where they hope to live their lives together and escape their society’s forced arranged marriages. However, when their ship is suddenly destroyed in a natural disaster, the lovers set out on a scavenger hunt throughout Source to salvage replacement parts for their vessel and slowly discover the true nature of the planet.
A few major events serve to keep the story moving along at a decent pace, but Haven’s overarching narrative serves only as a frame for its more poignant, intimate moments along the way. Haven is all about romance, showing how Yu and Kay progressively grow even closer together over the course of the story. Even the simplest activities, like cooking a meal or camping at a waypoint, become opportunities to show the lovers bonding even closer.
The moment-to-moment dialogue is one of Haven’s greatest strengths. Not only do the game’s many visual-novel-style conversations gradually dole out information about its lore and worldbuilding, but they also provide ample room for character development, letting players see Yu and Kay’s personalities, backstories, and relationship dynamics firsthand. From frequent flirtiness to the occasional argument, the game’s masterful writing captures all the highs and lows implicit with any relationship, making Yu and Kay relentlessly endearing. The full voice acting only serves to bring every conversation to life, with excellent vocal performances that make even the occasional corny line spring to life.
There is no denying, however, that Haven can sometimes lay it on a bit thick. Nearly every other conversation ends in a hug, kiss, or strongly-implied sex scene – which is sure to please those who don’t mind a touch of the sentimental but might not be a great fit for those of a less romantic disposition. In general, though, it is hard not to root for a couple who so clearly love each other, and Yu and Kay’s relationship becomes the main incentive to see the story through to its completion.
Making a Great Escape
The emphasis on romance extends through to Haven’s gameplay. Getting stranded on a foreign planet might sound like a dire situation, but Haven keeps things laidback with a delightfully low-stakes, cozy gameplay loop. The core loop is simple: Yu and Kay venture out of their ship to scavenge the planet for resources and parts to repair their vessel. However, even the simple act of getting from one place to another feels uniquely freeing. You don’t have to travel on foot: rather, Haven lets you glide over the planet, and by following streams of light called Flow, you can even soar high into the air.
The controls might take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of them, it’s a simple delight to briskly glide from Point A to B across Source’s ethereal environments. Each region is cleverly designed to hide plenty of secrets, and exploring every corner of the world is always a treat – especially with such free-flowing movement controls. That being said, getting to specific destinations can sometimes prove problematic. The planet of Source looks gorgeous, but since most areas share the same general color palette of blues and pinks, it’s easy to get lost as areas blend together. A simplistic and undetailed map system doesn’t help, either.
While gameplay is typically laidback and focused primarily on gathering resources or exploring new areas, you’ll occasionally encounter a handful of enemies in the overworld in bouts of turn-based combat. Players control both Yu and Kay simultaneously during battle, and each of their commands is mapped to one half of the controller. By holding down either the face buttons or the d-pad, you can select from a small arsenal of abilities like blocking or blasting enemies. You can synchronize your attacks with your partner for greater effect, meaning that timing and coordination play into combat.
Aside from a handful of items and status boosts throughout the game, however, the combat system remains largely limited throughout the course of the game. Without many new abilities or mechanics to change up your strategies, Haven’s battle system eventually stagnates and doesn’t provide much variety. It is a disappointing state of affairs for an RPG, a genre that typically thrives through dynamic combat. Since the game focuses more on its narrative and exploration, though, it’s not a major issue for the battles to leave something to be desired.
However, Haven introduces one major wrinkle to its gameplay loop that affects everything from combat to exploration: complete support for seamless drop-in, drop-out multiplayer. Co-op dramatically changes the gameplay dynamics. As one player takes control of one of the lovers, everything suddenly requires a high level of cooperation. During combat, you’ll need to coordinate your strategy with your other player and remain in sync to plan your attacks. During exploration, you’ll also need to delegate player responsibilities, as one character can lead movement while the other trails behind and picks up resources along the way. The co-op mirrors the game’s emphasis on relationships altogether, creating a unique combination that’s really unlike most other RPGs.
Haven’s gameplay is beautifully cohesive, as every element ties back to the core theme of loving relationships and perseverance. Whether you’re playing alone or with a significant other, Haven’s campaign superbly delivers through its soothing exploration and compelling world. Some of its mechanics might falter, but it nails an intoxicating sense of serenity, and that deserves to be celebrated.
A Treat for the Eyes and Ears
Haven’s audiovisual presentation provides the perfect bow to wrap up its gameplay. Much like the Game Bakers’ previous release, Furi, Haven adopts a soft cel-shaded graphical style punctuated with bright colors and sharp character design. Character portraits are also filled with personality, clearly drawn with loving attention to detail that showcases each character’s emotional state at the time. Even if the environments can sometimes blend together due to their similar color schemes, there’s no denying that Source’s sweeping fields of verdant grass and purple mountains are a brilliant sight to behold. French EDM composer Danger’s soundtrack perfectly complements this visual presentation, featuring an intoxicating mix of lush synths, bright guitars, and memorable percussive beats.
Best of all, it all holds up admirably on Switch. Understandably, its graphics aren’t on the same level as its PlayStation and Xbox counterparts, but even the slightly lower resolution still lets Haven’s art direction shine on Switch. The resolution, texture quality, and draw distance can all sink to low levels in handheld mode, but the core experience remains intact with a mostly solid framerate and presentation. Haven’s narrative-driven gameplay and pick-up-and-play resource gathering are ideal for portable play, so the handful of technical sacrifices on Switch are worthwhile.
It’s an insufferable cliché to claim that yet another game is “perfect for these times,” but in an age of constant turmoil, retreating to the idealist romantic fantasies of Haven is truly special. Clearly developed with just as much love as Yu and Kay have for each other, Haven’s mix of compelling writing, gameplay, and presentation make for a delightfully cozy and romantically fulfilling time. Even if some of the technical aspects like battle mechanics or Switch performance don’t entirely come together, it’s still the ideal getaway during turbulent times.