Considered one of the greatest video games of all time, Secret of Mana is the second entry in the Seiken Densetsu franchise but the first to really solidify the series’ core identity. Final Fantasy Adventure is the franchise’s progenitor, but Secret of Mana is the game that sets the foundation. As a result, it’s home to many qualities typical of a freshman endeavor. The combat isn’t all that refined, there’s a clear imbalance in terms of difficulty, and the title is sorely lacking in quality of life features. As great an RPG as it is, Secret of Mana was always a game that would have benefited from a direct sequel. Unfortunately, said sequel was landlocked in Japan for 24 years.
Originally released in 1994, Seiken Densetsu 3 started gaining western attention in the late 90s, prompting a translation effort by Neil Corlett that would ultimately release in August of 2000. One of the more complex RPGs on the Super Famicom, it didn’t take particularly long for Seiken Densetsu 3’s online presence to skyrocket. With six playable characters, three distinct story arcs, a surprisingly non-linear campaign, and plenty of customization options, the RPG was almost destined to become a classic, cult or otherwise. Fast forward to 2019, and Seiken Densetsu 3 has finally received its first official English translation with Square Enix localizing the title as Trials of Mana.
As incredible as it is that an action RPG from 1995 that released exclusively in Japan suddenly got an official translation 24 years after the fact, this lull in time does unfortunately mean that Trials’ clear improvements over Secret of Mana won’t necessarily be obvious to a modern audience. Secret of Mana is not a game that’s particularly fresh in the mainstream’s lexicon, perhaps even less so thanks to its panned 2018 remake. A shame considering Trials of Mana might very well be the single greatest sequel on the Super Nintendo.
More specifically, it’s the best sequel of a Super Nintendo game to release on the SNES. Trials of Mana is as direct as a sequel gets, building off narrative, thematic, and gameplay elements in a logical way. It can be argued that Secret of Mana did the same when following up Final Fantasy Adventure, but the differences between both RPGs are frankly quite high. Trials of Mana is reminiscent enough of its predecessor where fans nicknamed the game Secret of Mana 2 for years; and although it may not seem it, that is a term of endearment.
Trials of Mana is the kind of sequel that looks back on its predecessor in order to pinpoint what exactly can be improved. It’s almost comical the length the game goes in order to outright one-up Secret of Mana. Secret had three playable characters? Trials has six and, not just that, each character has their own arc while getting to be the hero of their own story. Secret had an addictive if a bit tedious leveling system? Trials gets rid of weapon and spell leveling, instead allowing party members to pick their own stats every level up. Secret had an overworld that only grew in scope? Trials lets players progress most of the game in whatever order they choose.
The party system alone gave the game a layer of depth that many of its contemporaries lacked. It also directly addresses one of Secret of Mana’s most glaring flaws. For as charming as the adventure is, the main trio ends up poorly characterized. Randi is a flat character until the very end; Primm’s character moments are way too scattered; and Popoi’s arc implies a level of emotional attachment that the story never successfully earns.
On the flip side, all six playable characters in Trials of Mana have clear motivations, consistently interact or influence the plot, and end up completing their character arcs. Some arcs are better than others— Hawkeye and Riesz are far and away the most interesting party members— but the fact that not a single character comes off as undeveloped as Randi is a huge plus. More importantly, characters actually play differently this time around.
In Secret of Mana, all three characters played the same. The only key differences came from which weapons a character was using along with the fact that Primm primarily used supportive magic whereas Popoi used offensive magic. This time around, all playable characters have clear gameplay purposes.
Duran is the standard swordsman, a heavy hitter who mainly uses magic to augment his weapons; Angela is a magician who can dish out an impressive amount of damage thanks to her offensive magic; Hawkeye is an agile ninja who hits fast and, more importantly, hits twice; Riesz is an incredibly balanced amazon who can fit just about any gameplay role; Charlotte is a cleric who can reliably serve as the party’s dedicated healer; and Kevin is a half-human, half-beastman warrior who hits incredibly hard while also hitting twice per attack.
The way attacking works is worth discussing in and of itself. Instead of reusing Secret of Mana’s stamina meter, Trials of Mana only requires that party members trigger a brief cool down animation before attacking again. This allows characters like Hawkeye and Kevin to shine since they can attack twice before cooling down, but it also removes most of the action’s tedium while also keeping battles tactically engaging. The stamina meter was undeniably a good design decision for Secret of Mana, but Trials of Mana’s faster and more involved gameplay necessitated a system that would allow the pace of its combat to adequately shine.
In terms of progression, while the absence of Secret of Mana’s leveling system does lead to less moments of character progress overall, the stat select system is genuinely the better form of customization. Not only is the concept rooted in Final Fantasy Adventure, it allows for far more individual character variety. Each character can level up their Strength, Dexterity, Stamina, Intelligence, Spirit, or Luck per level. Unlike FFA, selecting a stat does not influence others, simply increasing that singular stat. As a result, stat caps are far lower than most RPGs, but each stat ends up having more weight as a result.
More importantly, the stat system ends up playing off of the class system. The six playable characters are not static the way Randi, Primm, and Popoi are. Upon reaching level 18, characters can switch to their second class. Once they reach level 38, they’ll be able to switch to their third class so long as they have a rare item needed for class changing. That said, character classes aren’t static and each party member has a total of five classes including their default class.
When class changing for the first time, characters will be able to switch to a Light or Dark class. Light classes typically offer better spells whereas Dark classes end up being more offensively viable. This isn’t set in stone, however, and character classes vary from character to character. Upon switching to the second class, though, said class will be able to branch off even further as the second class change features its own branching classes as well, also symbolizing Light and Dark. Coupled with the party system and the leveling system, classes add even more variety to an already heavily customizable game.
This ends up being a godsend all things considered due to just how replayable the game is. Trials of Mana is built for multiple playthroughs, and the mechanical variety helps that considerably. Helping just as well is the non-linearity. While the first few Mana Spirits need to be obtained in a set order, each playthrough’s opening and ending act is dependent on whoever the main playable character is. More importantly, most of the second half can be tackled however they want, with a level scaling system in place to ensure that the party can handle any Benevodon (formally known as God-Beasts) in any order.
Considering how Secret of Mana opened up its world to the player, but still kept the story relatively on rails, the fact that Trials of Mana offers genuine freedom is equal parts surprising and welcome. It makes for an experience catered specifically by the player for the player. Better yet, while tackling the game in some orders can lead to more difficult encounters, Trials of Mana features a much neater difficulty curve than its predecessor, keeping the challenge consistent but never totally brain dead.
It is worth noting just how much restraint Trials of Mana shows when looking back on Secret of Mana. While there are some references here and there, the gameplay very much opts to be as original as possible. The game’s overall aesthetic even greatly differs from its predecessor, prioritizing a grounded color palette over Secret’s fantastical aesthetic. There are basically no dungeon or boss references either, keeping the order of events between both games special.
Narratively, none of Trials of Mana’s three plots are particularly engaging, but they’re all far more involved than Secret of Mana’s rather subdued attempt at storytelling. Instead, Trials shines when it comes to theming. The story never actually allows the party to use the Sword of Mana, instead using the weapon as a literary device. The Sword of Mana represents hope and the idea that humanity can co-exist alongside Mana. The fact that none of the playable characters can use the weapon not only speaks volumes to how the franchise interprets the relationship between humanity and Mana (negatively) but how Mana influences individual humanity (positively.) That alone keeps the story thematically interesting if nothing else.
If there’s one thing that makes Trials of Mana such a great sequel, though, is how it positions itself in relation to Secret of Mana. While the game directly looks at its predecessor to improve itself, it never attempts to replace Secret of Mana. Rather, it exists as a companion to the game that laid down its foundation. There are clear mechanical improvements, but nothing is reiterated, recreated, or reimagined. Trials of Mana may not be able to exist on its own, but it’s developed in such a way where it doesn’t directly impact Secret of Mana’s legacy. Trials of Mana’s references are subtle, rooted in musical motifs, visual cues, or just familiar gameplay scenarios.
Even as a narrative prequel, Trials of Mana doesn’t actually set up anything important for Secret of Mana, instead simply existing as an earlier point in the franchise’s history. Not only does that allow Trials to forge its own identity, it helps the game remain accessible to anyone unfamiliar with Secret of Mana without alienating fans of the franchise. Almost all the characters are new, all the lore is firmly established, and the story is self-contained even if the main themes are directly in-line with both Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana.
If there’s one Mana game to play, realistically, it’s Trials of Mana. Final Fantasy Adventure has an incredible story, better than its successors, and Secret of Mana reflects such an important and exciting era of game development, but Trials of Mana is just way more fun to sit down and play than either of its predecessors. This is a sequel that manages to show restraint while also pushing its franchise’s core mechanics forward. It has a unique identity of its own, not just in its franchise, but on its console. Trials of Mana is what happens when a sequel prioritizes creative, interesting gameplay first and foremost.
‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula
Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened.
Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon.
The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.)
There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period.
Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay.
The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure.
Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.
John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.
John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well.
It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.
More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice.
XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show
Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.
Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.
All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.
10. Everwild Reveal
It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.
We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.
9. ID@Xbox Lineup
The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.
The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).
8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta
Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.
The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.
7. Halo Reach Release Date
The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.
It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.
6. Grounded Reveal
Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.
Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.
5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal
Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.
Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.
4. Final Fantasy Blowout
Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.
Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.
3. The Reign of Project xCloud
With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.
The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.
Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.
2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love
Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.
1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console
It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.
Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.
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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures
Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.
Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple of days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?
Setting the Scene
Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.
There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.
In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.
Rebuilding a Community
So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).
Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.
While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.
Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.
In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page-turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.
Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.
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