Few games are as cute and adorable as Garden Story, a game in which you play as a grape.
In fact, the whole world is inhabited by sentient fruit and veg. Importantly, food isn’t gendered which means here every character is referred to with they/them pronouns.
A tree of mana presides over the world, but it’s been infected by the slow corruption of the Rot. It’s up to you, a tiny little grape guardian, to save the world.
To do that, you must rebuild the community and connect four areas named after the seasons. What ensues is a quest that merges elements from The Legend of Zelda and Stardew Valley into a slow and gentle experience.
Each of the communities are fairly demanding, loading up a jobs board with requests each day that range from defeating enemies to fixing bridges or collecting resources. They’re all split between conflict, maintenance and foraging that are slowly levelled up over time to unlock new tools or story beats.
And so the main rhythm of the game involves completing requests and collecting resources to improve your tools, before access is granted to the dungeon of the area. There you’ll defeat a boss and then move on to the next seasonal area.
Garden Story. (Picogram)
Your weapons are farming tools, with the dual purpose of combat and resource collection. There are also building and growing elements with which you can customise the towns, but they’re largely optional and undercooked.
It’s a wholesome experience that’s cute, cosy and gently-paced. But that slow pace is a strength and a weakness.
On the one hand Garden Story offers a relaxing experience in a unique pastel world that’s a refreshing take on the RPG genre compared to more action-packed competitors.
Equally, though, that slow pace can turn simplistic gameplay into a chore. Those requests, for instance, are soon repeated countless times, constantly demanding you defeat the same enemies or collect the same resources. There’s an energy meter too that prevents you from swinging your weapons too many times, though this expands over time. That’s fine when foraging, but it’s not suited to combat that becomes a tiresome cycle of swing–pause–swing–pause.
There’s padding and waiting that gets in the way too. For instance, you’re unable to take on requests from a new town until you’ve slept there, but you’re unable to do that until it’s night meaning you’re forced to wait around. Die and you’ll return to wherever you last slept, which may not be nearby. Die at a boss, meanwhile, and you’ll have to repeat all the puzzles in the dungeon again. A slow pace can be cosy, but here the game’s long-windedness gets in the way of the adventure.
Still, it’s a very cute adventure to embark on. Fittingly, this isn’t a grand quest with almighty heroes, but about quiet, dedicated spirit, the courage of unassuming folk, and the importance of learning responsibility as part of a community. That, more than the colourful graphics, are what lend Garden Story its charm.
3 / 5
Garden Story is available now on PC and Switch.
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