Reviews// Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles

Posted 1 Aug 2017 16:20 by
I really wanted to like Yonder: The Cloud Catch Chronicles. On the surface it looked to be exactly the kind of game that I can usually sink hours of my spare time in to.

The game looks stunning, with a visual style that is immediately engaging. It has been noted that the game bears some similarity, at least visually, to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Whilst I would agree that there are some slight similarities, it is another Zelda clone that I was reminded of when I played Yonder, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas.

It is clear from the outset that Yonder is not really a clone of an adventure game, like the Zelda series, but is more of a combination of a variety of different styles. There are elements of Animal Crossing, Happy Street, Zelda and Harvest Moon in the design, combined with developer Prideful Sloth's own take on the exploration and farming genre.

My initial impression of the game was quite positive. The story opens with the player's customised character on board a ship bound for a country that appears to be unknown. Little information is given about the player's backstory and following the inevitable thunderstorm that resulted in my character being marooned on the island, I was looking forward to exploring and piecing together what had happened.

As I began to explore, I quickly began to realise that Yonder has one critical flaw. An adventure game must provide the player with a motivation to explore. This motivation could be to see how a story unfolds, it could be to provide the player with the skills to progress further or items that make exploration more interesting. Unfortunately, Yonder provides none of these things.

Upon arrival on the island the player is made aware of a poisonous purple gas infecting the land. It quickly becomes apparent that clearing this 'murk' is a priority as without doing so areas of the map cannot be reached. To achieve this, the player uncovers small 'sprites.' These sprites follow you throughout your adventure and when encountering the purple gas they disperse it, allowing progression.

Each cloud requires a certain number of sprites to clear it. Logically this would seem to indicate that some areas are intended to be off limits until the player has become more experienced and has collected more sprites. However, there is no difficulty curve in Yonder simply because there is no challenge, at any point, beyond traversing the map to collect items for the completion of quests. Consequently the sealing off of areas is more of an annoyance than something that provides motivation to explore.

Aside from the elimination of 'murk', the player is also expected to engage in construction work and 'crafting.' Resources can be found throughout the map that, when combined, provide new materials that can be used either for construction or the creation of food and machinery.

Crafting does not require skill, only the patient collection of resources. The action of creating a new item is achieved within a menu rather than through interaction with an object in the world. This may sound like a strange thing to complain about, but the use of, for example, the furnace in Minecraft greatly increases the feeling of interaction and involvement with the world. Although in Yonder the player is able to build farms, assign animals and hire farm hands the way in which this is implemented, via the use of menus and often simply pressing 'x', removes the feeling of connection with the world. The majority of missions require the player to collect an arbitrary number of items and then deliver them to a person, or craft them (within a menu) into a new object in order to end the quest.

Farm construction provides benefits to the player, but aside from deciding where to place buildings there aren't many other options for customisation. The game does have a good implementation of seasonal cycles and I did find enjoyment in the growing of crops, though.

Interaction with characters within the world is pleasant enough, but rarely memorable. The world, although wonderfully beautiful, does not feel fully realised. This is where comparisons to Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing become particularly pertinent. Both of these games offer similar experiences to Yonder, but via clever writing and engaging characters the player can become absorbed, ignoring some of the limitations of the game mechanics.

I realise that I have so far been rather harsh in my appraisal of the game. There are certainly aspects which are enjoyable. The environment is diverse and by and large fun to traverse. Fishing is very enjoyable and uses a mechanic that Nintendo would do well to copy for the Animal Crossing series. The construction of bridges to open up new routes is well implemented and there is a real sense of atmosphere, particularly when the clouds cover the sky and rain begins to fall.

The soundtrack is similarly impressive and I found the discovery of 'the truth' at the end of the main quest to be quite touching. Indeed, the rationale for playing the game becomes much clearer following the end of the main story. I felt more compelled to go back and help rebuild the kingdom. Were this kind of writing more apparent in the various side missions, I would perhaps have found the game more engaging.

I often enjoy playing games to relax. I played Animal Crossing for several years, despite the limited number of things that were available for me to do within the game. I kept coming back because the characters were engaging and I found it possible to shape the world in a way that I wanted.

Whilst the environment of Yonder is similarly relaxing and wonderfully realised visually, actions feel rather too prescribed and I struggled to feel invested in the world in the way that I have in other similar games. I am sure that some players will find something to like about the world of
Yonder and I would welcome a return to the Cloud Catcher Chronicles, but only if there is more of a story to be told.

Pros:
+ Visually impressive.
+ Fishing is genuinely brilliant!
+ Touching finale to the main story.

Cons:
- Exploration feels rather aimless.
- Construction feels prescribed.
- Dialogue is uninspiring.

SPOnG Score: 6/10

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