Step aside, Tom Cruise. This is the real deal.
I’ve always had a soft spot for smaller experiences. While there’s a whole buffet of games out there, I always find myself pining for those tinier portions. There’s something endearing about the amount of work that a team of lesser known artists and creators put into a game that makes me want to try them all. When I first stumbled upon the new-on-the-scene developer Prideful Sloth, I decided to give their work a try with no prior knowledge to any of their previous games. That was quite the risk itself, but I can easily say I was not disappointed. Their newly released game, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, represents a team with a lot of talent under their belt.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles takes you to the far-off murk-infested land of Gemea. Your objective is to clear the murk in each of Gemea’s eight regions, and complete the quests given to you by unhappy villagers in order to restore the peace that once was. Yes, the story is that simple, and Yonder can be beaten in no time at all if you’re not an explorer, especially with the ability to unlock shrines, which give you the option to teleport and reduce the amount of time spent running around aimlessly across Gemea. If you enjoy completing everything to its fullest however, you won’t be disappointed. It took me roughly 13 hours to finish the game, with plenty of side quests scattered about the land to keep you occupied for quite some time. These quests were quite diverse, requiring different talents like hunting, fishing, tinkering, cooking, tailoring, constructing, and brewing to advance through them. They ranged from easy to mildly challenging which, paired up with the childlike dialogue, created a game that was both enjoyable, and accessible for a wide range of audience.
That being said, there is a lot waiting to be done, which is one of the many key perks of Yonder because there is always something new to do even when you think you’ve done it all. You’ll be required to collect “sprites” that help you clear the dark murk. Once the murk is clear, treasure chests, quests, or more land will be revealed. Maplestory-esque animals also wait to be collected and brought home to farms you can build in certain areas. These creatures can be used to gather things like clay or milk which can be traded for new items or can be used in recipes. The game reminded me of the mechanics in Harvest Moon that allowed me to gather and care for new animals,which is probably where my excitement toward building troughs and shelters for my dear wildlife stemmed from.
Yonder also introduces a few interesting concepts when it comes to shopping and fishing. The shopping system is more about bartering and trading, tasking you with swapping specific items you find for shopkeeper’s wares. Fishing isn’t your usual “press A when the bobber dips” type of hobby either, requiring you to keep your joystick/mouse pointed in the direction of the arrow to reel in the fish. A small change to stray away from overdone ideas in many open-world games always feels refreshing if done right, and luckily Yonder has enough of these twists on old formulas to keep the player invested.
While these wrinkles were a nice surprise, what originally interested me in Yonder was its artwork. The shading, the shapes of the characters, and landmarks all reminded me of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which is undoubtedly where some of the inspiration for their bubbly, round character design came from. As I furthered my venture into Gemea, however, I really started to see the art as something incomparable. The characters also sport many different looks, with both natural and unnatural-colored hair and outfits to accentuate the old-timey lost island sort of feel. The scenery is captivating with vibrant colors, just unsaturated enough to be easy on your eyes. In fact, my favorite region in the land is full of maroon and purple trees with dim lanterns and some rain. I remember traveling through this area into a small village of tinkerers and feeling at home.
It’s clear that Prideful Sloth’s objective was to create a beautiful, atmospheric game, while keeping everything minimalistic, including sound design. The music of Yonder is light and mysterious, often popping up only during daylight hours or in specific regions of the map. This, against the gentle tinkling noises of your character’s backpack with every step you take, is so. Damn. Soothing. I felt that it allowed me to take in my surroundings without much distraction while still adding to my experience. My particular favorite part of the sound design is the individual grunts and hums each villager uniquely makes, or perhaps the opening operatic number heard in the main menu screen. If Yonder had an OST readily available, I’d use it to guide me into a sound slumber every night.
Still, I can’t seem to overlook the lack of story and awkward ending enough to give this game 5 stars. Yonder used charming graphics, sounds, and gameplay to lead me to thinking there would be an elaborate and heartwarming tale, but what I received wasn’t quite that, especially since there was really not a whole lot of main quests, which would typically help deliver and spin the story along. The story was just a beginning and end and had no indication of any middle pieces to tie them together. The opening shows you sailing into Gemea by boat and being contacted by a sprite asking you to clear the murk and help complete quests to make the villagers happy, and doesn’t go far beyond that. I don’t want to spoil what little can be spoiled, but the ending felt like the prologue of a book. Which would’ve been a phenomenal spot to introduce Yonder, but instead was where the developers cut it off.
If you are one of the few that can overlook the plot, however, this is absolutely something I would recommend to anyone, especially novice gamers, who enjoy colorful and cute open-world adventures. This game was just versatile enough for me that it became more of an environmentally-based exploration adventure rather than a story-driven rpg, which somehow worked. I felt more involved and concerned about searching through each region to find gorgeous scenery, secret caves, murk not yet cleared, and collecting all 100 of the hidden cats around Gemea than invested in hunting for a plot. The little details in Yonder were plentiful and outweighed that need for anything but a chill time. In the future, I plan on replaying it to find everything I might have missed or even to have a good, relaxing time.