Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
I’ll start off by saying how excited I was to hear that Prideful Sloth was coming out with a new game. I played through their first game, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, on multiple platforms and so I went into this review with pretty high hopes for a glow-up. While I can’t say that all my expectations were met (and more on that below), this game certainly surpasses its predecessor with the variety of gameplay elements and new features. It might look and sound like Yonder on the surface, but I quickly realized it brings in flavors of other games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, My Time at Portia and The Last Campfire. There’s a lot to cover here, so I’ll jump right in.
The game throws a lot of backstory at you right from the start. Like Yonder, the lore is really the driving force behind everything you do. It is explained that the Song of Myora (henceforth known in my brain as “tree force”) exists in all living things, even if we can’t hear it. Explorers originally followed this Song, and it led them to the Evertree. They built their city, and learned to shape Myora with alchemy. Eventually, I assume due to mismanagement of resources, darkness coiled around the heart of the Evertree and shattered the Song. This event was called The Withering, and it’s existence caused the humanoid inhabitants of the Evertree to leave – all of them, except you.
Your character is the only remaining Everheart alchemist, and you are the Evertree’s only hope of the Song being restored. Thankfully, after many years, you have managed to do what all other alchemists deemed impossible – you have created a World Seed.
You aren’t truly alone though. The two main narrators/verbal companions are aptly named Book and Copperpot; quite literally a sentient book and an alembic (which I Googled to find out was the proper term for an alchemical distilling apparatus). Although you never hear them speak – as there is no voice acting beyond basic mood sounds – I always imagined them to be a little bit like Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey. They provide the majority of the exposition throughout the game, and set you up for your daily activities.
If you want to get the most out of this game, I highly recommend asking questions whenever you can to learn as much of the history as possible. Although I haven’t finished everything the game has to offer yet, I imagine there are bits of information I am still missing, and I am looking forward to continuing to explore the rest of the story, despite some of my frustrations.
Before getting into actual gameplay, I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment and recognize the developer’s attention to inclusiveness in character creation. You can choose your preferred pronouns, and none of the customization choices are limited by traditional gender expectations. I’m sure this isn’t the first game to do this, but it makes me happy and grateful to see it becoming more common.
From the first day, you are set up with all the tools you will ever need to survive and flourish. In my review for Yonder, I had mentioned how great it would be to be able to reorder the tools, and in Grow you can! These tools also never break down or need to be replaced. As someone who loathes having to replace a net or a fishing rod in Animal Crossing, this was a huge relief, especially considering how much of this game revolves around gardening and harvesting resources. Harvested resources can be traded or distilled to obtain various essences, which in turn allow you to build more world seeds (and other items). You can definitely make some unique and interesting ecosystems by mixing some of the weirder essences together.
The first few days might seem tedious and a bit repetitive, but it doesn’t take long for new features to open up, and gameplay to change. You might start as a glorified gardener, but you quickly become a town designer, a diplomat, an explorer, a puzzle solver, and a personal assistant to every new resident in town who wants a new pair of pants or a very specific type of pet rock. As soon as you do all the work to regrow that first World Seed, people start coming back to the Evertree and want to take advantage of all your hard work while contributing little to the enrichment of the world (so far).
The rewards you receive from performing tasks are generally underwhelming and inferior to the amount of work required to achieve them. While in-game currency and tool boosters are at least useful, there are only so many times a person can remain sane after receiving another pair of hideous sunglasses (about 17 now, including duplicates). Yes, I understand I can distill them for one meager essence, but would it be so hard to get a shirt once in a while?
I think this is where the game started to lose me, or at least, where I may have missed the point of the game. My goal is to restore the Evertree, but to do that, I need to split my attention between planting and harvesting, as well as collecting the right kind of essence to build and customize the establishments most desired by my town residents, and keep them happy by having mundane (and sometimes even rude) conversations or fetching whatever random item they want. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but unlike Yonder, this game works on a very short day/night cycle that forces you to sleep at night. It actually teleports you back to your house if it gets too dark, even if you are in the middle of something. If I could just play through the night, I might be able to accomplish everything… oh wait. I see what they did there.
Grow wants you to play at your own pace, and forces you to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I don’t have to plant everything that day – nothing will wither if I don’t. I don’t have to find that super rare fish for Lino today – they are happy to wait. There is no time limit, no deadlines, no real life daily login requirements. Sure, there are events or items that refresh at the start of a new day in-game that are worth checking out, but there is no penalty for taking your time. Once I realized that, I started to enjoy the game a lot more. I think that says more about me (and my overachieving tendencies) than it does about the game, considering the supportive messages and reminders to do things your own way that I blatantly ignored at first. This game is truly the definition of wholesome; you could spend the whole day petting random animals, and that’s ok. In fact, petting the animals is highly encouraged!
Despite this, my major sources of lasting frustration come from the stability of the game, and the lack of a map. Yonder did not originally release on Switch, and I wonder now if waiting to port might have been a better idea. The game feels like it is still in Early Access, most notably due to the stuttering visuals, crashing while sleeping, chests floating in midair, and the unjustifiable load time I experienced. The existence of the issues at all is the main reason why I haven’t been as motivated to put as many hours into the game as I would have liked for the purpose of this review. I will acknowledge that other platforms may not have these same issues, and they have since released at least one full patch for PC and consoles at the time of this article being published, so there’s still hope for improvement.
Although I was reminded recently (by PY) that not all games come with a map (Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Demon’s Souls, etc), I can’t imagine another open world game that didn’t provide you with some form of navigation – either with a map or a compass or an annoying faerie (Editor’s note (PY): I was reminded of one this past weekend, Outward, that while it has a “map” you have to figure out where you actually are at all times with barebone references to this scribbled piece of paper in your hands.) I frequently get lost trying to find my way back to the valley where my house is, or the starting point of one of my created ecosystems. With all the secrets and chests around the world, it would be great to be able to mark waypoints on a map. When I said that the map could do with some changes in Yonder, I didn’t mean get rid of it altogether!
If you enjoyed Yonder: The Cloudcatcher Chronicles, but wanted a little more to do and a less linear progression, then Grow: The Song of the Evertree is probably for you. It’s not quite as elaborate or sophisticated as other games in this genre, but I don’t know if it’s trying to be. It more than makes up for it’s simplicity with a gorgeous aesthetic, witty humor, and a truly calming experience, if you let it. Hopefully, if they can work out some of their stability issues, this game could gain some serious attention and popularity.
The call for more wholesome games is increasing in recent years, and Prideful Sloth has proven again they can meet that demand – as long as we get a proper map next time!!Score: 7.5 / 10