REVIEW: ‘Garden Story’ Is a Hopeful Hug (PC)

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Garden Story

Sometimes you need to disappear into a game with a hopeful story and a stunningly calming and emotive score. For me, that’s playing Garden Story. Developed by Picogram and published by Rose City Games, Garden Story is a game I’ve has my eye on for a long time. Sure, it was also one of the last demos I played at a convention before the pandemic began but its adorable art and grape protagonist warmed my heart.

If you’re unfamiliar with Garden Story, the game is an action RPG where you play a young grape named Concord as they try to protect and rebuild their whimsical community called The Grove. The game’s introduction lays out your quest and the background of the main narrative. Once, The Grove was home to a massive tree full of mana and sectioned into four settlements: Spring Hamlet, Autumn Town, Winter Glade, and Summer Bar.

Each of these sections of The Grove is stunningly designed through pixel art and made distinct from each other, keeping each area feeling like a whole new world. This diversity in visual look also translates to the dungeons and the characters. You see, The Grove is inhabited by Greenlings (sentient fruit, fungi, and vegetables), Seafolks, and Frogs, and one citizen in each region acts as a Guardian. Now, that mantle falls to you, Concord, the Guardian of Spring Hamlet. But the villages have fallen into despair as entities known as the Rot have begun to corrupt The Grove, and Concord is among the last Guardians to protect their world.

Garden Story is very straightforward when it comes to visuals, but the controls may be a little off for those used to a mouse. The game is played all through the keyboard and while it’s a little weird at first, each prompt comes with a corresponding key so you’re never fumbling through what to press. And that’s important given how the game’s combat system works.

As you face the Rot throughout the areas, you have a hit meter that depletes as you perform the combat action. At first, two hits feel too little, but your mobility as the little-grape-that-could make up for it extremely well. This doesn’t allow you to just hack and slash your way through and learn how to move through the world and how to strategically tackle the Rot. But in addition to combat elements, you also have to solve in-world puzzles to complete quests throughout the world as well. The puzzles and actions have a surprising diversity that keeps you engaged. In addition to puzzles, the ways that you interact with the world are surprising.

Those quests are dictated by both characters and checking your daily request board for tasks. They range from gathering resources to help local shopkeepers, repairing bridges to ensure safe passage to battling the Rot, and, most importantly, connecting you to the characters around you and The Grove itself. While a lot of quests feel small, especially the gathering ones, the larger ones build connective tissue between Concord, The Grove, and its people. As you help your neighbors, you collect memories that are used to help you upgrade Concord’s stamina, speed, health, and other abilities.

Garden Story- But Why Tho

By doing this, the developers also deepen your connection to the story and The Grove itself as you take on more and more responsibility. While the “save the world” narrative is a standard one, there is something about playing as a simple grape in Garden Story that instills a sense of hope. Playing as a simple, small character in a larger and more magical story allows you to feel the moments where you begin to come into your title as a Guardian. Concord’s simplicity makes the player feel like a small character rising to meet a devastating challenge and that warmth and hope is what I needed right now. While the dungeons and bosses aren’t extremely challenging, they all offer vital looks into the world of Garden Story that make the game dynamic and whole.  Yes, the adorable art and character design help with this, but truth be told, the air of optimism and perseverance comes from the story’s narrative.

Outside of its hopeful narrative, Garden Story also embodies RPG elements extremely well. You master different tools, learn what works best for a fight and what works best for harvesting, and ultimately use collected material to upgrade them. Additionally, you can use those materials to craft things like Benches, Request Boards, Town Storage, and more decorative items that all help integrate you into life in The Grove. While these small elements may not seem like much, they go a long way in helping you not only fight for The Grove and protect it from the Rot but also make it a place that you’re wholly a part of. And for those of you thinking “how do I customize a grape,” well, Picogram has an answer for that. One word: hats. As a small purple ball, you can dress up in hats that only make the game more adorable the more you find, adding to the wholesomeness and hope you feel.

Playing Garden Story made me feel light, and honestly, happy. And while I’ve given credit to nearly every element of the game so far, I need to call out the game’s beautiful score, composed by Grahm Nesbitt. It helps push the atmosphere and emotion of the game to a new level and truthfully, I left the game running in the background of writing this review just so I could be lulled by the warm sound. The Grove, and Garden Story, feel like home and a hopeful hug. Magical, whimsical, and a whole lot of wholesome, Garden Story is a must-play and a home run for Picogram and Rose City Games.

Garden Story is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.

Garden Story
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    Rating - 10/10
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TL;DR

The Grove, and Garden Story, feel like home and a hopeful hug. Magical, whimsical, and a whole lot of wholesome, Garden Story is a must-play and a home run for Picogram and Rose City Games.