From certain corners, all you’ll hear about the games industry is that it’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy – a morass of brain-rotting content that no reasonable person would involve themselves with. That’s nonsense, of course; we’ve already taken care of that problem by locking most of the brain-rotting content behind the Walking Simulator tag on Steam. Kidding aside, it’s true that a lot of games are all about ruining baddies’ days in the most awesome way possible.
That’s fine, by the way. More games like those would be great, thanks! Until such treasures happens my way, though, we’re going to focus on a different sort of experience with Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
After your ship sinks, you find yourself on a mysterious island with nothing but the shirt on your back. You’re here to explore the world and try to discover the mystery behind your forgotten past. In most games this would lead to an epic quest battling foes and leveling up. Here, though, a lot of your journey is going to revolve around meeting new people and helping them out.
Yonder is a chill, exploration-focused game that eschews combat for crafting and discovery. Obstacles are typically conquered by helping others, creating new items and searching the world. Even the spooky dark barriers that cover some parts of the land are broken not through violence but by finding friendly sprites to help wash the corruption away.
As you might suspect, this isn’t really my bag (and it’s hilarious to see some folks react as if this kind of thing hasn’t been done before) but I can recognize the value in such a title. Yonder’s gorgeous graphics and impressive amount of content for a game that largely revolves around running around, picking stuff up and using it to make new stuff mean that it’s not quite the dull experience you might expect based on the premise.
There are quite a few interesting things to do within this context, such as fishing, farming and barter. The way that Yonder tries its damnedest to keep you from noticing that you’re basically playing Zelda without the sword does the game credit. Searching the world to find that one resource or item you need to complete a quest is certainly compelling, and I was surprised at how I was able to take to a concept that would have initially put me off.
As mentioned, Yonder is quite pretty. We’ve got a sort of cel-shaded Playskool look somewhat reminiscent of Harvest Moon. The most striking aspect might be the day-night cycle; the artists really nailed nighttime scenes here, and it’s great to come back to familiar areas and see how they look during the day and at night. Character designs are, well, adorable; in particular, animals are plush-worthy and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some cuddly merch pop up if Yonder takes off.
Fans of games like Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons will probably find something to love in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. There’s been a tendency for this sort of game to bend toward fans of more traditional titles that feature combat and action, as we see in titles like Rune Factory and Stardew Valley, but Yonder stays the course. It’s an accessible game that more chilled gamers (or their kids – Yonder would be a great first video game) shouldn’t have any problems picking up and enjoying.