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GardenStoryboxart.jpg.387db2dcbd5ba6537cf0a281dbfcf770.jpgSometimes the protagonist of a game is a great warrior foretold by destiny, and sometimes it's a little grape. Garden Story takes the basic elements of an action-adventure game and weaves it together with a cozy little quest featuring walking, talking food that is just as much about combat as it is gathering materials or growing crops. The result is a charming, light adventure that is a bit too simple at times, but is always wholesome.
You play as Concord, a young grape who is made a Guardian in order to help stop the spread of Rot across the Grove, your homeland. By journeying to each of the four towns in the Grove and helping various citizens—including other sentient foods as well as frogs—Concord will hopefully save everyone. It's a charming plot and takes some surprising turns near the end, and frankly having any turns at all in a story like this is surprising enough, since it very easily could have been a completely straightforward plot. Still, as is the case with the game as a whole, there's a nagging feeling that the story could have been more than it is and doesn't do enough to flesh out the Grove or its inhabitants.
Garden Story plays like a top-down action-adventure, and very early on you gain a pick to use as a weapon. The game is divided into day cycles, and each day you're given two or three tasks to complete, which either involve defeating Rot slimes, collecting materials, or completing other basic tasks to aid the community. At the end of each day you'll sleep to save your progress then tackle new tasks for a new day. This job structure is novel but quickly becomes just a time-consuming chore. The tasks are never challenging and sometimes they truly do feel like ways to waste time, such as when you need to collect materials that only drop one at a time, which is further complicated by the fact that you can only carry so many items at once, so you'll frequently be tossing away the less valuable clutter in your inventory. There's an unfortunate lack of variety to the tasks as well, making them feel repetitive quite quickly. It's a cute way of integrating Concord's quest to help the community into the gameplay, but it's not a rewarding gameplay loop.
Combat is much the same: simple and easy to pick up but never evolves over the course of the game. The main issue is your stamina meter, which limits how frequently you can attack. At first you can barely take a couple swings of your pick without needing to wait and recover, but it's not a terribly engaging combat loop, it just makes combat feel drawn out and gives you no opportunities for strategic variety. It doesn't help that there are only two or three types of enemies in the whole game, so again it will feel repetitive extremely quickly. The boss fights are more engaging at least, but there are only a handful throughout the game. Even when you do unlock more weapons, they're all so similar that it's not really worth playing with anything other than the tried and true pick, especially since you need to upgrade each weapon individually, which takes a lot of time and resources.
One of the more successful aspects of Garden Story though is the skill system, which are called memories here. Memories unlock by completing set requirements—defeat X amount of enemies, complete X amount of tasks, etc.—and each new memory can be equipped to grant some bonus effect. The most basic simply grant stat boosts, like more HP or stamina, but others can have more unique effects, such as giving you a burst of speed after you use a healing potion (called dew in Garden Story). It's a neat way of presenting and equipping skills, and there are quite a lot to unlock over the course of the game. Granted, not all of the skills are terribly useful—some are so specific that you'll probably want to stick with the more general ones like stat boosts—but it's still a fun and novel skill/upgrade system.
There are a few other features in Garden Story that frankly feel a bit like padding, but if you want to spend more time beyond the 10–15 hours it takes to finish the story they do add some further length and variety to the game. Aside from basic side quests you will also eventually unlock the ability to build objects, which is only used as a story requirement a few times and then becomes purely a cosmetic feature. Gradually, you can unlock the ability to craft things like streetlights or other town features and place them in specific open areas in each town. Again, it's a totally cosmetic, time-wasting feature but it's something to keep you occupied if you want to spend more time in the Grove.
And granted, the Grove is a very cute place to hang out. The pixel art is utterly charming, most of all due to the cute little inhabitants of each town. There's a relaxed, light-hearted energy to the whole game that is perfectly captured in the simple, friendly art style. The soundtrack is also a definite highlight of the adventure. It perfectly exudes the cozy vibes that define the game.
Garden Story is a cute, chill adventure that is ultimately a little too relaxed. The combat, exploration, and gathering mechanics simply don't evolve over the course of the game, resulting in some disappointingly repetitive gameplay loops. But if you want to spend time in a bright, cozy game that has the elements of action-adventure without ever actually feeling demanding, Garden Story is a charming if flawed experience.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Gardens
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