Afterpatch Review: Garden Story
By: Fernando Da Costa
Publisher: Rose City Games
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
KINDERGARTEN BOUND! - Introduction
There are many obsessions in this world that span between gaming and eating. I fit firmly within the "stuffing my face" category, and one delicacy I love to indulge in is grapes - they're delicious. Hell, there are times I've given the red, green, or purple ovals of goodness voices just before consuming them - don't judge me. Now, imagine my awe when I booted up Garden Story to find a weapon-wielding grape - Concord. I initially came across this title during a Nintendo indie showcase. It was love at first sight, primarily due to the adorable visuals - even the enemy rot smiles as they die. I knew I had to request the opportunity to cover it and, thankfully, I was given the privilege. It's been a few weeks since release, and many updates have come out. It currently sits at 1.0.6, making me wonder if the changes altered the score in any way. Upon looking at MetaCritic, Garden Story scored an average of 7. Has the critics' feedback been heard, or has it been widely ignored? I plan on finding out.
THE PLUM MENTOR! - Writing
I've routinely said that as long as the story is palpable, I'm content. With that in mind, Garden Story does, indeed, have a cohesive, albeit loose, plot. My main problem is that it never really amounted to anything. It's pretty basic fare throughout and, at times, felt like it was cruising on auto-pilot. Bluntly put, it lacked substance and, as a result, failed to ultimately hook me. Sure, there's a tiny mystery that tries to build intrigue, but its biggest flaw is its own predictability - I knew exactly what to expect. This eliminated any surprise and made it difficult to be enthralled in the world - a damn shame, really. There's a wholesome atmosphere that Picogram tries to nail. And while I smiled, the novelty of it quickly waned, turning anything I felt into indifference.
As I've already said, the visuals have an inherent charm that helps with the cozy atmosphere Garden Story strives for. I enjoyed the attempt to give the NPCs an inkling of individuality too. A handful of them have unique speech patterns and mannerisms. The latter usually takes the form of distinguishable accents, thanks to some English finesse. Okay, so I'm well aware that literary prowess isn't important in an adventure game such as this. I'd argue that the cutesy factor of it demands a wholesome script. It, sadly, isn't executed well. Luckily, the absence of meat on these narrative bones is somewhat alleviated by the graphics having that innate charisma, but even then, that has an expiration date. With all that in mind, what truly makes or breaks Garden Story is the gameplay loop, so does it succeed with that? Well, kind of.
FULFILLING REQUESTS! - Gameplay
The majority of frustration derives from the request system simply due to its redundancy. It's a focal mechanic in Garden Story that, as the name implies, has you undertaking a plethora of side-quests. Completing these then go into bolstering your reputation with the region's town. Every task received is generic in nature and consists of clearing a whole area of enemies, depositing items into the village forage box, or deliveries. It's basically murder and fetch quests. If you're thinking of skipping out on doing these, well, reconsider. The purpose of them is pretty damn vital to overall progression. Thankfully, each one can be completed quickly, though that also introduces what's probably the biggest misstep. There's a limited quantity in terms of variety, meaning repeats occur at times. That opens the floodgates to this game's glaring flaw - repetition that, in turn, introduces tedium.
Complete transparency - when I began my play session, I was having fun. The idea of requests unlocking more explorable sections of the map and further inventory in shops was interesting. That's yet another reason why it's imperative to concentrate on getting these done, especially since most new additions are weapon upgrades. The unfortunate part is only three requests can be handled at once. Furthermore, they're not received from an NPC but are, instead, given randomly by RNG at the beginning of each day. Because there's a ceiling to how far reputation with a certain town can go, it's entirely possible that the task you get contributes nothing. In that regard, you need to wait an entire in-game day and hope that whatever you get the next day are viable choices. You heard me - there's a day and night cycle that, turns out, is the main proponent of the tedious, repetitious slog.
If relying on Lady Luck wasn't enough, there's a chance that only two requests are bestowed. With three categories in total - red, blue, and yellow - that's additional justification to the claims that it can take a while to reach max level on either. All these problems, believe it or not, stem from a lone aspect - the need to sleep. In most games, you're able to slip into a slumber whenever but not in Garden Story. Concord can only do so when they're tired, and that's usually after a full day. Since requests can be done fairly quickly, I frequently had to twiddle my thumbs as I waited for bed. Now, there is a way to speed time up - sit on a bench. That sounds stellar until you realize that a single day is then split up into dawn, morning, evening, and night sections. For every lapse to register, it demands a screen transition, meaning you need to get up, walk into a new area of the map, then come back before sitting down once again. The aforementioned repetition comes barreling in at this point, followed by tedium - a feeling that's amplified by the slow-paced combat.
MEMORIES OF A FRUIT! - Gameplay
As a JRPG fanatic, I was surprised to find the amnesia trope exuding its wrath upon the grapey protagonist. Yup, Concord suffers memory loss, and it's up to you to help them remember everything. It's standard fare, but I got to admit, I dig how this cliche was worked in. Flashbacks won't only hit after pivotal moments of the story. There are certain prerequisites to meet before unlocking some nifty perks. These include, but aren't limited to: the use of a weapon type a set number of times or locating a specific statue. Once done, the memory is recalled, and the perk revealed - some bolster stats, while others give a better chance of finding rare items. At first, there's one slot to allocate to, but more become available as you clear up the brain fog. It's a shallow sense of character customization, but it's an appreciated feature.
SQUISHY GRAPE! - Accessibility
Accessibility is subjective, so this part of the review may be skippable. For those interested, take refuge in knowing that buttons are remappable. It made ease of pressing possible and added to comfortability. It's a great start to being user-friendly but gets derailed by a puzzling choice. See, the details of requests can be seen on bulletin boards scattered all around the land. They, however, can only be accessed in the area that they're acquired from. In other words, if I received a mission in Point A that asked me to visit a different biome, I can't rekindle my memory once there. If I forget the objective - which happens a lot - I have to backtrack for a refresher before traversing back. This, thankfully, isn't common as it tends to stay within the confines of the area. Regardless, that doesn't negate the fact that when it does occur, it shines a spotlight on the absence of this simple quality of life feature. I reckon most folks will think this as frivolous, but it only piles on what already holds Garden Story back for people like myself.
LISTEN TO NATURE! - Sound Design
The music is a superb combination of whimsical and quirky. I was humming along with the tranquil tracks of the overworld as I killed those gooey enemies. Its chiptune goodness does well to compliment the delightful pixel art. You know that's not all as the ambiance of, you guessed it, the rain was nicely done. It's worth noting that the music loops and a huge deterrent is the risk of becoming grating. Well, that never happened, and any annoyances I had were solely attributed to the day-and-night cycle and never the soundtrack. If I had to pick a minor gripe, though, it would be that the score is too docile. The battling never got my adrenaline pumping. It was likely done this way to compliment the feel of Garden Story, but it only made the slow-paced combat stick out. Whatever the case, there was a disconnect between the action and the gentle tunes.
AND THE GRAPEY VERDICT IS…
Garden Story is a whimsy adventure that's betrayed by Concord's sleep schedule. The day-and-night cycle single-handedly shackles the game down into mediocrity because of the tedium and repetition it introduces. The A.I is weak, bringing no sense of urgency to the combat. This makes me believe that this game is the perfect romp for a youth or a casual gamer. Rest assured, as it's not all bad news. The process of recalling memories and having that small semblance of character customization was nice. It's just unfortunate that for the request system, I was at the mercy of RNG. It was completely possible to be without tasks on a given day - an issue that was more noticeable in late-game. Still, there's a small bit of fun here, and I don't regret the time I spent playing. That said, I'm also not tripping over myself to jump back into it, even if new content was ever added in. I do believe that by simply adjusting bedtime, it would not only increase my final score but also make the experience less of a slog.
As it stands, Garden Story is an alright option but only on sale. For the reasons I stated above, I give it a 6.