Garden Story puts the weight of the world on the (shoulders?) of its adorable protagonist, a grape name Concord. At first glance Garden Story might look like a farming sim, and there are some light sim elements, but what lies underneath is a surprisingly confident Zelda-like that has its own unique ideas, even if it suffers from a bit of tedium.
The game takes place in The Grove, a cozy little hamlet where all the inhabitants are different fruits and vegetables, or some kind of animal. Condord lives alone in the Kindergarden, but their life is flipped upside down one day when Plum takes them out of their abode and makes them a Guardian, sworn to protect the Grove from evil creatures known as Rot. From here Garden Story sets up its formula pretty quickly; the game runs on a basic day-night cycle, and each day brings a host of new requests from citizens for Concord to tackle.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
The core gameplay loop revolves around completing these requests and raising the town level, thereby unlocking new quests to undertake that push the story along. The requests will task you with everything from defeating rot, to collecting a certain resource and re-activating bridges. At the end of each day Concord needs to rest in their home, which will add experience for completed requests and then reset to the next day with a fresh batch of requests.
Concord, at first, only has access to one weapon, a tiny sword-like Pick. As the game progresses, however, you’ll gain access to more weapons like a Dowsing Rod that’s both a ranged weapon and a fishing rod. Combat is simple with a stamina bar that drains as you attack and run, but as you gain more weapons, stamina bars, and so on, combat grows into something more complex and satisfying.
Coupled with that is a surprisingly robust potion system called “Dew.” Concord can find wells to tap dotted around the world that’ll restore Dew charges, or different types of Dew can be bought from stores as well. For example, one type might give Concord a quick speed boost after they drink it, instead of restoring health. The simple combat serves its purpose but doesn’t do anything exceptional, although there are a few boss battles scattered throughout the game that mix things up well.
Skills to pay the bills
The other prominent feature is the inventive skill system, which take the form of “Memories” of Concord’s journey. As you play the game Concord will unlock these memories for a variety of things, like drinking a certain amount of potions, talking to specific characters, finding statues, and wide variety of other things. When you rest on Concord’s bed you can view and equip different memories, and as you progress through the game you’ll unlock extra slots. It’s really a fascinating little system that does a great job of making it feel like you’re really progressing along with Concord.
All of these systems tie together surprisingly well, but Garden Story still hits a snag that many games of its type do, tedium. The daily requests work well enough as tasks, but everything starts to feel the same after a while. The actual quests that advance the st ory and move you to new areas are great, but the filler of grinding quests in between all of that can get old quick. Equally frustrating is the fact that requests can’t be tracked on the map, even though quests can. It’s a baffling choice that makes the whole system even more cumbersome. It’s a shame honestly, because Garden Story has some truly unique ideas and executes them welll; but it could absolutely use some pruning in terms of overall content.
On the other hand, Garden Story is an absolute treat to explore visually. Each and every environment is packed to the brim with detail, and each time you head to one of the new “zones” it’s exciting to see what new quirks you’ll discover. The story itself likely won’t do anything to surprise you, but it’s full of charming characters and breezy writing that help the game’s laid back atmosphere flourish.
That laid-back feel is the absolute best part of Garden Story, and even for its flaws I found myself loving how calming an experience it is. Combat has a decent challenge but it never proves to be too difficult, and despite tedious feeling of requests, there’s alwasy something to occupy your time. As long as you go in knowing you’ll need to put a bit of time in, Garden Story is an experience that’ll easily grow on you.