The friendly Adventure game Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles by Developer Prideful Sloth, brings a gorgeous world to life on the isles of Gemea. Our hero, known only as the Sprite-Seer comes equipped with a magical compass, capable of pointing the way through the mists surrounding the island. An early start to the game sees the crew crash landing on the mystical isle and beginning to unravel the story surrounding the lands of Gemea. Yonder is not a typical adventure game, but instead focuses the player’s attention on trade and exploration, coupled with a compelling story that will have players of all ages drawn in. It’s a bit of your classic Zelda, a bit of harvest moon, and a bit of Banjo Kazooie all spliced into one little package.
Unlike other classic adventure RPG games, Yonder does not feature any attacking mechanics and there are no enemies to face in the game. Rather, simple puzzles and easy storyline make for a nice relaxing play-through as you explore the world. At first glance, Yonder appears to be a simple game built on gorgeous world building, but there is a lot hiding under the surface once the story begins. After acquiring your main tool kit (pickaxe, fishing rod, axe, and scythe) our hero heads off to the unknown to begin collecting sprites and exploring the world. There are many towns and people to speak with, many of whom can provide small quests and objectives that accompany the main story. Yonder is the kind of game that once you start playing is hard to put down. The pure exploration element, coupled with the quests focusing on developing your trades and becoming the best at a multitude of crafts means all of a sudden it’s four hours later than when you started.
We start our game on a ship bound for Gemea – A secretive legendary island that no one is sure exists, following the magical compass’ direction. After chatting with the few crewmen on deck of your ship, A storm hits and scatters everyone to the ends of the island’s many zones, and tossing you into a dreamlike state. During the blackout you meet a goddess, the spirit of the island who charges you with returning the island to it’s former glory and instructing you on how to use the compass to track your objective. She also mentions that her family is scattered around the island and you’ll need their help to complete your tasks. After waking in a cave and getting a feel for the controls, a light glowing inside a pile of stones draws you to investigate. Here is where we come across a small sprite named Lumie, who is surprised you are able to see her, as it’s been centuries since she’s been able to speak with a human. She uses her powers to banish a dark fog blocking your path, and together you set out upon the island to figure out what’s happening. As you progress through the story, multiple sprites and many towns are waiting to be found and are in need of repair or assistance. With Lumie and her brothers/sisters, you can clear increasingly large amounts of fog obscuring parts of the island, and bring peace back to regions of the map.
Yonder is a game that does not feature QuickTime events, fighting, death or even incredibly challenging puzzles, but it’s for exactly this reason I’ve so enjoyed my time playing it. Yonder has a delightfully bright and vibrant world, and the joy at being able to explore the world at a leisurely pace is a very nice transition from the rest of the games in my library. The compass points to your currently selected objective. However, it doesn’t path-find you there, but rather will point directly at your objective relative to your current location no matter what. You’ll end up doing a bit of exploration and guess and check as you progress through the world.
While some might consider Yonder a collect-a-thon game (it does require a good amount of item hoarding), I would rather classify it as a game that encourages trade and item collection. There’s an in-game economy that comes to light after your first 30 minutes of play time, centered around trade of goods necessary for a town to thrive. Items can be collected (wood from trees, seeds from tall grasses, ore from the mountains), or crafted (bread, distilled brews, gold bars). The crafted items require admission to the guilds that can be discovered in towns around the island, and typically require a small favor for the guild master in order to prove you are worth their time. Once you’re in, you learn how to craft a multitude of items that will help you on your way, and unlock trade with vendors more willing to help you out. The economy in Yonder has to be my favorite part; Items will sell for a coin value, but you aren’t ever able to sell for actual coins. You may only trade for items with the shop keeper, and when you give, you must receive something in exchange. In this way, the game encourages trade over the acquisition of wealth, and to me that’s much more enjoyable than selling everything until I can buy whatever it is I want. Instead, I must manage my inventory and only carry what I need to have or what I plan to trade at the next town. Some towns are experiencing shortages of wood, so they’ll trade up, some have far too much Gold and so it’s worth way less. They put a lot of thought into the economy and it definitely shows.
Traveling from point to point in yonder is nice at first, because the wide rolling plains and new destinations feel fresh and exciting to view and discover how to traverse. However, because the island is huge it can sometimes take several minutes to walk from one end to the other in the pursuit of a quest objective. Unlike Legend of Zelda (I know, unfair to compare pretty much any game to LoZ, but let me finish), fast travel is not an easy venture. Rather, you must discover and unlock Travel gates hidden around the map. There is one travel gate per zone (tundras, desert, marshes, grasslands, etc) and each of them asks you to complete a small challenge in order to be worthy of opening the gate. Rather uniquely, going through a travel gate will take you to a nexus of sorts, where all the additional gates open up. You may travel through any gate you have previously unlocked from the nexus, and it’s a pretty decent way to get around when you have to move quickly (which is a rare occurrence in this game).
There is a ton of stuff that you can do in Yonder as you seek to return the island to it’s former glory. First and foremost is collect and trade everything with everyone. There are loads of towns and traders to find, and you’ll need to trade with them to accomplish your goals. Secondly, you can run a farm in pretty much every ecosystem. Rustle up some wild animals and craft pens for them and places to eat, and they’ll produce goods for you to trade around the island. You can hire a farmhand to watch your animals while you’re away, and since you’ll be travelling to remote places you’ll be happy your farm is in good hands. Go fishing and try to whip up some new recipes to become the best chef in Gemea, or go deep into the mountains to trade ores with the locals. Each village and region has it’s own needs and wants, but if you help the people there, more opportunities arise to improve the world around you. Become a tinkerer and create machines to help you do tasks, or bake bread and simply bring joy to people whereever you go. Theres as much to do or as little to do as you want, and since the world has a light painterly feel to it it’s easy to find yourself lost in the world, in a good way.
Let’s talk controls: The main character has one speed – light jog. The camera swings wildly behind the character unless playing with a joystick, but it’s not awful, just a tad distracting on occasion. The game plays much better with a controller in my opinion, as the mouse and keyboard setup seem to be a bit more finicky than I’d typically enjoy. Controls map easily to an Xbox controller, and the on-screen overlay will flip to button icons instead of keys without much fuss. Using your items in Yonder is less of an interactive option, and more like a forced selection when applicable. An Interactive option might be like in mine craft: you technically can use the axe to break down EVERY item including rocks; it just works best on wood, and might not net you that mineral. In Yonder, that boulder you want to smash with your hammer is ONLY smashable with the hammer, and the tools don’t do anything unless you are standing in front of an item it will work on. I can see why this was done, as it helps to avoid confusion in the world (and there are SO many different things to collect) but, it has the effect of slightly pulling you out of the experience, and making me feel like it was holding my hand a bit more than I’d like.
Time also feels like it whips by incredibly fast. With a day/night cycle that is only 10 minutes to 24 hours, it’s not long before the seasons are changing and what seems like a light jog actually took all daylight hours. The devs decided to establish a 50/50 day/night split, so the night is just as long as the daytime, throwing your character into darkness. Your hero pulls a lantern out automatically when it gets dark enough, which is a really fun mechanic and looks great.
The game has a large area of land in a great map to explore, but fetch questing from one end of the island to the other can be a real pain unless you’ve unlocked a travel gate to that zone. Even exploration within each zone can sometimes feel like it’s taking forever, as you don’t have the option of sprinting and can’t fast travel from your current location. It’s entirely possible I’ve been spoiled by Breath of the Wild, and so I won’t ding them too harshly here. Having said that, I do feel it. Long winding pathways through the rock to get to a village are exciting and strange to explore the first time you go down them. Each subsequent trip though the winding path feels more like a questionable choice.
There also isn’t a whole lot to do between villages or objectives. Again, this is perhaps as a result of playing other similar adventure games, where the odd baddie gets in your way to distract you from the lengthy journey you are traveling down. But, there is a lovely soundtrack and the visual aspect of watching your hero run through rolling fields of grass is soothing and fun in its own right.
There’s a lot going for this cutesy adventure and I must admit that I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than once by it. It’s a great title to play with younger gamers who can enjoy the sunshine and easy play style for hours on end, and for hardcore gamers looking to take a break from the stresses of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, I could absolutely see enjoying this between matches to cool off. Try jumping off a cliff in the game and see what happens, I laughed out loud and it solidified my interest in Yonder’s whimsical world.
I suppose the point I’m really trying to make is that Yonder throws back to the games of old adventuring. It brings a little of minecraft’s blocky world and simple texturing, a little puzzler and a lite RPG and bundles it into a beautiful game where you can get lost in the story or run your adventure your way. Become the best at your trade of choice and sell bread or heavy machinery to all the townsfolk. Become a farmer and raise cattle for the items they produce and trade for better equipment in your many farmlands. Hire townsfolk to work for you and watch the animals while you’re off on business. Hunt town the parts necessary to resolve the island’s dark fog problem and become the hero you’re destined to be, or settle down in a corner of the map and simply fish for days at a time. The game provides a scaling level of complication that seems to fit the desires of the person playing, and is as easy or as difficult as you’d like it to be.
I would recommend taking a closer look at Yonder. It’s not your typical adventure game, but it succeeds in giving players that nostalgic feeling that isn’t found very often anymore. I’ll be in Gemea if you need me.