Having really enjoyed ‘Life Is Strange’ and ‘Tell Me Why’ I am always interested when a new release is announced by French game developer Don’t Nod. Their newest title is a departure from their previous work and takes the form of a narrative adventure game that shows the player all possible choice selection paths from the very beginning, locking off branches as you make choices. Will this make for an interesting experience?
Summing up the plot without spoilers, you play as Polly (Harmony), who returns to her hometown of Atina to investigate the disappearance of her mother. Things have changed a lot during her years away, with a sinister corporation known as Mono Konzern transforming everything to its benefit and being increasingly oppressive towards the local population. After finding her mother’s magical Amulet, Polly is transported to Reverie, a parallel world of Gods known as ‘Aspirations’ and learns that she needs to work with them using her gift of clairvoyance to prevent apocalypse both on her world and theirs…..or something.
Gameplay consists of numerous conversations between Polly and the whole cast of characters which lead to choices having to be made. These choices are all illustrated on complex progression trees that can be fully explored at the start of each Act. Some choices gain crystals related to each of the Aspirations in the world of Reverie, which need to be collected in sufficient amounts to be able to select other choices which unlock and lock other branches of possible progression. If this sounds complicated, I can honestly say it is.
Chaos, Chaos, Chaos
The Aspirations, made up of Bliss, Power, Chaos, Truth and a few others, supposedly need to be kept in balance. Lean too far towards one of them and change the power balance in both their realm and the real world. This should, in theory, affect which choices you go for, but I can honestly say that I found it so confusing and such a chore that I was happy to select any choice that would actually let me progress the story. Sometimes multiple branches needed to be completed before the main story could proceed, which was not exactly intuitive.
A lot of thought has gone into world design, but I find that games that supply a constantly updated Codex soon become a bore. Does anyone really need an in-depth explanation of every place, person, etc.? It can quickly feel like reading an encyclopaedia rather than playing a video game and too much world-building can have the opposite effect than intended.
The particularly slow first act did not grab my attention and the whole experience meandered along in the same vein. The missing mother plot thread was more WTF than anything else, while every other direction ventured upon seemed to be aimless and not really leading up to anything worthwhile. I managed to get to what I assume is the best ending scenario purely by selecting whichever choices the game would allow me to select at any given time, which makes the whole game design based on collecting a particular Aspirations crystals seem somewhat pointless.
Milton Keynes is evil?
There is an underlying subplot about the evil of giant corporations or organisations who are increasingly removing power and rights from the individual by introducing increased surveillance, destroying or removing access to standard utilities, and buying up all of the land for the rich. Countries are being taken over by technology while forgetting the ‘old ways’ while there is an ongoing battle between culture and corporate oppression.
This raises some good points that I agree with, to the extent that I did wonder if Mono Konzern, the villain of the piece, was a thinly veiled reference to the Conservative Party in the UK. As Don’t Nod is a French company, it seems more plausible that it may actually be a jab at the current incredibly unpopular French Government, but that is pure speculation on my part.
Should I care?
The main failure of the game for me personally is that I did not empathise with or like any of the characters on Earth, while I found the Aspirations on Reverie annoying and uninteresting. It is difficult to become enthused about a story when none of the protagonists are of any interest to you. After learning more about Polly’s missing mother, I think she should have been pleased that she had disappeared and not bothered to go looking for her.
On a positive note, the graphical style is very nice, the voice acting is of a high standard and the game ran perfectly on my Series X with no glitches occurring whatsoever. Although having said that, loading times, while not slow, did not feel fast enough for a game of this type and I was mashing my way through scenes of dialogue as I could read it far faster than the words could be spoken.
Summing things up, Whilst looking nice, the game is overly complex and pretty boring. If you don’t care about the story, characters, mythology, or plot branches which are on display from the start of each act, this soon becomes a slog to play through. If you are a fan of the genre, this would be worth checking out if it comes to Game Pass, but I cannot recommend buying it. Coming from Don’t Nod, this is a disappointing game.
Harmony: The Fall Of Reverie
Xbox Series X
- Nice art style.
- Good voice acting.
- Contains an intelligent subplot regarding the battle between corporations and culture.
- A very slow start.
- Unlikeable characters.
- An uneven gaming experience that becomes a slog to play through.
- Nowhere near as good as other titles by the same developer.