Gentle As A Cloud
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is one of the most tranquil, relaxing, and feel-good games I think I have ever played. With no violence and gameplay that genuinely makes the player feel pride and accomplishment, Yonder made me feel like a saint on Christmas as I felt so damn good helping residents of an infected island increase their quality of life all without swinging a sword or casting a magic spell.
Check out my hour stream of Yonder below:
Caught somewhere between Breath of the Wild and the Wind Waker, the brightly colored environments and vast landscapes of this open world RPG play as much of a role as the player character or any NPC. Only marred by occasional frame rate dips, the peaceful environment, cute animals, and wooden toy-like characters create a game that is soft and pleasing in which to gaze. Paired with a whimsical, light-hearted soundtrack, Yonder’s presentation levels are higher than you would expect for a smaller downloadable game.
Although it is a nice looking title, the casual gameplay is easily the standout feature. As if Harvest Moon mixed with Journey with just a touch of Breath of the Wild, Yonder is an open world experience that is uniquely its own. Instead of killing a bunch of monsters or infiltrating a fortress, Yonder is all about helping the general population of a damaged island. The ultimate goal is to clear the land of Murk, this purple fog miasma, by collecting trapped sprites. Along the way, however, the player is tasked with helping NPCs with chores and even building a farm that can house animals. Sure, there are some of the video game standard fetch quests and “go here and press a button” tasks but they never felt boring or tedious because the payoff usually results in a character gaining something. I know these are stupid little NPCs programmed to do little to no work themselves but I somehow felt the urge to continue to help as it made me feel good, like going out of your way to help someone in real life or randomly performing a nice gesture that someone will appreciate. Thanks to a helpful and simple waypoint system, the player never gets lost or struggles on where to go next. In fact, the compass guiding system is basically stolen from Shadow of the Colossus but that is a good thing as it tells the player where to go but not necessarily how to get there. Even the fishing mechanic has a little Animal Crossing in it.
Instead of stockpiling herbs and arrows to kill all those gremlins in a cave, Yonder has you traveling up a hill to feed a super cute animal a bit of food to bribe them to come back to your farm to become BFFs. Other times, the player must explore to find certain ingredients to fix a problem or make something, like cutting down enough trees to make a bridge. Being totally honest, each objective is actually basic and mundane but I still for some reason enjoyed my time performing these tasks and simply just walking around. But that is what Yonder is. It is a gentle game that never pushes the player in any way and is never abrasive or violent and makes completing objectives easy instead of grindy or tedious. Instead of killing animals, you become friends with them by mixing their favorite dish. You don’t kill the goblins on the beach but instead clear the Murk to unlock more land. Instead of jumping over lava pits or spikes, the player automatically glides gently to the ground through the use of an umbrella. Yonder approaches these game troupes that have been around forever and provides a creative, easy-going, alternative that is super, super refreshing to experience especially here in 2017.
I guess my only real complaint is the looser play control. It takes some time to get used to but it feels like you are controlling your character like a marionette doll, with strings instead of direct control. It is not bad by any means, just different. But in a way, this looser control mimics the casual gameplay as an overall aesthetic and somehow fits into this happy world. I sometimes wished there was a way to clamber up ledges but perhaps I have played too much Breath of the Wild and Halo 5.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a game but I almost feel like it should be viewed as a unique piece of tranquil art. I cannot think of any other game that has the balls to do what Yonder has done. In a way, it almost like the opposite of Skyrim. It has turned open-world gameplay mechanics on its side by promoting a heartfelt, gentle player created experience. Instead of focusing on leveling up, harm, and burdening the player with added stress (like inventory management, how to avoid danger and sneak around enemies, hoping to be a high enough level to defeat this next boss, etc), Yonder just tells the player to go make the world a better place at your leisure. Until you play Yonder for yourself, you probably don’t realize how violent and stressful games can be. Because the 2017 gaming environment mostly remains a shoot first ask questions later mentality, I fear that this title will be overlooked or misunderstood. But for the player that gives this game a chance and stops to think about this stress free and accomplished experience, it will shine as a beacon of light hidden within the murkiness.
Sort of Reminds Me Of: Shadow of the Colossus
Wait For It: the next Harvest Moon
Also Try: RiME, Flower, or Journey