Saturday, July 7, 2018

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

Let's slip into something more comfortable for this Saturday evening, shall we? Wait! Come back! I only meant pajamas!

At any rate, I have a new review to share with the SuperPhillip Central community. It's Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, and it's based off the recently released Nintendo Switch version of the game. Let's till some soil, explore some valleys, and get to this review!

A relaxing, engaging game is just over Yonder

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and The Legend of Zelda get shipwrecked on an island... Joke setups aside, those are just some of the gameplay styles and inspirations taken by and put into Prideful Sloth's Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. The game launched last year on the PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, but within the past month or so it received a Nintendo Switch port and retail release. Taking all of these gameplay styles and putting them into one game is no easy task, and that's from a large developer's standpoint. So, it's of even greater interest to see how the much smaller group of Prideful Sloth went about crafting a relaxing, entertaining gaming experience, combining all these styles into one package. For the most part, this formidable undertaking is a happy success.

Yonder starts with your character, which you can customize to an extent prior to the game's beginning, setting sail across the ocean for the island of Gemea. An intense storm causes the ship to become completely wrecked, sending you to another realm, home to the magical and mysterious Sprites. The Mother Sprite tasks you with recapturing the island from the poisonous clouds of Murk that cover substantial parts of the land. The setup is pretty much merely there to give you a reason to explore and engage with the island of Gemea, as the story doesn't actually expand all that greatly. In fact, it hardly expands at all until the tale's end, which is a brief conclusion if I've ever witnessed one.

Guess who spent a lot of time in Photo Mode? This guy!
Thankfully, while Yonder's story won't get you too invested and wrapped up in playing the game, its exploration, crafting, and farming systems will. There are a lot of gameplay systems here at work, and while none outshine their pretty blatant inspirations like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and even some parts The Legend of Zelda, they're both capable and competent enough to be enjoyable. Yes, some could say Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a jack of all trades and master of none type of situation, but at the same time, what's here is ultimately fun.

I greatly enjoyed my 15 or so hours scouring the relatively large island of Gemea, trying to bring up the completion percentage of each area of the island to a perfect 100% by completing all their tasks, NPC requests, building all possible constructions like farms and bridges, planting tree seedlings in specially marked patches of ground, and discovering Sprites to join my cause through solving simple puzzles or completing certain objectives.

You can befriend all sorts of fascinating animals and put them to work
on--er...give them a home at one of your farms.
At first, you're limited to the Grasslands in the center of Gemea for where you can venture, but as you acquire new Sprites, you gain the ability to use them to dispel patches of Murk that block your progress. Murk requires a different amount of Sprites for each poisonous cloud that you come across. Sometimes you won't have enough in your collection to dispatch the Murk cloud, so you'll have to journey elsewhere until you do. Eliminating the Murk not only opens up new areas to explore, but it also opens up shortcuts between areas. This is also why building bridges throughout the land is also imperative, especially if you want to reach secluded locations of Gemea.

Attaboy! Captain Planet would be proud of you for clearing up that Murk!
However, mostly for the duration of Yonder you'll be spending your time with its crafting system. All around Gemea there are doodads to pick up like stones, vines, flowers, and more. Chopped down trees bestow wood to craft goods, while fish pulled out of the many rivers, lakes, ponds, and oceans of the island can be turned into unique dishes.

But Captain Planet would probably frown upon cutting down this tree.
Everything in Yonder is built around this crafting, trading, and goods system. Every task in the game requires you to have a specific number of materials necessary to either fulfill an islander's request or build a construction like a farm or bridge. It can get pretty disconcerting to need a certain material to finish off a quest, but fortunately, you can do any quest in any order you like.

Many traders roam and situate themselves around Gemea, offering a wide assortment of goods and materials depending on where you meet them. The trading system has you selecting which items you want, all of which have a value to them, and requiring you to put up items in your own collection that are of greater or equal value to theirs to make for a fair, acceptable trade. Many times this is the easiest way of acquiring the materials necessary for the plethora of quests in the game.

What Yonder amounts to at its core is a series of fetch quests--gathering, whether through collecting, trading, or crafting, the correct materials required to complete quests--and this might turn off a lot of potential players that would otherwise jump on a game like this. It says something when there's a hidden isle of trolls in the game near the southwest corner of the map, which blatantly pokes fun at Yonder's gameplay. One troll even calls the game a pretty series of fetch quests, which is sort of like the game cutting off its nose to spite its face. Bizarre to include such dialog to mock your own game, but the troll character isn't exactly wrong.

Despite this, I found myself drawn to the island of Gemea and the world of Yonder, slowly but steadily completing quests, building and tending to one of my six farms spread across the island (these also can serve as fast travel points), planting trees, finding well hidden treasure chests, crafting new items like farm equipment, clothing, materials and more, and just exploring the wondrous world that Yonder provided me.

Build your farm your way and rake in the materials!
Yonder is a gorgeous game, and this can be attributed to the fantastic and jaw-dropping dynamic lighting system put in place. I had a grand old time using the game's Photo Mode to take shots of the stunning scenery, changing seasons and weather, sunrises and sunsets, and anything else I could think of. The music is also stirring, offering splendid and soothing orchestral themes that makes exploring Gemea all the more delightful.

The visuals on display in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles are a sight to behold,
particularly impressive coming from such a small studio.
Not all is wonderful, though, with Yonder's presentation, at least on the Nintendo Switch. Frame-rate hitches were more common than I would have liked, bringing sudden jerkiness to the otherwise smooth game. This happened most often during transitioning between areas. I should say, though, that Yonder is rather impressive for having limited load screens. Exploring the island makes for one continuous, uninterrupted action that was quite magnificent to behold.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is decidedly not a game for everyone. The game could seriously be called "Fetch Quest: The Game" and no one would bat an eye or think it was false advertising. That notwithstanding, what you get with Yonder is a relaxing and laid-back game that allows you to play at your own pace, discovering new sights and locales at your leisure, and taking care of quests whenever you get around to it. If you think you might like a game with satisfying exploration, plenty of things to accomplish that are rather gratifying, and is a serious looker, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles will have you on cloud nine. I know I was.

[SPC Says: B]

Review code provided by Prideful Sloth.

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