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Sometimes the "simple life" is just… TOO simple…

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    Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    Sometimes the "simple life" is just… TOO simple…

    Do you ever get the feeling that there’s just TOO MUCH violence in video games? It sure does seem like every other game has you killing zombies or shooting down enemy soldiers after all (I um… may or may not be playing Resident Evil 4 for the 3rd time…). Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (which we’re just going to refer to as "Yonder" from here on out) sure thinks there is, and summarily invites everyone to explore a violence-free world where our biggest worry is exploring what’s beyond the horizon.

    Despite its promises of pacifism, Yonder starts out fairly violent. After creating a character with the game’s (very modest) character options, you will soon be shipwrecked and left to explore on your own. After wandering through a short cave area, you will soon emerge and discover what Yonder is really all about: exploration. A fantastic vista will greet you and you’ll be left to your own devices from there.

    Granted, there is a nearby town where the townsfolk will give you quests that act as tutorials, but much like Skyrim you are completely free to do as you wish soon after starting the game. So the real question is… what are you going to do?

    Following the game’s initial quests (complete with a magical compass that has the ability to point out where we are supposed to go) will soon lead you to your main objective: Repairing the "Cloud Catcher", an ancient magical device that has stopped working (you can probably see where the game gets its name from now!). Doing so won’t be quick though (as if repairing ancient magical devices ever is!), but without the Cloud Catcher working a dark substance called "Murk" has covered chunks of the land. Not good. Thankfully, our character can recruit hidden sprites throughout the world and, with enough sprites, you can undo these blights on the land.

    When you aren’t questing or finding sprites and cleaning up Murk, you can also find and explore the game’s numerous towns. These "towns" are fairly small to be honest (each of them only has a handful of residents), but each one is also themed after one of the game’s crafting systems. As you explore you can constantly find SOMETHING to pick up and collect (think wood, rocks, vines, etc…), which you can often use to craft something bigger and better. You can also find and run farms across the map where you can take care of animals, grow crops, and build various item-creating machines.

    As cool as all of that sounds… the rest of the actual game play is fairly lacking. After 4-6 hours you will have the main quest-line/"story" of the game beat. Add a couple more hours to that and you’ll have fully explored the game world (which thankfully does have a fast-travel system you can unlock with some effort). Almost ALL of the world’s side-quests you’ll uncover involve finding enough sprites to clear more Murk or doing some random fetch-quest for another generic villager (seriously, these villagers have almost NO personality). Just saying "Fetch Quest" is a dirty word to a lot of gamers, but just in case you run out of these quests you can also visit one of the towns bulletin boards for (drum-roll please…) more (randomly generated) fetch quests!

    Still, as quick as the game’s main quest-line passes, I can attest that there is a LOT to do in this game if you try. Finding 50+ hidden cats (read: TONS of exploring), becoming a "master" in every craft, waiting for the season to change so you can finish that annoying scarecrow quest… there’s quite a bit to do. The real question is, how long will it take you to get bored of what’s offered here? Between the multitude of fetch quests and the bare-bones crafting and farming systems here, it didn’t take me long to get bored with the game and view whatever remained as tedious instead of fun.

    The game itself though is VERY picturesque. The island you’ll explore is quite large and filled with great panoramic views both day and night. Different sections of the island also have wildly varying landscapes, from roaming grasslands and rocky cliffs, to deserts and tundras. You can really tell the developers put in quite a bit of effort to make this a good-looking game (I personally loved seeing the fireflies coming out at dusk… just beautifully done!). The animals throughout the game are also quite unique and creative, with some characteristics you wouldn’t expect. The villages (and you, of course) are all rather small (fairly chibi, actually) but (usually) rather plain. Thankfully, you can dress your character in dozens of different clothing options and accessories once you find them, as well as different haircuts and hair color. Honestly, the graphics are undoubtedly the best thing about this game, hands down.

    The game’s audio takes its tone from the game play: smooth and tranquil. The main theme is a sweeping vocal anthem whose overtones are heard throughout the entire game. For most of the game though, the music will come and go while you are exploring. The ambient noises of nature fill out the rest, which is definitely relaxing in its own way (nothing says "relaxing" like crickets at dusk). As you may have expected, the game doesn’t have any proper voice acting so when you talk to villagers you just get generic mumbling, which really doesn’t help with forming any sort of connection with the characters in general (along with the generic look and lack of personality… man those poor villagers never stood a chance, did they?).

    Overall: 6/10

    In the end, Yonder is undeniably a FANTASTIC game to "sit back and chill" with. If you’re looking forward to some exploration, collection, and light building and farming elements, then Yonder is definitely right up your alley. HOWEVER! There should be a heavy emphasis on "light" in the sentence up above! This is not the next Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. No, this is a game with few puzzles, no combat, and filled to the brim with fetch quests and item collection. Yonder isn’t without its charms, to be sure. But deep and engaging game play (and story) definitely isn’t one of them. Have fun and keep playing!

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