I don’t remember when I first saw the trailer for Yonder, but right away, I realized it was for me. Following the discovery of Yoku’s Island Express, a combination of relaxing play and beautiful visuals seemed like it paired well with me at the time, and just as Yoku did not disappoint, Yonder currently sits in my good graces.
Yonder, at it’s core, is purely a quest-driven series of fetch quests. You find yourself on the island of Gemea, inhabited by all manner of human and beast, and your goal is to improve the island and dispel it of evil, by way of helping those around you, planting trees, and opening and maintaining farms. There are several distinct specialties and guilds within Yonder, typical to games of this sort (think Chef, Carpenter, that sort of thing), paired with a crafting element, each one of the aforementioned guilds having their own set of learnable recipes. The map will look reminiscent of any MMORPG, dotted with exclamation marks and question marks, indicating available quests, quests to turn in, and things to check out as a part of an existing quest. You can view available quests and select one to focus on at any time, which in most cases will put a mark on your map indicating where to go.
Gamea is made up of eight distinct locations, from sandy beaches to snow-capped mountains to lush green fields, each with their own unique creatures, guilds, and items to pick up. Each region is also filled with giant evil purple clouds called Murks which can be dispelled using your Sprites, which are found all over the island. There exists a plot to the game, but it’s fairly light and I’ll let you experience that yourself. Removing the evil is a key part of the gameplay, and most of that comes in the form of discovering Sprites and eliminating Murks.
If all of this sounds like a lot to take in, it’s all a part of a very simple gameplay loop in Yonder. If you’re the kind of player who enjoys running errands for digital people, this may be the game for you. The gameplay loop is generally open-ended as the game itself, whereas you can simply wander around for hours on end, planting trees whenever you see plantable spots, and exploring to find treasure chests with loot. As of this writing I’ve logged about 15 hours, and it’s been a very nice experience. At this point, my collection rate is around 55%.
The game itself is written in Unity, an engine that is fairly heavy duty and in the past has been choppy in several games. Undercooked is the first that comes to mind. The team behind Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles has claimed some major surgery to the engine, and bearing that in mind, it runs surprisingly well, albeit some frame droppage in both docked and handheld mode. The visuals on both modes are still gorgeous and overall the graphical fidelity is one to write home about.
The best pairing with gorgeous visuals in an open-ended game is naturally a good soundtrack, which Yonder is happy to provide. While the soundtrack itself is mostly limited to Breath of the Wild-esque atmospheric mixes, it works perfectly with the elements at play. The audio mixing itself could have used a bit more attention, as some of the sound effects (birds chirping, in particular) can get “stuck” in a loop, and the volume of certain sound effects can really be irritating if you’re playing with headphones, often drowning out any music that’s also playing.
Speaking of Breath of the Wild, the comparison can really be seen in the opening movie. Just watch the video below! No doubt, it’s intended as an homage.
And an homage it certainly is! Comparisons to a blend between Breath of the Wild and Stardew Valley are most certainly fair, although watered-down versions of each, naturally. Both of the aforementioned games are massively intricate in their own right, and where Yonder succeeds is by taking some great traits from both games, and injecting it’s own charm where necessary to distance itself.
The guilds themselves are pretty simplistic at best, and the whole introductory guild quests are nothing more than fetch quests (not necessarily a complaint either, as the whole game is fetch quests). The trouble is, the items that you need to find aren’t usually scattered around the world, they need to simply be purchased from the vendor. That vendor is usually a stone-throw away from the guild master. So in essence, “go here, get this,” which is then followed by a completely underwhelming “Quest Success!” message for essentially walking 10 feet and interacting with a vendor.
Trading is a big part of not only guild-related activities, but doing most of anything before you’ve made your way around the block and obtained recipes for all concentrations. You won’t be able to do a whole lot in the way of crafting and making your way towards a Master rating in each guild, until you’ve obtained all of the other guilds. This makes crafting a little useless in the early game, and turns it more into an end-game goal. Perhaps this was the purpose?
The trading system itself could have used some more attention. It’s very similar to the Fallout 1 + 2 trade systems, where you pick the items you want to buy, see how much they’re worth, then move your own items on to the trade table to match or exceed the worth of whatever it is you’re buying. The system works fine, but since there’s no actual currency to use (aside from some coins which are only accepted in certain places), you’ll find yourself doing a fair bit of mental math, squinting at the lackluster UI on the screen, trying to figure out how many 5 cent mushrooms you need to trade to bring your total to 385 (it’s 77!). If you add too many items and go way over the number you need to match, you need to remove them all and start over. It can get frustrating for no reason.
The trading UI is pretty similar to the crafting UI, which also could use an overhaul, perhaps in a future patch. You can only craft one item at a time, so when you inevitably (like with any collect-a-thon fetch quest game) max out your storage boxes, and start frantically liquidating your stock by crafting everything you have the materials for, you’ll find yourself spamming the A button repeatedly, rather than simply selecting what you want to craft, and moving a slider to “Max”. The UI itself is also terribly unresponsive and I don’t know what else to blame but Unity. There’s clearly some overage on the memory use on this screen as pressing on the directional pad several times results in some brutal input lag. Tack that on to the list of things to fix in a future patch.
I’ve pointed out some glaring issues but all of these are fairly minor in the grand scheme of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. The game itself is so charming and relaxing to play that the (real) world around you seems to melt away the longer you play it. The immersive Wind Waker HD-esque art style can pull you in.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is how just about everything can be destroyed and used for parts. Need some wood to craft something? Whip out your axe, chop down a tree, then replant it, as planting all of the trees in each region contributes to the overall completion of said region. Need more seeds? Grab your scythe and whip down some grass to find more seeds. Find a cute animal? Feed it some snacks and lure it into your farm, where it can produce food for you! It all feels very rewarding and rarely left me yearning for more.
Pointing out that a game could use more depth feels useless to me if no suggestions are made as to where that depth could potentially be created, so I did have some ideas.
Some players may expect or crave more depth than is offered. In those cases, I recommend Breath of the Wild, Animal Crossing, or Stardew Valley, by and large the closest comparisons to what’s available here. The rest however, may seek comfort and solace in the world of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
Have you had a chance to play Yonder yet? What did you think about it? Let’s chat about it in the comments!