Have you ever wanted to be a grape that fights monsters, buys hats, and sleeps on a nice and cozy leaf? Thanks to Garden Story, I now know what the ideal life is. Set in a fruity and colorful top-down world, Garden Story is a Zelda-like action RPG developed by Picogram and published by Rose City Games.
Round and Round the Garden
One thing should probably be made clear. No, this isn’t a chill farming game like Stardew Valley or a life-sim like Animal Crossing, and honestly, it’s a good thing. There’s been quite the overabundance of games either based on or some amalgamation of the two, so Garden Story is a much-needed breath of fresh air.
You play as Concord (get it?), a reclusive and round lovable grape who loves gardening. After being appointed as a Guardian, he steps out of his secluded home in The Grove to help restore its community. You’ll travel across sunny seaside towns and frosty forests. You’ll meet an apple named Fuji who is an architect and a shopkeeper in the form of a pickle named Dillford. You’ll whack lamp posts with a sword and watch them turn on and off in glee (ok, maybe this one’s just me). The ‘Story’ part of Garden Story is full of these amusing moments and is incredibly cute, and despite it being a simple and straightforward tale, it’s the miniscule details that add so much character to the game.
You aren’t exactly the chosen one, and are more of someone shouldered with responsibility. Concord fits into the silent hero archetype and doesn’t have much to say unless asked a question, but within his tiny actions you can see a lot of personality. The way he does a little spin and dance when he acquires an item, or how his cheeks turn pink and his eyes smile upon eating something. I could feel my heart melt every time, and it really goes to show the kind of care that’s been put into the game.
Dewdrops Keep Falling on My Head
Things are wonderfully whimsical Garden Story, and there’s no shortage of things to do. Every day you get about 2 or 3 requests to carry out. These can range from gathering materials to slaying monsters. The more requests to get done, the more upgrades you can unlock to the town you’re in and help rebuild it. Once you’ve helped rebuild enough and fulfilled some of the essential quests from NPCs, you’ll be ready to venture forth in the dungeon. Each town has a dungeon from which you’ll be required to fetch someone or something, and as is expected, you’ll have to fight a boss at the end. Apart from the first boss bottle which was mildly headache inducing, the rest are fairly simple once you figure out the trick.
In terms of combat, Garden Story goes the classic route. You attack with the A-button and shield with the B-button. As you make your way through each town, you’ll get a weapon or two to try out, and each of them has a certain gimmick that’s effective against certain enemies or is helpful in foraging. Even your fishing rod is a long-range weapon that can be used to pick up items from afar. The stamina bar, as is the case with most games that have one, ended up being the only cause of my frustration in this game. Every time you perform an attack it takes up a little bit of stamina, meaning you have to attack, run away for a bit to let it recharge, and then attack again. Gradually as you play, your stamina bar will increase, but it really ends up hindering combat.
Apart from that, the only other bar to worry about is your health. Besides going to sleep, HP in this game can be healed through Dew, an interesting take on potions. At the start you’ll have a basic bottle in which you can fill up Dew through the various wells spread out throughout town. Additionally, you can buy fancier Dew at the Tavern which can give you minor effects or buffs. Along your travels, you’ll come across stores selling other types of bottles which have their own properties.
It’s a neat concept that’s not your average potion system, but it could have been explored a lot more. In the very beginning of the game, you’re shown how to water a plant using Dew and are taught how to replenish its state, but this mini-tutorial never comes in handy later again. Later on certain Dew can be bought that makes plants overgrown so as to harvest it for materials, but that’s about it.
Which is another thing. With a title like Garden Story, you’d expect well, a bit more gardening. Especially for a protagonist that enjoys gardening. In the latter portion of the game you’re introduced to gardening a bit later through which you can get all sorts of materials, but it definitely seems more like an afterthought.
That’s not to say the lack of gardening is a bad thing. The gameplay loop of Garden Story is pretty addicting. The more materials and money you earn, the better upgrades you can get (and the more hats you can buy). The more you explore, the more ‘memories’ you can unlock. Through memories you can change up your stat build for Concord. The game strikes a good balance between daily tasks and giving you enough freedom to do your own thing.
It goes with saying that Garden Story’s top-down pixel art is top-tier pixel art. It has a clean look to it that is a treat to the eyes in every aspect, right from the character designs themselves to the in-game font. The tunes fit the mood and feel of the game just right, and I found myself looking forward to hearing the music the most as I entered each town. It ends up changing as the day goes by which is a nice touch, and I absolutely love it when games do that.
Garden Story’s got a few rough patches of grass, but the rest of it is vibrant and comforting. I found myself pretty hooked for a good few weeks on the game, and despite a few initial frustrations with it, I grew to love it berry much (I’m sorry, I had to).
TechRaptor reviewed Garden Story on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Steam.
- Delightful pixel art
- Fresh and vibrant soundtrack
- Lots to explore and unlock
- Combat can be a bit frustrating
- Dew mechanics have unexplored potential
- More gardening would be nice