Garden Story Is a Rich RPG About Building Community—and You Won't Be Able to Put It Down

From the second I first saw a trailer for Garden Story, I knew that it was precisely my type of game.

From the gorgeously rendered cartoon pixel art to the round plant characters, it was clear that making my way through the game's world through combat, collecting and connection would be a sheer delight. The game was finally released on Aug. 11, and I couldn't have been happier when the team behind the game got in touch wondering if I'd be interested in reviewing. They sent a review key for the Nintendo Switch and I immediately jumped into the journey, finding it even more magical than I'd suspected.

Getting Into the World

In Garden Story, you take on the role of a young grape called Concord. They live in a world where a force of nature called the Grove maintains peace and balance, which is being threatened by an evil power called the Rot. Though Concord has never traveled beyond their home in Spring Hamlet, they're soon tasked by the current Guardian, Plum, to become a new Guardian, drive out the Rot and reunite the four towns that make up their land.

Starting from Concord's home in Spring Hamlet's Kindergarden, they venture out into the world armed with a trusty Pick to slay the gelatinous Rot creatures and restore order. This takes them through four seasonally themed areas of the game, starting in Spring Hamlet and eventually making their way through Summer Bar, Autumn Town and Winter Glade. Each introduces Concord to a unique cast of characters (everyone in the game is a plant or small animal of some kind), as well as new ways to interact with the world and new types of enemies to best in battle.

Garden Story: passage at night

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

 

 

Starting Your Adventure

Don't be fooled—Garden Story may have elements of a farming simulator, but it's an action RPG at heart—and a captivating one, at that. Your mission is to bring your community back together after its four towns have been torn apart by the Rot, and that all begins in Spring Hamlet. Through talking to the townsfolk and taking on quests and favors, you'll eventually be led down the path to restoring the local library to its former glory—unlocking the first dungeon in the process.

But before you tackle that daunting task, you'll probably want to explore a bit and find your footing. Each day when you wake up, a board in front of your lodgings will dole out two to three Requests to accomplish in that area for the day. These come in the categories of Conflict, Repair and Forage, and each one has a leveling system, so completing those tasks will allow you to unlock new Rot to combat, and new upgrades to your weapons and items.

Garden Story: Requests

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

This will quickly introduce you to most of what you'll need to understand for the game. Firstly there's fighting the Rot. They come in various forms, from blob creatures to poisonous roots to rotting acorns and more, and at first, you'll have to learn to defeat them with your first weapon, a Pick. But before long, you'll also accrue a great big Hammer, a Dowsing Rod that acts like a fishing pole, a Scythe and more, which all have their pros and cons and are great for tackling different situations and enemies because of their strength, speed and range.

While foraging usually just means depositing some items you've collecting in a box, repairing comes in different forms. Sometimes, all it takes to repair something is a few good whacks from your hammer. Other times, you'll need to use the resources you've collected to repair something that's broken, and that brings us to another big aspect of the game–resource-hunting.

Whether you're "fishing" for shells, breaking open boulders and stumps for stones and wood, gardening or defeating enemies to collect the items they drop, you'll constantly be collecting and managing resources in this game. They're not just good for requests—they also allow you to purchase and upgrade the items that will be necessary for making your journey go smoothly.

But the game doesn't just let you hoard these precious resources. You can only hold 25 items at a time, so you'll constantly be ditching items to make room for more valuable ones, or dropping things off in storage bins to lighten your load. However, you can also only hold 15 of each item there (besides wood and stones, primarily for building, which accrue without limit, but can't be taken out), so keeping an eye on what you have is always top of mind. Each area also has a library or archive looking for specific resources to complete their collections, and donating allows you to unlock buildable goodies, both practical and cosmetic.

The result is a ridiculously satisfying (and addictive) gameplay loop of seeing your tasks for the day, completing them and then using the rest of your time to unlock everything you can to make yourself as strong as possible. I even started taking notes about what I wanted to get done every day. Once my Requests were done, I'd have to check in—did I remember to destroy all of the glass bottles on the beaches of Spring Hamlet? Is it time to harvest after I planted those seeds in Autumn Town? Did I remember to do as much dowsing as possible in Summer Bar in search of more Crimson Shells? Gardening also requires extra patience and thought, as seeds take days to grow, and you'll want to remember precisely what's planted where to maximize your efficiency.

There's also a day/night cycle that will also inform how you play. Certain shops and important locations only open after some time, or closed at night, so if you have business there, you won't want to show up too late or too early. Some townsfolk who've asked you to complete favors go to bed at night and won't be available. Other enemies only come out at night, and if you have Requests to slay them, you'll have to wait until nightfall. Lucky for you, there is always a ton to do in the game, and you'll never be left bored. Once the night arrives, it also doesn't end until Concord rests, which gives you all the time in the world to hunt and gather, if you need to.

Garden Story: Talking to Rana

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

 

Getting Stronger

Each of the four seasonal areas has not just a town to save, but a dungeon to complete, full of enemy encounters and tricky puzzles to solve, with a boss at the end of it to overcome. These can be pretty tough, especially early on, when you haven't yet had the chance to upgrade your health, stamina and weapons—and when your health reaches zero, your day ends, and you'll have to do the whole thing over again.

Learning how to use Dew in the game definitely helps. As you play, you'll obtain various jars, which are capable of collecting Dew, which restores your health–as well as watering plots of land for gardening, when it comes to it. Tap Dew is the most standard and can be refilled all around the map, but other types of Dew with different properties can also be purchased for better healing, special buffs and even revival.

Garden Story: Wilted leaves need dew

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

If you're going to defeat the first boss—the Bookworm—without a hitch, I definitely recommend training up, upgrading as much as possible and bringing a bottle full of Leafy Dew to strategically restore your health to survive. Many of the enemies in Garden Story hurt, and even after you've maxed everything out they'll do a hefty chunk of damage if you don't deal with them carefully. Certain enemies also require certain tools to deal with them, or have punishing attacks, so they'll always keep you guessing.

Garden Story: Bookworm boss fight

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

But there's even more to the rich stat-building and RPG elements of the game. For example, when Concord goes to sleep on their leaf every night, you're given a few options. While you can go to bed and jump directly to the next day, you're also given the chance to check out Concord's stats and see what they're capable of.

Garden Story: My Memories

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

It might not seem like you have much control of these statistics, at first, but once you start unlocking Memories, that all changes. Getting certain achievements in the game will unlock new memories which do everything from making your Tap Dew more effective to specifically boosting or lowering stats and making certain weapons hit stronger and wider, so you'll want to play with these to make Concord handle exactly how you want them to. You get to determine what kind of adventurer they are, and even better, none of these is permanent. Memories can be updated any time you choose, as long as you have access to a leaf where Concord can sleep at night.

 

Each Memory also lists precisely how it's unlocked, so if you want to be a completionist, or simply have an urge to see more options for boosting Concord's abilities, you can purposefully start tackling them whenever you get the chance. You can unlock up to nine slots for Memories over the course of the game (determined by your Mind stat) and these will help you buff stats for Concord depending on your preferred gameplay style.

Confused about Mind? Throughout the game, you'll find these glass orbs atop tree stumps, and most of the time when you encounter them, you won't have to strength to destroy them. Only through acquiring new weapons and their subsequent upgrades can they be busted open, granting Concord a new Mind point.

Garden Story: Summer Bar

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

For a while, I put all of my Memories into survival, boosting my Health and Max Stamina as high as I could in order to be able to handle enemy encounters. As I made my way through the game and finally bested the final boss, I was left wondering why I was struggling so much to find rarer resources—particularly Crystal Lenses, which seemed almost nonexistent despite me needing a lot of them to upgrade certain items. Then I realized that I'd completely sacrificed my Luck skill to get that strong. The moment I made some adjustments to maximize luck, Crystal Lenses became super common.

This customization is just one of the things I adore about Garden Story. You may even want to make notes of what Memories you like for different types of projects, and swap them out at will depending on whether you're headed into tough combat or a dungeon, or you're currently focused on gathering rare resources, to blast through the game with the most powerful version of Concord for every task. This is what makes it so much fun to save each town from the Rot and bring them back together into one connected community.

 

Bottom Line

I simply cannot get enough of Garden Story. On top of everything that makes the game ridiculously fun to play, the presentation—from the sound design and music to the adorable visuals—is just top-notch. For example, your health is represented by an adorable jar of grape jelly (the more HP you have, the fancier your jar gets) and your item loadout is represented at the bottom left of the screen with your backpack and the items you currently have available. There are also a number of cosmetic-only wearable items for Concord, and though they mostly seemed like a waste of Leaflet coins to me, there was one pair of brainy specs in the game that I just had to buy and wear.

Garden Story: Glasses in the mist

(Garden Story via Rose City Games)

The music is also stunning, with a soundtrack that was often reminiscent of some of my favorite series. Some of the music in Spring Hamlet wouldn't be out of place in a Legend of Zelda game in the Kokiri Forest, and the melody in one sewer section reminded me of some of the more memorable, puzzly tunes from the Professor Layton series, and always brought a smile to my face.

And maybe it's just me, but even though things started to get a little repetitive toward the end of the game, I always felt driven to complete every Request, see every upgrade and run every errand because it was simply a blast to do. I'd happily spend many in-game days growing the plants I needed to collect 15 of a certain resource in order to upgrade a weapon I don't even use, simply because I enjoyed the game's mechanics and the satisfaction of doing everything there was to offer.

While I personally played the game in hours-long sessions it also seems like the perfect game for tiny chunks of free time, playing through a day, and then putting the game down, to keep it feeling fresh. Even after investing more than 25 hours in the game itself and getting almost every possible unlockable in the game, there's still one resource I haven't found that's baffling me—and I'still on the hunt for it (and don't intend to quit until I've found it).

 

Garden Story is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch for $19.99.

 

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