2017 hasn’t been the brightest of years so far, but thankfully Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is helping to change that by being one of the most colourful games I've ever played. Did I mention there is no violence in the game whatsoever, another stark contrast to 2017?
In Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, you play as your own custom created character that sets sail to follow a mysterious light from a compass left to you by your parents. Following the compass ends up taking you to an island that you'll explore where you'll be farming, helping townsfolk, crafting, bartering, and clearing out murk—a dark force spread around the island—via the help of magical creatures you can find hidden in the world (and sometimes by solving puzzles).
While many games claim to be open-world, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles really embraces the term as players can go literally anywhere from the very start of the game except for the area where the game ends. That said, the compass points you to your currently selected goals so you don't have to worry about wandering or being lost—for the most part.
If you haven't guessed, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a rather simple and easy game. Most of the game involves walking from one point to another, using tools to cut trees, smash rocks and ice, fish, or pick flowers and weeds. Then you'll use these supplies to craft items to join guilds, which unlock more crafting formulas, which allow you to complete more goals. Rinse, repeat.
Additionally, there is a very minimalistic pet/farming system where you feed wild animals certain items and then guide them back to the various unlockable farms where they will produce items—such as milk—to be used for bartering. While cute, this system is mostly useless and optional unless you plan on going for 100% the game, as it only really affects the overall completion percentage.
Instead of earning money to use in shops, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles uses a barter system where each item in your inventory is assigned a value and can then be traded. While in theory this sounds fine, and it does harken back to the pioneer days, in actually it’s a very frustrating mechanic and easily the worst part of the game thanks in part to a limited inventory. When I play games where I can pick up items, I'm a bit of a hoarder as I always feel like I might need an item later. In Yonder, This led to lots of tedious inventory browsing to try to figure out what items to keep, discard, or store in an equally limited chest at my farm.
Nearly all the quests that require crafting can be quickly and easily completed by simply getting the needed items from a generally nearby shop and then combining them from the crafting menu. Completionists will be forced to explore and collect a lot more items if they're looking to squeeze every last ounce of gameplay out of the game, but for the story, completion bartering is about enough.
While I quite enjoyed the colourful graphics, cute designs of characters and animals, and the equally enjoyable soundtrack, I did run into a few snafus along the way while playing on my PlayStation Pro—specifically, framerate issues and one crash. At times with a lot of scenery or grass on screen, the game would often drop frames or even stutter and hitch a bit—not enough to ruin the experience, but more than enough to be noticeable. In fact, rarely did I feel that the game ran at the intended framerate, which is a shame because it is just so good to look at; I took so many screenshots of all the cuteness!
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a cute little game that I quite enjoyed. It can be completed in around 15 or so hours, probably quicker if you ignore side quests and just head towards the finish, which for me is about the maximum length of time I like to put into games these days. That said, I marathoned Yonder in two play sessions, just because I was so engrossed in the game's world. Sure, the majority of the gameplay is fetch quests and busy work, but I feel like it was the perfect distraction I needed. Plus it's hard not to love something that basically combines Animal Crossing's busy work with Breath of the Wild's relaxing open-world exploration—even if it is far simpler. Simple doesn't always mean bad, and in this case, it means pretty good.
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