If you’ve burned out playing Stardew Valley and are looking for your next chilled indie adventure, then I’ve got the game for you: Garden Story. In this sweet RPG, you play as a little grape called Concord as he’s sent out to restore his dying garden world. By following clear directives and aiding the villagers, you’ll be on your way as Guardian of the Grove in no time.
The main enemy is the Rot, which takes the form of slimes, infected woodlands, and large boss monsters. Half of your job is to vanquish the Rot from areas, the other half is rebuilding what it has destroyed. Between the main tasks are your daily requests, posted on little notice boards outside your house, and these level up each village as you reside in them. Along with this, you can do favours for the villagers and improve relations between settlements, allowing everyone to grow together.
The main impetus of the game is connectivity and coming together to solve problems. This is seen clearly as you explore, unlocking new pockets of the map for you and opening up pathways for others to pass through. Old friends are reunited, and isolated villages make peace with the outside world for the sake of progress and survival. There’s a real warmth and positivity throughout this game that is often touching.
Garden Story is a very task heavy game, so if you don’t enjoy fetching and gathering then it might not be the game for you. If, however, you enjoy clear objectives, collecting items, and a relaxing atmosphere then you will find this an enjoyable game. The artwork is very cutesy and the music is soothing, changing to suit the setting as you move around the world. There’s no real need to rush through it either, you can take your time and build up your villages at your leisure. From my time playing, I didn’t notice many consequences to skipping or postponing tasks.
The characters are very enjoyable. From anthropomorphic fruits, vegetables, and fungi, to the little frogs of Lilyputt, they are all very endearing. Their dialogue is often funny, particularly the mushroom people of Autumn Town who speak with what I read as a really hammy New Jersey accent. There are many sweet exchanges between the characters too as old friends come back together thanks to your ministrations.
The combat system is fine, not phenomenal but not terrible either. You collect more weapons as you go, but start with your Pick that you wield as a sword, each swipe using up stamina. The power curve feels a little off, as the first boss you come across is difficult to defeat with your limited stamina, but the later bosses feel too easy with your increased powers. You pad your powers with a buff system based on memories that you unlock as you go, which I really liked. The way that you could stack buffs was really handy and the only restriction being how many slots you have unlocked to use them in.
The dungeons were far more varied than I’d anticipated, and I really enjoyed some of the puzzles. The one criticism I have of the dungeons themselves is that you have to redo the entire thing, including the boss at the end, in order to get more of the dungeon-specific materials inside. It would have been nice to be able to just access the materials level having already beaten the dungeon, as playing it multiple times back-to-back in order to get enough Sewer Screws for a task is really very tedious.
The jewel in the crown of this game is it’s aesthetic. It looks beautiful, the music is stunning, and the atmosphere is superbly relaxing. Even with the combat system having some issues, I didn’t find it stressful to play. The environment is very immersive and I loved exploring and updating my map as I went, chatting to frogs and mushrooms with picture book-esque names- Pagu the frog, Elderberry and Tumshie from Spring Hamlet. Rolling around the Grove as Concord the grape is just so charming, how could you not enjoy that?