I don’t want to write a review about Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
It’s not because I didn’t like the game - quite the contrary. It’s because the act of reviewing requires a writer to play a game as if it’s something to finish, something to rush through. Yonder isn’t built for rushing. The world of Gemea is a world for meandering through.
When I play games, I care less for combat than I do for collecting things and exploring landscapes. I often run past encounters in favour of gathering flowers or completing fetch quests. In Yonder, I didn’t have to sneak past enemies - there simply weren’t any to avoid.
It’s strangely liberating to walk into a cave full of spiderwebs and know that you aren’t about to get jumped by a nasty venom-spitting spider. In fact, I managed to completely avoid killing creatures at all - I even adopted a Bambex, which produces hides, to complete a quest that wanted me to use traps. I just couldn’t bear the thought of killing any of the adorable creatures that roam Gemea, especially when none of them were trying to hurt me first.
It’s lovely to jump from a particularly tall cliff and know that, instead of taking fall damage, you are going to float down to the grass with a rainbow umbrella held above your head like Mary Poppins. It’s nice that when my PlayStation 4 controller ran out of batteries - and my character ran head-first into the water - nothing happened except a fade to black before I was teleported back to dry land.
Yonder is incredibly relaxing. I lost myself in guiding creatures back to my farms (and rubbing noses with them as I told them how much I love their little faces), fishing in in the turquoise ocean, and running back and forth across grassland and desert and snow. Actually, I got lost a lot - partially because the map is sometimes difficult to interpret, and sometimes because my sense of direction is horrendous. But it was rarely frustrating - walking through the same area for the fourth time, and then accidentally finding a city was hilariously satisfying.
Most of my issues with Yonder stem from the fact that I was hurrying to finish the story. Fast-travelling between locations, even with the various portals and Sage Stones that become available, does little to speed up navigation, and character movement feels sluggish. For a game that relies heavily on fetch quests, the act of fetching and returning can sometimes be arduous. With no indication on the map of how many sprites are needed to clear the murk you’ve found, you have to have a pretty good memory to know when you’re able to return to certain areas - and if you’ve miscalculated, that’s a lot of running for nothing!
Well, ‘nothing’ is probably an unfair assessment - running from place to place isn’t all bad. Crafting in the game relies heavily on gathering items, and all that walking around helps with finding ingredients like flowers, stones, and twigs. It also helps with finding collectables, like cats and sprites. It’s also hard to be too cranky about just existing in this world when the day/night cycle happens so often that everything always seems to be lit by golden sunrises and sunsets.
Crafting is related to the various guilds that you can be a part of. As you practice crafting particular types of items, more recipes and ingredients are unlocked. These include anything from bread, to fireworks, to coloured shampoos.
The shampoos are amazing. I really wish I could just wash my hair (and fantastic beard) with galaxy, or flame, or ombre, or oil slick shampoo in real life. I changed hair colours and styles so frequently, unable to pick a favourite. The clothing choices are awesome too - and none of the hairstyles, facial hair, or outfits are restricted by the gender of the character you created at the start of the game.
Customisation is a big part of Yonder. Being able to move items around your various farms, keep animals or plant trees, and decorate with fences and hedges that you crafted yourself is satisfying. You're also encouraged to plant trees across the countryside, which creates interesting landscapes as you make biomes a little less monocultural by sharing seeds from the other places you’ve explored. You’re able to customise not only yourself and the small spaces denoted by farm boundaries, but also the landscapes themselves.
You are also able to interact with other players in satisfying ways. Despite being a single-player experience, Yonder allows players to put little geocaches in the landscape for other players to find. Sometimes I found caches on my farm, on paths I travelled, or in front of treasure chests. I even found a Nackle Fish directly in front of a man who asked me to go in search of a Nackle Fish, allowing me to turn the quest in immediately; as soon as I caught one myself later in the game, I returned to the place to return the favour.
Overall, Yonder is endearing. The art and music are beautiful, and the lack of the combat in the game makes exploring Gemea a restful experience. Despite the narrative resolution being lovely and satisfying, I recommend not rushing to reach it - Yonder is better if it’s about the journey, not the destination.