Garden Story Review: Not Quite Ripe
If I picked a grape from the vine, and it started attacking me with a pickaxe, I’d be a lot of things, including gravely injured. For Concord in Garden Story, though, slinging weapons around and saving the world is just part of the daily chores.
It’s a hefty task placed on their non-existent shoulders, in more ways than one. The fruits of their labor might not be fine wine, but Garden Story’s unique and pleasurable aroma gives it a flavor that stands out even among the finer vintages, if only because of what might have been.
Garden Story Review: Not Quite Ripe
The Kindergarden is where tender plants await the day they can drop off the vine and join the world. There’s a problem in Garden Story, though. No new fruits have blossomed in years, thanks to the ever-expanding Rot that threatens to engulf all life.
That makes our hero Concord’s job as tender of the Kindergarden a bit redundant. Enter Plum, one of the realm’s guardians, who whisks Concord off to the land of perpetual spring — a real place, not a euphemism — where they learn the principles of guardianship.
What follows is a twee little adventure that’s sort of like The Legend of Zelda with a bit of Harvest Moon grafted on… well, that's how Garden Story appears on the surface. In reality, it’s a surprisingly melancholy tale in parts.
Plum and the other guardians muse about the world’s grim fate and how things have withered prior to Concord’s story beginning. These conversations happen nearly every time Concord speaks with the guardians, and it adds an unexpected sense of urgency to their mission and depth to the world.
Garden Story isn’t just sad. Everyone helps encourage Concord to do their best outside the Kindergarden, and characters such as the lazy-but-endearing Rana the Frog inject some welcome humor whenever they’re on screen.
The bulk of Concord’s mission is a solo one, however. They’ll travel through four season-themed areas and combat the rot in all its forms, but Garden Story adds a nice twist on the usual top-down adventure.
Once Concord arrives in a new area, they stay as long as they want. Each region has a cute bungalow complete with a leaf rug for sleeping and saving, a Dew well for replenishment, and some other odds and ends.
There’s no shortage of folks who need help either. Every day brings a new round of requests that help Concord level up their stats, such as maintenance, and rewards them with some cash for new tools or upgrades.
That’s where the rot starts to set in, though. Garden Story is ambitious in its design and ideas, but it doesn’t carry through enough on any of it. Daily quests are almost invariably the same, and most of the environmental puzzles follow a similar pattern. You can build and decorate, but only in limited measure.
Concord gets an array of tools for fighting Rot, from the handy pickaxe to a parasol and even a hammer. Combat is stiff and unrewarding, though, hampered further by a stamina bar that seems more like a carryover from farming simulators than a useful feature.
Most enemies have a set attack pattern that’s easy to learn, including bosses, and you’ll quickly settle into a predictable rhythm. Run up, smack smack, run away, buff with modified Dew, repeat.
Garden Story doesn’t set itself up as the next great action-RPG, but fighting is a core part of Concord’s adventure. More variety would have been the equivalent of a grocery store spritzer keeping the journey from wilting.
Barring that, I’d have been happy just letting Concord put down stronger roots in each village. It’s evident Garden Story wants you to care about its inhabitants, and I do — when they let me.
Despite the world’s depth, it feels surprisingly impersonal. There’s not much interaction you can have with the NPCs, and you rarely, if ever, see the payoff from all the quests you complete to help revitalize each village.
What you’re left with is a slightly sour aftertaste. Garden Story wants very much to do something bold and new, and I appreciate that. Most of its big ideas just fell off the vine before they ripened, unfortunately.
Garden Story Review — The Bottom Line
- Surprisingly deep story
- Charming characters
- Ambitious ideas...
- ... that never go far
- Combat wears out fast
- Repetitive quests
- Limits its best ideas
Garden Story shows what RPGs and top-down adventures can be like. There's depth in its foliage and a charming world at its foundation. It just seems like the dev team tried getting too much from a plant that couldn't produce enough to meet demand, and the result was a watered-down version of the ideal.
Still, new seasons bring new opportunities for growth, and I very much hope to see Garden Story sprout again in a new form.
[Note: Picogram provided the copy of Garden Story used for this review]