It’s so rare to find an open-world exploration game that doesn’t want me to kill spiders. Or at least, things that look kind of like spiders, or that move like spiders, or… you get it, I don’t like spiders. So many of the games out there that have a focus on exploration also involve fighting off beasts to steal their loot, and as fun as that can sometimes be, I’ve often found myself wishing that I could just explore without the fear of being attacked or having something fall down on top of me from the ceiling. Thankfully, Australian developers Prideful Sloth have come through with Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, and have given me a game that just lets me peacefully roam. This adventure is one with no combat, and with nothing to struggle against except the uncertainty of your mysterious past and the occasional needy villager. In theory, it’s jam-packed full of the things I love about games, but in reality, it’s not without its flaws. It just took me awhile to notice them.

From the moment you begin customising your character, it’s clear that this game is going to encourage personalisation. Your original options are somewhat limited, but there are a wide range of wacky hair colours to choose from, alongside several basic skin tones. You must choose your gender, but I hadn’t been playing for long before I realized that this selection makes very little difference to your aesthetic possibilities, which is always good to see. Along your journey you’ll find items of clothing, shampoo to dye your hair in gorgeous ways that in reality would require way too much maintenance, and various accessories just to complete your look. Do you want to be a gender non-conforming kid with spiked galaxy hair, a long skirt and an impressive beard? Go for it. How about a sailor in a sweet hat with lime green sunglasses? That’s cool too. Your protagonist’s identity might be a mystery from the start, but that’s what allows you to make them your own.

Yonder1

We’ve all been there, Lumie.

And oh, what a mystery it is. Your journey begins on a ship ripe for an epic adventure that is troubled by angry seas, though like all good heroes you soon find yourself shipwrecked and without most of your crew. As it turns out, you have crashed on the island of Gemea, which, while stunning, is also plagued by an evil purple substance known as the ‘Murk’, which it soon becomes your job to clear. To do so, you must enlist the help of the adorable ‘Sprites’ of the land to return the world to its former glory and discover more information about your past. It’s a fairly straightforward tale, but it feels lovingly crafted, even though the narrative never feels like the main focus here. If anything, Yonder is a game about crafting, building a farm, restoring the island to its former glory… and fetch quests. Lots of fetch quests.

Sly

You know what “Sly McWiley”, I’m sorry that I’m not stronger than the WHOLE OCEAN.

At first, I was just in awe of this novel and genuinely stunning world. Every little detail of the environment is breathtaking, and the knowledge that there are no enemies to attack you or frustrating deaths to avoid means that it’s easy to relax immediately into exploration mode. A few introductory quests and directions, and Gemea is yours to discover. While exceptionally freeing, this is also one of Yonder’s greatest flaws – the lack of direction. Many of the game mechanics are barely described, and you’re left to find out for yourself what is possible. In some cases, this is fine – it’s great to feel like you’re learning alongside your character. But in Yonder, it wasn’t until I was almost finished the main storyline that I discovered some basic skills and options, and by that point I didn’t really feel inclined to utilise them. I spent half the game collecting random cats before I met the woman who asked me to look for them, so I was running around haunted by the meows of kitties I didn’t know needed my help. Obviously this game isn’t meant to be played in a strictly linear fashion, but a little explanation in some cases goes a long way.

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If you jump from a height, you glide down using your rainbow umbrella instead of dying, which is pretty much the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.

Of course, there’s much to do here outside the main questline. Yonder is part Zelda-style open world exploration game, part Harvest Moon – with a little bit of Animal Crossing thrown in for good measure. In each new zone of the map there’s an opportunity to establish a farm, where you can keep animals that you’ve tamed and then acquire resources from them over time. For the animals to be happy they’ll need food, water and shelter, which you’ll need to craft out of the materials you’ve collected using the skills that you’ve learned. It’s a fun way to make those skills feel more useful, but sadly I found my enthusiasm for my farms waning quickly. Making friends with animals and showering them with affection is rewarding, but for each animal you tame you’ll need a new structure and more food, and the recipes to build those things contained items that were tedious to find. Gemea works on a barter system, so if things couldn’t be naturally harvested then they must be traded for. This includes outfits, dyes, mortar – and the glue that I desperately needed to build up my farm.

Groffle

This is a Groffle – one of many animals that can be kept on your in-game farms. Even the NAME is cute. (This picture also shows off my blue hair and fashionable glasses. I felt good about those choices.)

Which brings me to Yonder’s other frustrating quirk – the travel. There’s a fast travel system available to unlock, but it isn’t intuitive to use, and like most things, isn’t particularly well explained. There are shrines of sorts that can be opened and the player is able to travel between them, but there are several locations that you’ll be visiting frequently that are nowhere near these travel points. It seems that you’re unable to escape spending a lot of time running back and forth across the map, which feels unnecessarily tedious. The world is beautiful, but if I’d been able to spend less time running the same path, I would have appreciated that beauty far more. Instead, I was forced to run through fields, taunted by resources I didn’t have the space to collect, and which I could only make room for by dumping materials that might soon become important. Each farm you establish does come with its own storage box in which to stow away excess resources, but you never know when they’re going to become important.

These words come with a huge disclaimer – I was playing this on a time limit. Given the chance to relax a little and not be so focused on ‘getting things done’, I’m not sure that I would have even noticed half the things that frustrated me. As a way to relax, to explore, and to lose yourself in a lovingly crafted and picturesque world, Yonder is magnificent. For someone focused on goals and completion, it might be a bit of a slog at times, but there’s still plenty to keep you moving forward. Though it doesn’t quite achieve everything it set out to do, this game has instantly carved its own niche in an industry that definitely needs more just like it. It’s a breath of fresh air that I could happily recommend to people of all ages – as long as they have a little patience.

8
Excellent

About The Author

Jess is a psychology researcher by day and is determined to find a way to merge her gaming and professional lives. She loves point-and-click adventures, games with strong narratives, and her love of puzzles in all forms has actually caused her to use the phrase “that reminds me of a puzzle” whilst in a furniture store. She can generally be found on Twitter @zammitjess talking about games, feelings, and her life as an anxious mess.