A Hero and a Garden
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Genre: Visual Novel, Adventure, Point & Click
Platform: Reviewed on PS4 (also available on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 28/8/2020
A code was kindly provided for review purposes.
When we were young, we were told in many fairy tales that the hero saves the day from evil. Fighting monsters and saving the captured princess in a tower has been ingrained in our heads from day one. What if I told you that those stories got it wrong and that the hero was actually the monster? That’s what A Hero and a Garden seeks to show us.
A Hero and a Garden is a clicker/visual novel game that strives to challenge and answer the preconceptions of the typical fairy tale. Through witty and sweet storytelling, it provides a charming tale full of important life lessons. However, does the gameplay match up, or drag the experience down? Let’s find out.
Once Upon a Time…
The narrative is easily a strong point of A Hero and a Garden. It begins with the protagonist, a knight called Cyrus, fighting his way to save the princess in a tower from an evil witch. While this may start out just like any traditional fantasy story, it soon takes a complete turn when the reality of the situation is revealed. The princess voluntarily left to live in the tower, and the monsters Cyrus attacked in town were really innocent.
It’s now up to Cyrus to work and repay for all the collateral damage that his ill-thought venture caused. It’s a smart subversion of expectations that sets up the rest of the game and narrative really well. This break from the traditional fairy tale tropes lends the game a unique angle, that hooks the player in to see what happens next. Not only this, but the characters you meet along the way also add a more personal note to the story.
As you progress through this roughly 1-2 hour adventure, you not only learn more about the world and backstory but also meet some colourful individuals. They each have their own little storylines that are so different in tone from one another. It was a pleasant surprise that despite the short length, I grew attached to these characters really quickly. At the end of the game after repairing the final part of the town, you can experience a few more scenes with a person of your choosing. I made sure to make a save before so I could see them all, I liked the characters too much.
Don’t Judge a Monster by its Horns
Like any good fairy tale, A Hero and a Garden explores some important themes and lessons for its audience. These are mostly told through various interactions with other characters. For example, it’s made obvious through Era’s storyline that just because someone looks or acts different to you, it doesn’t make them something to reject or fear. Showing empathy and challenging harmful stereotypes/traditions is present throughout this game. These are perfect lessons for children (as well as some adults) and A Hero and a Garden teaches them with charm.
Through these lessons and experiences, we witness Cyrus develop as a person. He recognises the error of his ways and takes responsibility for his actions. It’s an overall heart-warming tale that offers a surprising amount of humour.
Too Many Berries
Unfortunately, this adorable and promising narrative ends up being marred somewhat by the painfully dull gameplay. To repay the damages, Cyrus needs to work in a garden to grow berries and fulfil many requests. Essentially, you wait around for berries to grow on five bushes – each at different speeds – pressing a corresponding button to collect them. What’s worse, is that they can only hold a maximum of three at a time. This means you have to be present to collect them as soon as three grow, to maximise efficiency.
The five different berries reflect the five characters you meet. They each require a unique berry, increasing in numbers needed for each subsequent request. This causes the late game to be particularly monotonous, where at least at the start, fewer berries were needed. Since you get a new character scene after each request, the pacing is strong at the beginning but drags later on because it takes forever to collect the required number of berries. The money you get from completing these requests is used to repair different parts of town, culminating in a festival.
You do get a helper that regularly collects berries from a single bush you allocate him to. However, this ends up being pointless as it’s just far more efficient to collect them at the press of a button yourself. It’s not all bad, since the game’s short length stops it from becoming too big of an issue. Furthermore, it helps that there’s a sense of rhythm and pattern to the berry growth. It’s just unfortunate that these basic mechanics can hinder and get in the way of the great story.
A Hero and a Garden boasts some adorable visuals to go alongside the sweet narrative. Everything is super colourful, and the art style is simple but effective. It can come across at times a bit too basic, but it fits well with the fairy tale/storybook nature of the game. It still offers enough detail to provide personality to the world and its inhabitants.
The music is similarly simplistic, but I thought it worked well to help create a relaxing atmosphere. It won’t grab you and you won’t be humming any of these tunes after, but it doesn’t need to do that to benefit the experience.
Happily Ever After?
My short time with A Hero and a Garden was a mixed bag but contained more positives than negatives. It takes a charming spin on traditional, fairy tale tropes to tell a sweet story, that offers a surprising amount of depth for such a short game. It’s able to touch on various important themes which, despite being clearly aimed at children, offers plenty to appreciate and learn for all audiences. It’s a shame that the basic gameplay and its repetitive nature can often dampen the overall experience. Having said that, excellent storytelling and likeable characters, alongside the pleasant audio-visuals, make this a satisfying tale for all ages.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can buy your copy of A Hero and a Garden from the PlayStation Store here.