[Review] Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
I’m sorry, it just misses the mark one too many times.
I apologise to the developers if my review came off a bit too harsh. It kinda pains me to write this review because Yonder: The Clouder Catcher Chronicles is one game I really didn’t want to say anything bad about.
I’ve been dying to buy this game for a while now, ever since it released in 2017. Yonder seemed to offer a really immersive relaxation experience that I’ve always been looking for in a game.
One of the main reasons I bought this instead of Stardew Valley was because Stardew Valley’s pixel graphics didn’t appeal to me. The graphics aren’t bad or anything. For from it. It’s just that I have a problem getting into those kind of games compared to 3D ones.
Unfortunately Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles tries to be diverse in its gameplay, but instead ends up underwhelming in most regards. Not even the game’s highest points were enough to save Yonder from its many pitfalls.
- You’re a nameless character.
- Wait, is there even a story?
Usually this is the part where i give a spoiler warning, but there’s really nothing to spoil about this game’s “story”.
You get a little backstory on how you’ve been sent away by your parents due to “darkness that poisoned our land”. Not too long after your ship unfortunately crashes.
But instead of being sent off to the afterlife, you’re greeted by this deity who is supposed to give you a reason for exploring the game’s world, also known as “Gemea”. You have to seek out her family, which are just some diety rocks located in Gemea.
Good, that has been all settled. Now go, explore and pick up some rocks or something.
I wish I was joking but that seems to be the gist of how the Yonder’s story goes.
The reason why I keep using quotation marks over the word ‘story’ is because Yonder practically has next to none. You barely even exist in the game’s world as it is.
There are not even any actual story quests in the game. Just quests NPCs give you to feel like you’re sort of making an impact in Gemea. Even a mission where you have to find your lost crew just amounts to filler.
I keep seeing comments about the game’s story being really simple, but I’m just here like “What story?”.
And to be honest, even if the game lacked a story as it does now, if the other parts of the game were redeemable, then I would give it pass.
Sadly it does not.
And my name is…?
Personally, if you ask me, not being able to name your character was the very first of misstep of Yonder.
But Beth, who cares what the character’s name is?
Firstly, I do.
And secondly, without giving the character some form of identity, it makes interacting with Gemea very impersonal. You never really feel like you play a significant role like the game would go on just fine without you.
As you interact more with different NPCs, and while it is a few and far between, some of the NPCs literally have more personality than your own character.
- Its simplicity makes it very easy to jump into.
- Exploration is the game’s bread and butter.
- It’s fun to unlock stuff by banishing murk.
- A variety of professions to choose from.
- Autosave keeps you from losing valuable progress.
- Changing of seasons is pretty cool.
- No proper money system.
- Lack of building mechanics.
- Farming could be more in-depth.
- Way too much guesswork.
- Travelling is tedious.
- No swimming.
- Lack of settings to customise gameplay experience.
- Basic character customization.
Bare with me. This is going to be a long ride.
People have said that Yonder’s simplicity is one of its biggest drawbacks, but while that may be true, it’s also one of its positives. Since the game is simple, it makes it very easy to jump into whenever you want.
Exploration is where I had to most fun. Gemea is downright beautiful in every direction, hidden with secrets waiting for you to find.
I liked exploring Gemea so much that I found a lack of a camera mini-game, where you take pictures of the world, to be a very missed opportunity. It would have made for a killer game mechanic that would have fitted perfectly into game’s style of play.
I enjoyed banishing the “murk”, blobs of darkness that lock off certain areas of the game.
You see that little bug like thing in the screenshot above? They’re called “sprites”. You have to collect those and use them to banish the murk, but different murks require a different amount of sprites. Usually the further you are within Gemea, the higher amount of sprites you need.
And how do you get these sprites? They’re hidden within different parts of Gemea. Fortunately, you’ll know where one is due to a unique glowing patch in the world.
The reason why I liked banishing the murk was that it felt like unlocking new parts of the game to explore. However, if the game was more linear, I think it would have achieved an even better sense of feeling rewarding.
Another part of the game I liked is the progression of time in the game as it changes from one season to season. There are even little events for different parts of the year.
For example, fireworks go off when a new year begins. There is even a Halloween mini-game where you dressed up in a costume and find candy to trade in for items.
Professions and Quests.
I must also commend the diverse amount of professions the game gives you, although they’re really not as fun as you would expect due to them lacking a significant amount of depth to make them engaging.
Professions just boil down to having the recipes to craft certain items in the game to speed up certain processes.
People complained about Yonder just having fetch quests. I don’t have an issue there since that is something I would expect from a relaxation game. It helps to keep you occupied.
Now for the long list of negatives:
“We got to have…money.”
There’s no real money system in the game. How it works is that items have a certain level of value, and to get an item from a merchant, you must trade them something of equal or higher value (lol Full Metal Alchemist). You can’t earn money nor or you compensated for the difference in the value of your items.
And best part? Different items are worth different values to different merchants, adding a bigger headache to the process.
I have to be quite blunt here: That really was not a good idea from a game design perspective.
Where’s the depth?
The biggest problem of Yonder for me, as if with others, is that it lacks a huge amount of gameplay depth.
For example, you can’t build a house or customize your farms. Actually, the only thing you can build is items to craft more items.
I’m not joking. You can craft a machine to make butter, which the butter is then used as crafting ingredients. Oh, and those ingredients can only be used if you have the baking skill.
Speaking of farming, ugh. I was expecting the game to be simple, but when it comes to farming it is more tedious than it is simple.
To get adopt animals to your farm, you have to give them some food so they will follow you all the way back to your farm. Tough luck for you if your farm is miles away.
You’re also given this is very generic farm where you can only do the very basics of farming, which include housing animals and planting.
You can’t even sleep in the farm or anything, which means you have to play the waiting game for crops to grow.
This becomes a problem as you’re going to notice you spend more time away from your farm than actually farming.
No worries though! You can hire someone to take care of your farm. (I mean that kinda goes against the reason of having a farming mechanic in your game, but okay).
And it would have helped if I didn’t have to bribe NPCs with food to hire them.
This is one of those parts of the game where I believed the developers could have either cut entirely or could have spent more time focusing on while reducing the overall scope of the game. It would have helped to deliver a much more robust gameplay experience.
The amount of guesswork in this game is criminal.
Do you know I’ve only found one farm in the entirety of my playthrough? There are more farms in the game, but finding them is troublesome and not easy on the player at all.
The captain of your ship gives you a mission to find the lost crew members, to which you’re only given small hints. No map indicator or anything. You have to find where they are on your own and it gets frustrating very fast.
When I have to use a walkthrough for your game, that’s a sign of bad game design.
And yes, I get the game is about exploring, but you also have to make exploring and finding things fun for the player. Not send them on wild goose chases.
Travelling over there and over there.
Why is travelling in Yonder such a chore? I could have forgiven the game for lacking some kind of vehicle for easy traversal, but Yonder has no autorun or proper fast travel.
The fast travel implemented in this game is locked to an item which only sends you to one specific location.
While the game does lacks combat, it wouldn’t be enough to give it a negative. However, the gameplay is shallow to the point that it makes you wish it did have combat.
One of the reviewers I watched (after buying the game) also pointed out that the lack of combat hurts the game because Yonder doesn’t give you enough depth to justify that being missing, which I totally agree with.
When people mentioned that the game feels unfinished, my mind goes back to that part of Yonder where you just drown once you dive into a sea or lake in Gemea.
Swimming could have easily been added to one of the many things you could have done. And I’m not asking to be able to dive or anything, as mapping out the ocean floor would be insane for an indie dev.
Since there is a lack of swimming in the game, Yonder kinda puts you in the position of having to make bridges to access other parts of the game, which is really annoying if you didn’t bother to get the carpenter skill to craft the parts you need to make it.
If you ask me, I think the player should have been given more variety in how they traverse the game’s landscape.
Playing the game your way.
While the seasons were good and all, I couldn’t help but find a tad bit annoying that I couldn’t adjust how I wanted time to progress in the game. In games like these, you can usually decide how fast time goes by or how easy or difficult to make certain parts of the game.
Basically, a lack of proper gameplay customization makes it less fun compared to other titles.
And now for my favourite part: Character customization.
“Extensive character customization.”
Quote from the Yonder’s steam store description.
I’m sorry, but Yonder in no way has “extensive character customization”.
First, let’s look at the meaning of the word:
covering or affecting a large area. “an extensive garden” synonyms:
large, largescale, sizeable, substantial, considerable, ample, great, huge, vast, immense, boundless, immeasurable;”
Now that we know what ‘extensive’ means, let’s take a look at the game’s starting character customization screen.
The character customization screen is as basic as basic can be. The only way it could have been more simple was giving you a default male or female character.
So yeah, Yonder definitely does not have “extensive character customization” and it rings pretty false.
But Beth, what about the clothes? Surely there’s more once you get into the game.
See for yourself:
What you’re looking at is 85% of all the clothes in the game I was able to get my hands on, selling about three of them to get some crafting items.
I legit only had two outfits I actually liked to wear. While I did find them really cute, like the Halloween costume above, the rest were not very appealing to wear.
- Runs pretty well.
- Characters could use more detail.
- No lower resolution than 1024 x 600.
It really is gorgeous, but…
Now I’m going to tell you what pretty much everyone has said about this game and something that I’ve also already said:
Yonder/Gemea is really beautiful.
It has really lovely environments that makes it just fun to explore.
However, the art style of the characters and animals are a bit on the “uhhh” side.
What I mean by that is sometimes they’re cute, but sometimes they’re not pleasing to look at.
I see where the developers were going with the art style. They were going for that cartoonist, cute graphics. While it is arguably unique, it’s not exactly easy on the eyes as you play, if you get me.
But I won’t stress that too much, as what people find cute is very subjective.
What did annoy me though is the game’s minimum resolution setting of 1024 x 600.
lol Beth, what the hell kind of monitor are you using in 2019?
Chill. I’m not using it to play the game at fullscreen, of course. I like to multitask when I’m playing games like these by having them in window mode and putting them next to other opened programs.
However since my TV, which I use as a monitor, only outputs properly at 1366×768 (it can do 1080i, but only at 30hertz) so it can get a little crowded when multitasking.
That’s why it is important to me to be able to shrink the window however I small I need it to be.
Unfortunately, not even Sizer was able to remedy this problem.
- Switching items = Not easy.
- Inability to remap controller inputs.
As you get more items through the game to do your gathering, you can access them by pressing LB and RB to switch between them.
This is actually pretty annoying though as it doesn’t make switching to the item you need as responsive as it should be.
Something like this could have been fixed by holding down one the buttons to trigger an item wheel, to which you can select using your analog stick.
Using the D-pad would have worked even better for quick access, but that would have required some extra thought with regards to remapping the button inputs.
Speaking of remapping, why is there no option to remap my controller? That’s like one of the most basic, yet essential parts of being able to play a game at your best.
- Fantastic orchestral music.
- Characters make an annoying gurgle sound when speaking.
- Annoying animal sounds.
- You can’t turn off individual sound effects.
I have to admit, the music in this game: Pretty darn good.
I’m a sap for orchestral type music so that totally won me over.
Oh god, those sound effects.
But want to know what didn’t win me over?
The VERY ANNOYING gurgling sounds that the NPCs make when you talk to them. They do those “Oh”, or “Ah”, “Huh”, sound effects, and it really just takes me out of the game.
That could have easily been removed from the game with NO drawback. Personally, I think a developer should either put in competent voice acting or no voice acting at all.
This is more subjective, but I didn’t like the constant animal sounds (though I wouldn’t have taken them out).
I would have given the player the option to turn off the individual sounds effects played within the game. Yes, it would have been a little extra work, but I believe it could have gone a long way.
The “No Man’s Sky” Dilemma.
When No Man’s Sky released it was criticized with the term “Wide as an ocean, Deep as a puddle“.
Yonder suffers from a bit of a “No Man’s Sky” problem. One of the things I think this game suffers from is it focuses too much on the game having an open-world.
Don’t get me wrong. Gemea is beautiful and amazing to explore, but even if the developers cut the world down by half, it would have greatly improved the game by focusing their resources on making the world more interactive and more densely populated.
Yes, I’m very well aware it probably would have been a different game in that case.
Would it have affected the game’s exploration? Of course, but would it have been for the better? Yes.
If Yonder really aims for relaxation, the developers could have added a lot more that would have made you forget about wanting an open world.
Not the best value for your dollar.
One of the most significant things that makes Yonder a hard sell is its price. It has a regular asking price of $25. This won’t sit well with a lot of people considering that My Time At Portia offers everything you could have asked for at just $5 extra.
Now I’m a little mixed on this too because as an artist, you really shouldn’t let anyone tell you how much your art is worth.
But with that said, my purchasing decision of Yonder would have left less of a sting if it was around the $15 mark.
From the Developer’s perspective.
I’ll be quoting the developer with what they said about the game’s negative feedback from the game’s forum on Steam.
jistyles [developer] 20 Jul, 2017 @ 7:31pm
A lot of people seem to have bought into the press comparisons to other games and then got very disappointed by what it actually is – we got compared to really big titles, like the 3 of us were going to combine some of the biggest games in the world, but people don’t seem to have read the articles or viewed the game to form their own opinion.
The part where they said “we got compared to really big titles, like the 3 of us were going to combine some of the biggest games in the world”, I think the criticisms go deeper than that.
The game did feel like it took inspiration from the same type of gameplay that could be found in those games. The big problem came when people saw very overlapping similarity and weren’t given the meal they were expected.
Of course no one is expecting you make such a high profile game, especially an open world done by an indie team. However, if you dialled back the scale of the game a bit and worked on implementing deeper features, I believe myself and others would have found ourselves coming back for more.
You don’t need a big open world to win the hearts of gamers. Remember: Bigger doesn’t mean better. Working on the smaller stuff could have pushed this game a long way.
jistyles [developer] 20 Jul, 2017 @ 7:31pm
Yonder is a gentle and relaxing sandbox world. If you’re a sandbox play style and you love cute or happy things, you’ll probably adore Yonder.
Not to brag or anything, but I’m a “hella kawaii” and yet I find it a tad bit too difficult to enjoy Yonder.
It’s not as cute or happy as one would expect. Gemea is gorgeous, but that can only get your game so far.
Also, I wouldn’t exactly call this a sandbox. When I think of the term “sandbox”, I think “limitless potential”.
Yonder is sadly very limited, unlike a game like Minecraft where what you build is limited to your imagination.
jistyles [developer] 20 Jul, 2017 @ 7:31pm
There’s no adrenaline to be had here. It doesn’t have complex quests or indepth relationships. It is not a deep rpg. And it’s not a deep farming game. It’s Yonder – and unfortunately that’s MASSIVELY polarising for people looking for a new minecraft or zelda or stardew valley replacement. But our 80+% user rating, and the messages and community you can find here should tell you it’s very worthwhile to people that want that sort of experience.
Yes, those persons looking for that kind of “Yonder experience” will like your game, however, you do have to admit that the game kind of alienates those by not reaching its full potential.
I wouldn’t have ha a problem with the lack of relationships, detailed quests, deep farming or RPG mechanics if the game at least excelled in one of its core gameplay mechanics.
It doesn’t, and instead it attempts to do too much while leaving you underwhelmed.
Like I said when I started this review, this was one game I wanted to love to my heart’s content, but I just couldn’t.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles has a few good things going for it like its beautiful open world, but it tries to give you things it’s not ready to give you. Therefore it ends up falling flat on its face all of the other times.
It tries to implement several gameplay mechanics that end up being too simple, making others who enjoy these type of games roll their eyes.
I am at least happy knowing other people have enjoyed Yonder because being this critical to a small indie developer’s game is not something take any pleasure in doing.
But what I do hope is that Prideful Sloth can delve into the criticisms of Yonder and work on something better and more streamlined in the future.
But for now, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is not something I can confidently recommend.