Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles Review – Vibrant Beauty (PS4)
Pick three games at random from your PS4 library, and chances are they’ve all got some form of guns, weapons, or violence in them. Don’t think that I’m here to get all preachy though. I enjoy a wide-ranging variety of games; many of them involving shooting or slicing the bad guys, but it’s a formula that’s become all too easy to replicate. Give players a bunch of enemies and ways to take them out and you’ve got them hooked. It’s a strategy that’s worked for three decades.
It’s always a highlight for me when a game bucks this trend of violence and manages to grab my attention through other means. The Witness is one such adventure that comes immediately to mind, managing to become one of my favorite games of all time without a single enemy to kill or weapon to use. Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles takes the passive crafting and farming of Harvest Moon and blends that with the grand open world exploration found in the likes of Legend of Zelda to bring a sense of wonder and discovery to the player. There is nary an enemy or weapon to be found, unless you count the hammer that smashes rocks or the scythe that cuts the grass.
Shipwrecked on the visually stunning island of Gemea, you are the hero, tasked with earning crafting badges while learning what caused the landscape to be entrenched in Murk, a physical manifestation of darkness that brings sickness to the living wherever it goes. With the help of powerful and adorable sprites discovered across the landscape, you can rid the world of the Murk while uncovering the mysteries that hide beneath it. Seriously, it should not be understated how gorgeous Yonder is. Emerging from the waterlogged cave to get your first breathtaking view of the island is among my favorite video game moments this year.
Without any combat to occupy your time, you’ll be gathering resources to achieve different goals and complete quests instead. These tasks start off small, collecting wood from chopping down trees and stones from smashing rocks, but the complexity of what’s needed begins to grow. You’ll need to explore the many biomes of Gemea, meeting with new people in different towns and learning how to craft more complex items to move forward.
Exploration is one of the highlights of Yonder. The world has a rich and brilliant design that begs discovery. Rounding every corner, climbing every mountain, and delving into every cave always leads to something new and unique. I wasn’t content until I had covered every inch of the island, and even then I was still constantly finding new and fun little details and secrets that Prideful Sloth has peppered across the landscape. From the hidden troll village to a message on a rock stating “you aren’t supposed to be here” after doing a little mountain-goating, to the more overt — yet still quite subtle — pop culture references in character names and dialog.