Preview: Harmony: The Fall of Reverie
I can’t express how excited I was when I was told I would get to preview Don’t Nod’s new narrative adventure game. Life is Strange is one of my favorite series and, given my affinity for visual novels and the like, this sounded like an amazing opportunity.
However, I have to admit that Harmony: The Fall of Reverie was not what I expected and I’m not quite sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Still, I had a lot of fun playing the demo and would like to share my thoughts on the various aspects of the preview build below.
At its core, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie seems to be a tale about two worlds shrouded in their own unique problems but advertently linked. At least, that is one of the overarching themes we are presented with as we start our journey. However, the preview build mainly focuses on our protagonist’s missing mother and leaves the true status of these two worlds on the back burner.
Polly, or Harmony as she is called by the Aspirations, is the story’s main character who has recently returned to her hometown after hearing that her mother has gone missing. As she enters her childhood home to start her search for her, she is pulled in by a magical necklace that transports her to an alternate world known as Reverie. Reverie is where beings called “Aspirations” live. These beings are named after various concepts like Bliss, Truth, and Power, and explain to Polly that her actions are the key to saving her world and theirs.
What follows is a series of events centered around uncovering the whereabouts of Polly’s mother. All of these encounters have choices for Polly to make, and every single decision has consequences for both the human world and Reverie.
I have to admit that, from the bit of it that I played, the story intrigues me. The preview build was short and mainly served to introduce the characters and do some world-building, but there were so many concepts explored in that short amount of time that I can’t wait to see what sort of overarching tale it’s actually trying to spin.
It helps that the game’s cast is amazing. They are diverse in their design as well as their personalities. You have Nora, a bubbly sister-like figure to Polly. Laszlo, the man who raised her since she was young. Jade, an activist/reporter who ends up joining their cause. Omar, a mysterious man who becomes entangled with them through his connection with Polly’s mother.
And these are all just the humans found in the game. I’m actually much more interested in learning more about the Aspirations. Bliss and Power are pretty much caricatures of their name, but beings like Truth and Chaos really appealed to me because of their enigmatic presentation. I was really hoping to learn more about them, but beyond that just can’t wait to meet some of the other characters that the story alluded to and uncover what their ties are to Polly and the worlds they inhabit.
Now, it’s clear (at least to me) that Don’t Nod really likes exploring the concept of how a player’s choices affect their world. I have to say that in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie they took the exploration of this concept to the next level. Polly is able to essentially see the future, which creates endless paths for her to take. Her decision-making process also has a unique aspect to it as it is sometimes driven by the theme of each Aspiration. Want to encourage someone? That’s Bliss. Want to be assertive and do what needs to be done? That’s Power. All of these aspects play a role in the outcome of Polly’s journey and effectively come to a head at the conclusion of the demo.
Unfortunately, the more simple concept of decision-making feels bogged down by what I feel is a convoluted system. Instead of there being choices on the screen like any normal visual novel, Harmony uses a nodes system where you are able to see the impact of your choices on a broader scale. When entering the nodes screen (called Augural by the game), you can map out exactly where each choice will lead you and what you need to do to achieve the outcome you want. I think this complex system sounds good in theory, but in practice it actually felt like it made encounters much more complicated than they needed to be.
What I mean is that while on the surface it seems like Polly can freely make a ton of different choices, the outcomes are actually limited by things like crystal requirements for each Aspiration’s path and story moments can become closed off without you even realizing it. This gave the game the feeling of linearity, which isn’t good for a title that tries to market itself as being all about branching paths.
Now, this is just the demo and as I mentioned, it focuses strictly on finding Polly’s mother. Perhaps as the story opens up the decision-making will become more flexible, but from what I played the system did not feel that way. I constantly found myself looking ahead to which aspiration I wanted to align with and just picking that path because I liked them. I didn’t feel confident in truly exploring the options I wanted to because it would sometimes lock me out of the other paths and then I’d be stuck.
I think the gameplay is what has me confused about how I feel about this title and I’m hoping maybe playing it more or to its completion will help me achieve the feelings Don’t Nod is trying to convey with their approach. At the very least, the portion I played was still giving tutorials on the nodes system despite it being three hours in so perhaps it will evolve as the game does and my feelings are just premature.
In terms of visuals, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, is a pretty game. It took upon itself the task of designing two completely different worlds and succeeded. Every background in both Brittle (the game’s name for the human world) and Reverie is unique, colorful, and distinct, making the game a visual treat.
And just like the vibrant worlds they inhabit, every character has a unique feel and look to them. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how many characters of color there were (including the protagonist) and that’s not even counting the aspirations who were not only unique looking but also made to look fitting to their names.
My thoughts on the music are not as positive. I just felt like a bit more could have been done with it. Every theme matched and the sound effects were good, but sometimes there were moments where I felt more music could’ve been used and there was none.
To be honest, I was very surprised that this title is a visual novel through and through. In Life is Strange you could explore the world as Max, but here you go from scene to scene, switching between the nodes screen, Reverie, and Brittle depending on where the story wants to take you. Major events and the end of each chapter were presented in the form of an in-game cutscene which were lovely despite some of the frames looking a bit choppy.
Still, this is just the demo, so hopefully the visual defects and sound quality issues are just found here and won’t be a problem in the finished product.
I’ll end this preview by reiterating that Harmony: The Fall of Reverie was not what I was expecting. However, that doesn’t mean I am any less excited for the full game to release. Despite how convoluted the gameplay came across in the demo, I want to get to know its vibrant cast of characters more fully and dive deeper into the two mysterious worlds we were introduced to.
As always, Don’t Nod has created a narrative experience that sucks you right in, and although their approach this time around is different, I fully trust in their ability to tell a good story.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie releases on June 8th for the Switch and PC, and on June 22nd for PS5 and XBOX Series X/S.
Preview copy provided by Don’t Nod for PC. Screenshots taken of reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Don’t Nod.