Hello hello hello my dears! I hope you are all staying indoors. Mr. Act (who is asthmatic) and I (who is without an immune system) are both high-risk and terrified. Every time you think about going out, consider that you might kill me, and maybe reconsider. Or don’t, depending on why you’re reading this.
Anyway, quaran-time has actually has a wonderful effect on my health. I mean, I’m going crazy and getting no vitamin D, but Mr. Act is home all the time, I’m cooking and cleaning because I’m not exhausted by work, and reduced workloads in class mean I can like, read and write for fun? It’s weird.
So, looking over the myriad of things I have in drafts, I thought this would be a good one to push out, because Verdant Skies is a really interesting game that’s actually not that good but I put 30 hours into it anyway for a few reasons. The gameplay is really pretty shitty but it has some wonderful ideas and mechanisms and perhaps most importantly for our typical reader, it’s really committed to making a farm sim that goes above and beyond in terms of race and gender. If those things are important to you this is definitely worth checking out, but if you need high polish and deep gameplay first and foremost it’s probably not for you.
Pulling back a bit though, this is a futuristic space colony farm sim.
If you are a longtime fan of Bokujo Monogatari, you may remember what Marvelous did for its tenth anniversary. They wanted to do something wild and crazy for the series, so they came up with two concepts: Harvest Moon but in a fantasy world, and Harvest Moon in a far future sci-fi world. The former was released as Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, which as we know became a huge hit. The latter was Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon, which no one liked and no one remembers.
Innocent Life was not a good game. I played it once, briefly, in college, and could not get through it. Part of the issue was that romance and marriage were removed because you played as like, a farming robot, and this meant a lot of the character-driven activity that is so vital to HM games was gone. It was also very ugly.
But I always hated that it squandered such an interesting premise: what would a futuristic Harvest Moon look like? What could they do to take the mechanisms we know and love to the next level? When I played Verdant Skies, I finally got a peek at what Innocent Life could have looked like.
In Verdant Skies, you are the Colonist, one of just a few people sent out to start making habitable a new, lush planet. It’s quickly clear from the colony’s administrator, Jade, that no one expects much from this particular colony, as Jade is young and not taken particularly seriously. Jade puts a ton of pressure on you the make the colony THE GREATEST, and makes it clear that if you don’t work your ass off, everyone fails.
The art in VS is all over the place. It seems to be another game where all of the attention was given to character portraits and no one gave a fuck about anything else. The ingame spritework is… let’s call it “2007 dollmaker chic.” It’s ugly and clunky and just damn awkward. But the portraits really are lovely, and they capture something that I think arguments about representation miss out on a lot, which is that when everyone doesn’t have to be white and pretty, people can actually look interesting. I talked about this a lot in my post for Dreamfall Chapters as well; when you free yourself from all white all the time, you suddenly have all this color and line and style to play with, and the character designs themselves in this game are just eye candy because they’re so unique and so distinct. It also isn’t nothing that this is, mercifully, a future that everyone gets to take part of. Characters are Asian, Black, [email protected], Scottish, space alien, etc. etc.
The game’s other pet issue was gender. It does make the weird choice of not letting you choose your pronouns, instead opting to awkwardly write around pronouns or refer to you as “they” regardless of how you want to identify, which is not ideal, but that there’s no constriction on how you look and even a nonbinary love interest is really wonderful. This is a world populated by all kinds of people. Imagine that.
I thought the character backstories were solid, though doled out too quickly in huge infodumps. This was part of a larger problem with relationship progression being way way too fast. They opted to remove gift giving (for reasons that, I’m sure, absolutely have nothing to do with not wanting to code it), but don’t seem to quite get why gift systems are there in the first place. That is, they give the player some control over relationship progression. To make up for the lack of gift giving the heart meter fills up stupidly fast, and it functionally means that no matter how much you hate and ignore a character, they’re going to fall madly in love with you. There’s no way to be aggressive enough with someone to stop their hearts from filling up; they are going to ask you out whether you want them to or not.
This brings us to the biggest issue: this game feels rushed, unfinished, and at times, very half-assed.
There were so many systems here that hinted at wonderful ideas that were just squandered. A foreign planet wouldn’t have normal seasons! So this one has 30 days of summer and 5 days of winter a year, and that’s it. Why not ten seasons of differing length with weird weather? Why not two suns at different angles so crops in some areas grow faster than others? Why not magic purple foam that falls from the sky?
This pattern — the game identifies an opportunity and then goes about it in the laziest way possible — is all over, and it’s very frustrating. One of your resources is collecting scrap metal from your crashed ship… but there’s no resource management involved because your ship apparently endlessly spawns scrap metal all over the world. You can clone animals from wild ones to breed farm animals… except breeding traits are all RNG and you should just aim for “give lots of rare drops” AND you can’t crossbreed animals AND there’s only like 4 of them. There are strange ponds you can fish in… but they’re all fish that looks just like earth creatures. Sheep give wool. Cows give milk. Chickens give eggs. But there’s like a rock monster too I guess?
At every. Goddamn. Turn. the game spits on its own ideas. While this game is so much more than Innocent Life, its reliance on RNG, barely-implemented systems, and buggy interfaces make it so much less than it could be. I think so much of my playtime was honestly just the desire for there to be more than there was. I wanted to see what it had to offer, because I felt like it had to be something, because the implications were that something great was coming, but I kept being disappointed. Like Innocent Life, it left me wishing someone would make this game as it could be instead of what it is.
Yet, I think I fall on the side of rec with this. Its gameplay was serviceable enough to be playable, it had enough character backstory to be interesting, and the setting had so much promise. Plus, I loved its racial and gender diversity; it was really nice to see someone in this genre tackle those things. I mean, I put 30 hours into it. There’s something there.
I’m just not sure how much.