Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (Switch) Review
You could be forgiven for expecting a Zelda-like game after the short intro to Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. After a seafaring introduction that ends with an almost frame for frame homage to the early cave emerging scene in Breath of the Wild – complete with a swelling orchestral sting – one might expect a game full of exploration, action and intriguing characters. Turns out Yonder has a little of that, but was never trying to be the Zelda it seems at the outset.
Yonder is entirely pacifistic. There’s no combat and almost no immediate or general threat, no impending doom to push you into action – Yonder is to be played at precisely your own pace. Spending your time helping out the locals, you’ll be gathering resources, making friends with local wildlife and generally finding your way around the landmass of Gemea.
Yonder will appeal to a particular type of person, or maybe more specifically a particular mood. It’s the kind of game you can play somewhat absent-mindedly since it’s difficult to really do anything wrong but that lack of a substantial narrative arc, escalating challenge, or much of any external motivation for pushing through the game’s events left me feeling a bit directionless.
There are a couple of systems you can play with in Yonder, and you are free to do so at your own pace and to the extent you choose. There’s a neat farming system where you can generate resources by befriending and domesticating wild animals, by planting crops and hiring farmhands to keep things ticking along in your absence. It’s not incredibly deep, but it’s a neat little piece to get stuck into, and may help out with some of your material gathering centric tasks.
Much of Yonder’s gameplay consists of going through and completing checklists of tasks. Find 3 stones, craft 2 planks, talk to someone who will ask you to gather 7 vines and so on. While the tasks themselves do feel like the worst kind of ‘open-world’ busywork, to boil the game down to a list of tasks does it a disservice. Rather, the checklists of tasks are a vehicle to encourage exploration of the expansive world of Gemea. The world is dotted with little caves, rivers, mountains and villages that you’ll become quite familiar with over the game’s length – the lack of anything but the most simple of fast travel options (there are a couple of beacons sparingly scattered around the world that travel between two points) will make sure of that.
Helping out people in villages is the closest thing to a traditional reward system in Yonder, but ultimately feels fairly hollow. The character designs are cute and each village has its own theme and specialty (things like a carpenter village, for example) – but have little purpose beyond being quest givers and tools for completing those quests. Individual characters lack anything but the most shallow of characterisation, and so it is difficult to become invested in any of their concerns.
Maybe expecting traditional gameplay elements or narrative momentum is missing the point. Yonder definitely succeeds in creating a serene, carefree vibe – a kind of pleasant monotony if you will. Gemea is a nice place to spend time, it’s quite beautiful and the unobtrusive musical score sets the tone for some lovely time spent finding cats, befriending cute animals and absentmindedly stumbling on new locations. Personally I found the lack of depth in the game’s farming system, lack of character development and busywork progression system meant the game lacked lasting appeal, but found the most enjoyment in throwing away any gameplay expectations and treating the game as a means to relax – a way to just switch off the rest of the world and spend a little time in a place where nothing really matters and nothing really goes wrong. While it has shallow gameplay systems and minimal story, Yonder is a pleasant place to unwind and pass the time.
Carefree, pleasant vibe
Large world to explore
Great visual style
Shallow characters and story
Checklist based progression