Since I finished the DS II (SotFS) plat, I’ve been mainlining a game that, well, isn’t meant to be mainlined. I mentioned it in my last post (the one about the plat) and it’s called Cozy Grove by Spry Fox. It’s Animal Crossing with a sprinkling of Spiritfarer and it’s been the perfect antidote to the plat. Speaking of which, Spiritfarer by Thunder Lotus Games had an update with some new ‘gameplay’. I put that in quotes because it was not gameplay, exactly. It was Stella’s (main character) sister, Lily, showing up to flesh out Stella’s character and backstory.
*SPOILER FOR MAJOR SPIRITFARER PLOT POINT*
Stella is a nurse who takes care of end-of-life patients and then gets cancer herself. The whole game is an allegory for what’s happening in her life. None of this comes through in the game and while there are hints now and again, I didn’t know about this until a newsletter from Thunder Lotus after I finished the game. I did know that Stella was dying because she’s the last person you take to the Everdoor, but I didn’t know the details about her death.
Anyway, the update is Lily’s spirit talking to you about family history and spells out the above paragraph in photos and memories. You can tell it’s Lily and their mother visiting Stella while Stella is in the hospital dying and Mom is asleep. Lily wants to take a walk down memory lane and in order to do so, you have to go to the different shrines across the world. The thing is, you can only do it at night and I just missed getting to the first shrine on the first night. I haven’t played this game in several months and had forgotten the mechanics to a certain extent. So I had to waste a whole day waiting for nighttime in order to access the new content.
After a few memories at this shrine, I had to go to another shrine to get more memories. I get why they did that, but I internally rolled my eyes as I set off. Then another shrine. Then, the fourth shrine. The one that almost made me quit the game the first time around because of how difficult it is to access–and this is at the very end of the game. There’s a bunch of platforming that is very fiddly and requires a combo of different moves. I had to look it up because I could not remember how to do it. Once I was reminded of the Dash, I was able to get to the shrine with fairly little effort. Still. Was it worth it?
Look. This was one of my two co-GOTY last year. I platted the game and cried several times while playing it. Gwen will stay with me forever and I loved almost everything about this game. This update, however, fell flat with me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve moved on from the game, but I didn’t really get much from this update. There was nothing bad about it, mind you (except having to go to several different shrines), but it just didn’t add much to the game experience for me. In addition, Lily is…I hate to say it…a bit of a brat. I get that the devs were trying to show a sister/sister relationship that was both loving as well as somewhat contentious, but it just felt off to me. I think it’s because we have no history with Lily so when she comes in and puts Stella down, it feels bullying. Especially as Stella can’t respond. I think it’s meant to show the enormous pain Lily is feeling, but, again, I don’t know her from Rose. I am very protective of Stella and it irritated me to hear Lily put her down.
Cozy Grove. It’s a resource management sim, but it’s more than that. It’s hand-drawn graphics that are just a delight to see. It’s relaxing chill music that can make me drift off to sleep when I’m fishing off the pier. I know that sounds weird, but it’s a compliment, I swear. It’s the cute-faced bonfire called Flamey who guides you when you need it. It’s the spirits you help along the way and I’m assuming the bigger story of what happens when you help them all make peace with their deaths and move on. It’s interesting because you can help them with a questline one day and the area around them blooms into color. Then, the next day, if they have another quest for you, the color is gone again. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it’s a creative mechanic, but it stresses me out. There are some resources that only flourish when they’re in color and the thought of having to constantly move things around or get the quests done as quickly as possible is not my idea of fun. I am not a min-maxer at all so I would really rather not do this.
That said, this game is the perfect chill game. It’s meant to be played for maybe an hour a day before moving on. The game runs in real-world time and there is only so much you can do each day. I mean, you can endlessly gather resources (fish, dig, scavenge) and I do, but the quests are limited on the daily. Plus, there are some quests that will take several days to finish because of how new materials are released. For example, currently, I need four relic ashes in order to make a better pickaxe. You get relic ashes by burning relics, which makes sense. However, as far as I can tell, you can get only one relic a day. Another quest I just got needs eight relic ashes (better dowsing rod).
Again, I’m of two minds. I understand what Spry Fox is trying to do. I get that they want it to be a relaxed feeling of gameplay, but I wish there was the option of doing more. Also, I don’t think the balance is great. For example, there are young birds you can buy and place around the world. They have three hearts that you can fill by various methods. One, each has individual likes and dislikes. So one might like natural decor, flowering bushes, and lamps. It might dislike other birds and commons. So, obviously, the point is to put it near the things it likes an not near the things it dislikes. The more hearts it has filled, the more resources you get from it. All the resources you can buy and place have this mechanic. The problem is in the beginning of the game, most of the items you have are common. So it’s really difficult to put something next to an item that isn’t a common.
In addition, the game wants things from me that I don’t have and don’t explain how I can get them. One of the things I needed could only be got with upgrading Mr. Kit’s store for the second time, which cost 200,000 coins. Most things gave me a couple hundred coins at a time. There were some things that fetched a higher price, but that was a lot of money to get. I managed to scrape it up, but I wasn’t happy about it. In addition, it only gave me one of the thing I needed (cocoa beans). Once I bought it, I had to wait until the next actual day to buy another. I needed the cocoa beans to make certain desserts. One of them, the Cocoa Tart, took one cocoa bean. Another, the Bon Bon, needs two. Why did I need to make these desserts? Because six of my birds wanted a chocolate tart at the same time. As for the chocolate cake, three of the imps wanted one. If you feed the imps, they give you resources. Certain of those resources, imp essences, could only be harvested from them, fished for, or bought (but the latter two were rare).
I don’t care so much about feeding the imps, but if I don’t feed the birds, I can’t harvest their resources. So it irritated me that I couldn’t feed them because of a reason out of my control. There is a bush that grows cocoa beans (yes, I looked it up), but I don’t have access to that. If it’s with the next store upgrade, that costs 400,000 coins. It’s a delicate balance to push players to want to do the next step by making it hard but attainable, and making it discouraging to take that step. I also love the questlines and when I have four or five new quests a day. When I get three or four new fishes a day. And new seashells. I love going around to all my birds and other resources and harvesting them.
Another brilliant thing about the game is evolving the birds. I just discovered this recently. When a bird reaches three hearts, it levels up from a young bird to an adult bird and gives different essence. That was a really cool thing to discover and I love how the adult birds look different than their younger selves.
I also have to give a shout-out to Fashion Grove. Mr. Kit has new clothes every day and I find myself buying most of it because it’s just so dang cute. Recently, haircuts were added. I haven’t tried that because they’re all different colors than my basic black. If I change my hair, will my current hair go in my closet like my clothes? Will I be able to change at will? We shall see.
I really enjoy this game. I don’t know if I’ll play the whole thing because that would be a year or so in real time, but I’m trying to savor each step of the way. I do wish the balance was better, but it’s a small price to pay for a game as charming as this one.