Approaching a new concept is always interesting. Of course, every new concept has been approached in some form or another, and there is plenty of inspiration from existing entities that goes into creating new things. Such is the case with Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Open-world, crafting, and gathering have all been done before in plenty of combinations along the way, but what makes Yonder feel different from all the rest is how the game is executed: there is no combat to be had for the entire game. This changes the entire scheme of things within this genre, and while this unique experience has some shortcomings, it’s also rout with personality, content, and exploration.
The premise of the Yonder: The Cloud Catcher lies in your ability to gain your bearings on an island in the middle of nowhere, and from there it’s your job to not only establish yourself but help bolster conditions on the island, as well, since a strange substance called Muck has taken over a great deal of the island. This process begins with gathering the basic essentials needed to create your first items to continue onward. Citizens of the island, found mostly in smattered gatherings around the island, provide quests as well as opportunities to grow, including providing items and tools needed to continue pushing forward and access more materials. One major benefit to the citizens is learning professions. Across all professions, such as cooking, carpentry, and fishing, are the skills needed to unlock new areas; in fact, speaking with citizens will often grant you items and tools to get started. This is done primarily by building bridges across insurmountable gaps or obstacles. What this game does very well is set the pace of progression, which ironically can be frustrating at times. On several occasions, I found myself trying to turn in a quest–rather early on, in fact—that had me on the other side of a river from the person with whom I had to turn in the quest. In this instance, I had to build a bridge made of stone, a capability I hadn’t learned the skills for yet, so I had to move on and complete other things. I managed to find a way around the river, but that took me well out of my way—and across a great deal of extra areas that needed exploring, I might add.
There are many aspects to the game that Yonder presents, but arguably the most important part of the game is exploration. Indeed, there’s building farms and up-keeping them with hired townsfolk and learning skills to get around, but so much of the game lies on your ability and willingness to wander and seek out new things. Apart from gathering materials, one of the main points of exploration is to collect sprites, which help clear out areas of the map stricken with the Muck that I mentioned earlier. Each area requires the power of a certain amount of these sprites, so findings and collecting more and more is a key part, and indeed an enigmatic charm, to the exploration process.
The economy in Yonder surprised me. It’s not complicated, and it’s not vast either. Rather, since this is a grouping of small towns dependent on skills, the standard commerce is trading. In fact, in order to purchase from vendors, you have to offer something in trade. There is a standardized value placed on things, which like in any economy changes based on location and demand and the like, but you don’t gather money like most games would. Instead, each item has a determined value, and you trade items that meet an equal value. Utilizing this side of the game can come in handy with early progression, since most items for quests or progression can be traded for in this way. What makes this side of the game great is that it only helps you progress early rather than replacing the importance of crafting later on in the game. There are plenty of hurdles to overcome within Yonder, but searching for resources and taking the time to understand how the locals interact with each other are important parts to a greater gameplay whole.
While Yonder provides you with a proper listing for your quest log and a map that indicates icons, this game does not hold your hand like most open-world games does. Quests indicate what needs to be done in order to continue onward, but not everything that needs doing is detailed. Yonder delivers all information needed as you find it, but it never puts these pieces together for you. For instance, multiple professions are needed to complete bridges, and it’s your job to understand where to find the information necessary and utilize it. This is the more deceptive side of Yonder. The aesthetic, bordering the like of Wind Waker, and overall charm are a clever, youthful mask for a game that hide just enough challenge to keep things interesting. Yonder never gets overtly challenging, mind you, but the challenges themselves never get too humdrum. If you can’t figure out the task in front of you, odds are that you don’t have what you need yet to do so. From there, it’s just a matter of moving on and finding more things that need doing.
One of my biggest gripes with the game pertains to world and accessing it. There are shortcuts along the way that allow you to get around rather quickly, and in the game’s defense the map isn’t overly big anyway, but there is still a great deal of extra running around that you will need to do in order to complete everything. As the game moves along, more of this will occur. There’s plenty of reason to return to old areas, since some Muck areas required more sprites than what were available at the time, but the dead space between tasks begins to elongate the further along the game moves. This might be a better experience for others, depending on how exploration is approached, but it’s still a point worth noting.
The other is the map itself, though it falls in line with the gameplay style as a whole. Most of the map shows what needs to be found in each area, but nothing apart from quests is labeled, and only quests can be set as waypoints. There is a handy, dandy compass that you have with you at all times that can direct you toward those waypoints, but you cannot select, say, a question mark on the map. Again, this is an engaging game disguised as a youthful game, but the map feels like more of a hindrance when there is so much information to access at any one time.
The farms themselves, while they add a layer to the game, don’t hold a great deal of depth to them. They can be built in each zone, and unlocking more of each zone increases productivity in each farm, but all that really comes out of it are trading items. These can be handy in a pinch, and most of these items make recruiting new farm hands easier, but the farm is not a major part of the game. For almost a full in-game year, I explored the island and progressed through quests without using my farm for more than storage. It was out of sheer curiosity that I dug into it. It’s a fun addition to the game, since more professions can make customizing the farms much easier, but they don’t offer a great deal outside of the farms themselves.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles facilitates exploration over all else, but the charm of the game lies in what you make of it. The overlaying quest line can get you from start to finish, but the heart and soul of Yonder lies in what you find and develop along the way. With a few hiccups in certain areas, Yonder has a lot to offer in a lot of refreshing ways. Just don’t expect the game to be a cake walk.