Sometimes life throws something new at you. There you were, minding your business gardening and now you’re growing up way too quickly while saving the world–or in this case, The Grove.
What Is It?
Garden Story is a top-down community building action RPG, and like many other games, it shares elements with games that came before it. Fishing, farming, community building, crafting (in the form of tools built at the architects’ workbenches), and NPC favors are reminiscent of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley. The maps, dungeon puzzles, and combat are similar to old-school 2D Zelda games.
This game is not so little despite its Greenling grape protagonist, Concord. Punny, right? This game is full of fun names like that! You start out in a little isolated corner of The Grove as a gardening grape tending to the Kindergarten Vine. However, The Grove has other plans for you and you soon find yourself as a newly appointed Guardian with the task of rebuilding the community. The story unwinds in chapters that correspond to seasons and new sections of The Grove, each building upon the other, culminating in the overarching theme of saving the entirety of The Grove. The way it unfolds in steps makes the game rather relaxing while still having purpose, hitting the sweet spot for a good many players.
Guardian Concord moves from one town area to the next as the story progresses, meeting new characters, working on new storyline elements including restoring that particular area of The Grove.
Why Should I Care?
The story could be superficial, good vs. bad, end of story. However, this isn’t the case. The antagonist in the game, The Rot, is nuanced. Many shades of grey, but I don’t want to dip into spoilers so I’ll leave that for you to discover as you play through.
As Concord progresses from one town/season to the next, there are new “weapon gets” and upgrades that can be earned by doing favors and daily quests. These come in quite handy for battling the Rot monsters and for the boss fights. The combat can get a bit repetitive during non-boss fights, but it’s not a big deal if you are getting Concord through the towns at a decent pace. If you slow down to be a completionist it can become a little problematic. You can also build up Concord’s stats using orbs scattered throughout The Grove, provided you have the right weapon at the right power level.
New crafting projects are gained from turning in items to the Paperbark Collection, very reminiscent of Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley. Clearly there is also a gardening aspect to the game. It comes into play rather late in the gameplay, but it can be essential for item gathering to complete those late-game weapon powerups before beating the game. Fishing is also present using the dowsing rod. It’s not overly complicated with the direction mechanics to land the catch, but some shadow spots in the water allude you early-on due to their distance from the shore, at least until you get the rod upgraded later on.
I quite enjoyed the music in every single biome, but a huge shout out for the Summer Bar music. These tracks are available for purchase on Steam. Additionally, Picogram, the developer, did a great job with inclusivity in the dialogue of the game. I appreciated the gender-neutral pronouns in use and I want to give them an extra nod here.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
For players seeking a cozy gaming experience with actual teeth, this is a great alternative to open-ended games like the aforementioned Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley. Garden Story is linear and story-driven. The $20 price tag is a bargain in my opinion, netting you around 20 hours of fun but not light-weight gameplay.
Picogram is actively releasing updates like the recent Autumn Update. Sadly, Nintendo hasn’t rolled this out to Switch users yet, so if you are interested in the new cosmetics, shortcuts, final updates to tools, and new shops (and the soundtrack), you might want to stick to the Steam version.