You can thank (or blame) Telltale Games for the rise of choice-driven adventure gaming. That’s not to say that games like The Walking Dead brought an unprecedented revolution in video game storytelling. User-defined story-based games date back decades, the mechanics were present in many Western RPGs, and that’s without launching a discussion of the history of visual novels. But it caused a wider player population to embrace the idea, which led to a general shift in storytelling towards player agency that continues to evolve today.
Players could now control their own destiny, with inevitable limitations. Understanding your role in these games as a puppeteer, not a storyteller, hovers above all of these experiences, forcing you to accept the reality of never truly defining a game’s ending beyond the bounds of intent. from the developer. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie asks a simple question: why not face this reality head-on, opting instead to lift the veil on player choice within the confines of its story to stunning, effortless effect.
As Polly returns to her hometown of Atina after news of her mother’s disappearance shakes her family, she finds a necklace that reveals her fate as Oracle, a being able to jump between her home and the celestial plain. of Reverie, to speak to the spirits of human emotion: Bliss, Power, Bond, Truth, Chaos and Glory. In this land, she is Harmony, with the power to save and shape the existence of these intertwined dimensions. Instability in the celestial world threatens their reality, which faces similar oppression from the faceless megacorporation Mono Konzern (MK) whose reach extends to all public and private services in the region. Who knows, maybe facing this business head-on could provide some answers regarding your mother’s unusual disappearance and the troubles at Reverie.
Even more than a decade after the then fledgling French studio pioneered another influential, choice-driven adventure game in Life is Strange, this team continues to use their craft in the field. Almost every Don’t Nod game since Life is Strange has, intentionally or unintentionally, thought about what it means to direct a story for characters you don’t know – a circumstance of player agency where you’re inevitably swayed by the experiences and views of the game. will never be able to contemplate.
Take Tyler’s experiences as a trans man, in the 2020 version of Don’t Nod Tell Me Why, for example. This could inevitably cause a trans player or ally to seek to help or protect themselves and the character from certain events due to their own experiences, even though such actions may seem contrary to the story and the Taylor’s inner world if this were a real person. I was definitely guilty of that with my playthrough. To counter this possibility, Tyler’s telepathic powers give him a better understanding of the world around him, bridging a knowledge gap between character and player.
Despite the attempted bridge, there’s still a gap between the player and pure immersion in Tyler’s world. You can never truly embody the protagonist’s life, and there’s still a limited path to a few predetermined endings. Don’t Nod’s solution is to give you an ingenious peek behind the curtain, building Harmony: The Fall of Reverie around a character who can see the future (or rather: all of them), and in a story about controlling fate and shaping the world you desire for the people you care about. And all without putting too much emphasis on optimizing choices that might feel clinical or cold.
With that in mind, Harmony feels like an examination of the limits of the whole genre – and game design mechanics within the narrative itself – lifting the veil to show us the end from the very beginning and challenging us to forge our own path to that. aim.
As Oracle, Polly must balance both the world of Atina and the fluctuating battle for power raging between Reverie’s emotions, each conflicting over how these worlds should survive and thrive. Influenced by her own thought and these emotional essences, she accesses the Augural, a vision of the future represented as a flowchart of choice exposing the influences of her actions on the power of Reverie entities, as well as her relationships with those she is concerned with. ‘surrounded.
There are limits to your omniscience through the Augural – you see the immediate consequences for the rest of your chapter, but as you use this information to change your destiny, these decisions might only have visible consequences much later in the game. ‘history. Yet the Augural exposes reality and all of its permutations for Polly, evening out the knowledge gap between player and character. You may live among people, but your foresight allows you to bend this world to its will as you wish.
The conflict this causes as your own experiences clash with both your foresight and your experiences of the world is fascinating. When decisions between worlds and fates are tied together, knowing how much influence a Reverie entity might gain over your desired worldview leaves even minor decisions like complex puzzles. Even foolish and minor decisions become conflicts of morality and logic. You can choose to press a potential ally on what he knows about your mother’s disappearance, but would you, knowing that it could cause another friend’s frustration and power in the arms race? from Reverie to an entity you don’t want to support?
No matter how all the foresight in existence is nothing to the wisdom of hindsight. With these potential consequences often reaching further than you can see, the words of friends remain a painful reminder of the consequences of your path forward.
Yana, for example, is an old school friend of Polly’s, a person with ambiguous unresolved romantic feelings that have been dormant for a decade. In the hope that they understand your reasons for doing so, I leaned into Power’s persuasions to use those feelings to gain information about your mother’s disappearance. Our past connection and Polly’s role as a potential savior in this situation meant that this was felt, if not right, at least necessary. Everything to get closer to the truth, isn’t it? And they will surely understand. You were in love once.
Seeing a future and living it are two different things. Yana’s disappointment shot the pain like daggers, and no amount of praise from Power of Polly’s actions could rid me of the pit in my stomach. It was manipulative, cold, cruel, but that momentary error in judgment could only happen when foresight seemed to predict a perfect solution. My doubts were allayed by the recognition of a necessary evil, something they could understand and move past, without guilt.
But regret haunted me for the rest of the game. Because all of this betrayal may have gone unnoticed in other games, or at least not lingered in mind, in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie this breach of trust was reinforced by the flowchart itself. of the foresight that convinced me to make this decision in the first place. Impenetrable walls have been erected between me and the options that could allow Polly’s bond with Yana to grow stronger, based on their once mutual trust and admiration. Instead, my experience was striding forward, now haunted by a future I could see but never follow. All because of the belief that witnessing the future gave me a blueprint for human connection.
Regret, joy, contemplation, foresight, hindsight. These moments allow Harmony to shine, a narrative design experience played out in broad daylight to dramatic effect. It’s not an idea that always works, especially in the first few moments when you’re adjusting to these new systems. And it’s a game whose initial splendor – lush animated cutscenes, beautiful ambient Lena Raine sound, and strong voice acting – seeps into repetitive visuals, as the constraints of visual novel structure and asset reuse betray the ever-changing world around you as you play it.
Still, complaining about something like that seems minor – and almost unfair in the context of what we’re getting. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie may be an experimental first attempt at Don’t Nod peeling away the facade of player choice to lay bare the consequences and designs of interactive fiction, but what a first attempt it is. One where the complexity of its characters isn’t flattened by the deliberate gamification and blueprint of its story, but enhanced by it, adding layers of depth never normally seen via reading between the interdimensional lines.
Reverie brings to life the emotions of humanity that weave the story of our daily lives, transforming them into entities with personalities that compliment the people who embody them. You may never be part of this family, this world, the resistance force fighting against Mono Konzern. But that’s because your existence in the “real” world, with all the complex entities and emotions of your own life, is what makes you human and influences your worldview.
The result of all this is Harmony: The Fall of Reverie which becomes more than just a story to tell. It’s a canvas for expressing your experience and emotions, in a cognitive dance through the innovative systems that make it all possible. There’s nothing else I’ve played like this.