Review: Harmony: The Fall of Reverie
I am usually thrilled when I write a preview and get to review the full version of a game soon after. Especially when it’s a title I’m excited about. The things I hope to see and express disappointment with during my initial playthrough are things I sharply look for the second time around, and this time was no different.
To me, full reviews are considered the redemption arc, where games come to prove themselves after a taste of what they have to offer and what they may be lacking. Unfortunately, not at all titles meet the mark, and Harmony: The Fall of Reverie was one of them.
Below I will explain how such a promising title fell flat for me despite my hopes.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie releases on June 8th for the Switch and PC, and on June 22nd for PS5 and XBOX Series X/S. The PC version was played for this review.
The Opposite of Harmony
During my preview, I mentioned that Harmony: The Fall of Reverie was a game about two worlds with distinct yet overlapping problems, and at its center was a girl responsible for solving it all. Getting to play it in its totality exposed the fact that while part of my initial takeaway was true, there was a lot more that Don’t Nod was trying to tackle with this new title.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie follows its titular character on a journey of self-discovery and world (or worlds, plural in this case) saving. Harmony is what you would call an “oracle” in the world of Reverie (a mystical world that only she has access to), and this particular role allows her to see every possible future her choices can unlock before she makes them. These decisions serve as the lifeblood of the Aspirations, a group of entities she meets during her initial trip to Reverie. Along with helping the aspirations decide on their future, Harmony is also tasked with taking down an evil corporation called MK in Brittle (the real world) that is slowly squeezing the life out of the island she grew up on.
All of these conflicts and tasks serve as the backdrop to a game that is also heavily focused on relationships. Harmony must navigate her way through everything going on around her while juggling her relationship with her stepdad, mother, sister, love interest, and many more.
Now, I have to be honest and say that Harmony: The Fall of Reverie feels like a case of too much too fast. The story has a lot of elements beyond fantasy and this can sometimes make it feel like it doesn’t know what exactly it wants to be. Don’t Nod tried to write a tale that tackles corruption, capitalism, greed, power, despair, and so much more, but because of its mythical backdrop, a bit of the realism is stripped from these issues and made them feel less severe than they actually were. I mean, yes, capitalism is a problem, but usually not as much in a society where godlike beings can control your development more than the corporation can.
The poor execution of story elements was not the only issue with Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. The writing itself just felt really flat and lacking in life. Perhaps this is due to the fractured nature of the decision-making system and how little you actually get to know each character unless you pick their paths/opinions, but even major plot developments couldn’t get me to a place where I felt the emotional weight of my decisions or fully understood the reactions of those around me. They just weren’t fleshed out enough to truly hold any meaning and I found myself wanting more to justify the heavy emotional toll the game was trying to push at times.
Also, it’s always been my belief that if you create a game with multiple endings, each ending should be able to stand on its own. During my playthrough, I unlocked what you would call the game’s “true” ending. But there was so much explanation missing and some of the outcomes felt so underdeveloped that I wasn’t sure if I had gotten a bad ending or if there was going to be DLC later that would explain things further. This shouldn’t be how one of your endings makes a player feel and it’s so disappointing because I know what Don’t Nod is capable of. Life is Strange was a masterpiece and tackled several themes in a super concise and complete way. I am truly confused by what happened here and can only surmise that it has to do with the awful gameplay system holding the narrative back.
To leave this part of the review on a positive note, I will say that the cast of Harmony: The Fall of Reverie continues to be one of my favorite things about the game. I won’t say that the characters are well-written or have a lot of depth (at least none that can be found in a singular playthrough) but their designs and overall personalities are really fun and I enjoyed my interactions with them. They stuck true to their roles, but there was so much diversity (both in background and looks) and the banter between them was sometimes so charming that I just enjoyed having them on screen.
Unfortunately, the poor writing didn’t help them reach their full potential, but I still loved the concept of them as a whole. This extends to Harmony who was fully voiced and had a really dynamic personality that was mostly unshaped by the player despite this being a decision-based game. Her individuality was something I actually really enjoyed since it helped her naturally fit into the story, a hard thing to accomplish in most visual novels that require you to make choices.
This part of the review is actually really tough for me to write only because I wanted so badly to like this game and was so excited at the potential a system like the Augural (the in-game node module where all of Harmony’s choices and their consequences are displayed) could bring to visual novels. However, the gripe I expressed during my preview only became stronger and stronger the more access I got to the game and its characters.
Harmony is a visual novel where you make decisions based on the events happening around you. The formula is expanded upon through Harmony’s power. Given that she can see the future, her decisions have long-reaching consequences that are supposed to shape both Brittle and Reverie. In theory, this is cool and the execution somewhat works, as whatever Harmony does really ends up affecting both worlds as well as the human characters and the aspirations. However, the very system that is supposed to tie the two worlds together becomes a bog in the game that it can’t seem to overcome.
The Augural provides Harmony with access to the future, and her being able to see the impact of her choices long-term should make for a dynamic and fun experience, however, there is limited freedom in what you can actually do.
This is because usually when you make a decision to follow one path, all the others become locked to you. This would normally be fine, but when the motivations and personalities of the game’s cast are locked behind these missed choices, it can make everything come off as unfinished or flat.
I hated never truly getting to know some of the aspirations, besides their stereotypical lines, or some of the side characters that inhabit Harmony’s life just because I chose a path that drove me away from them.
Now you might be thinking, “Laura, that’s that whole point of a game with replayability,” but as I mentioned above, if a game can’t make you feel involved, informed, and entertained, and stand on its own with ONE path then I think it’s doing something wrong.
To be frank, the Augural system just *felt* tedious. It often had me torn between following the path I knew would get me a certain ending or doing what I actually wanted. Even when I chose the latter, if I messed up and made a certain decision, doing what I wanted became moot because I’d be locked out of that path and streamlined into another that I had to see through due to restrictions like lack of crystals or missed dialogue choices from previous chapters.
Not to mention the game’s final decision can be easily messed up unless you play exactly as instructed by following only one route, which really defeats Don’t Nod’s claims of endless possibilities and overarching decisions.
I probably would have been much happier with a simpler multi-choice system that exposed me to the characters more fully and built up the world more even if it wasn’t as gimmicky. I truly blame its gameplay for how poor Harmony: The Fall of Reverie’s dialogue and story came off.
On the bright side, if you play the game a million times and follow only one pathway at a time, maybe it’s a totally different experience. Doing something as tedious as that doesn’t sound very fun to me though so I’ll pass.
Something to Please
I am happy to report that this part of the review is mostly positive. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is a pretty game. It’s vibrant and colorful in both its setting and cast. The character designs are unique and fitting to each aspiration, the human characters also stand out on their own, and the backdrops are superb and truly make you feel like you’re in a different faraway island.
I was especially a fan of the movies at the end of each chapter. It was a treat to see the characters come to life in a motion-like picture reminiscent of old anime. This part gets a nine from me.
The reason it’s not a ten is that there is not a lot of variety to the actual backdrops or character sprites. The same places are reused a lot, as are the character motions and faces. This is understandable for the genre but given how nice the movie animations were and Don’t Nod’s track record with games like Life is Strange, I just expected more.
The voice acting was another positive for this game. Everyone sounded believable and no particular voice was grating. Some voice actors, like Chaos’ for example, were better than others but overall I liked what everyone sounded like.
The soundtrack on the other hand wasn’t very memorable and I can’t tell you a single song that stood out to me in a real way.
Overall a solid-looking and sounding game but nothing too crazy here. It’s definitely been done before.
More Falls than One
You guys have no idea what a bad time I had writing this review. It’s difficult to be objective about a studio that has produced some of your favorite games. I LOVE what Don’t Nod has done in the past and no one was more excited than me to dive into their future.
The saddest part about all of this is that I can see through its well-designed cast and intricately woven themes that Harmony: The Fall of Reverie has a lot of potential. I just think bad gameplay design decisions really kept it from being its best self.
I know this sounds contrary to the rest of my review but, despite my complaints, I still would recommend at least one playthrough of this game to fans of the studio and the genre. There is some charm to be found here, even if it’s only occasional glimpses when you make the right decision, and just visually you’ll be in for a treat.
I’ll end this by saying that I am still looking forward to what’s next. Whether it’s a whole new title or improvements to this one, I know there’s much more to be expected from the guys over at Don’t Nod.
Review copy provided by Don’t Nod for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Don’t Nod.