Haven is a romantic RPG that follows two lovers, Kay and Yu, as they attempt to create a life for themselves away from the rest of the world so they may be able to love each other and enjoy a peaceful life. While this may be the easy way to sum up Haven, it is much more than that. Haven is filled with memorable moments between Yu and Kay that are genuine and touching, and you quickly find yourself forming a relationship with both of them. That’s good, because unfortunately you’ve experienced pretty much most of what the game has to offer in the first few hours.
Let me be clear, the core gameplay loop isn’t a bad one, but if the narrative was less interesting I don’t feel like I would have been too compelled to play through it. Before I dive into that, I want to say for anyone familiar with The Game Bakers and their previous release, Furi, that this is nothing like that game. Haven in many ways is actually quite the opposite of Furi, with a stronger focus on narrative rather than intense, action-packed gameplay. The story is the real reason to play this game; if you want to enjoy a heartfelt tale about two lovers while also getting a nice reminder that love really does conqueror all, this game could be for you. It’s not perfectly written throughout each beat or line of dialogue; on more than a few occasions I found the dialogue between Yu and Kay getting awkward rather quickly, with one or the other jumping to unreasonable conclusions that put you in a bad position no matter how you answer. It can be cringeworthy, though playing with a partner can make for some pretty hilarious moments.
Also, while loading screens are generally seen as a thing of the past in the time of SSDs and next-gen consoles, the use of loading screens in Haven was downright perfect. Still images that varied the further into the game you got and each of them added another layer to Yu and Kay’s relationship while also helping the player understand them more. While I know most of us look at loading screens as the time to continue scrolling endlessly into the abyss and we’re mainly happy to see them go, I still appreciate the developers using everything at their disposal to deepen your experience with their game.
It is a damn good thing they put as much focus on immersion, since the gameplay was definitely not the best. Like I said earlier, you’ve experienced most of Haven‘s mechanics within the first few hours. In fact, barring crafting and combat, you experience most of the game’s mechanics on your initial jaunt around Source (Yu and Kay’s new home). What’s there is not bad, though, if not slightly unpolished. Zooming around following flow threads is very fun at first, and a lot more beautiful once you get an upgrade that lets you follow aerial ones. Exploration in the game is fun, especially because you really have to just go out and explore—there are no waypoints to go to and from on the map, and you really happen on everything in the game rather naturally. Even if each area did follow the pattern of “clean the rust, collect resources, cure some creatures,” the exploration helped to keep that a little more exciting. The combat is a good, simple, real-time action. Basically, so long as either Yu or Kay is shielding while the other deals attacks, you’ll come out of each battle just fine. The animations are also cool, and the creature design is extremely creative. Each of them genuinely added a feeling of life to Source, and the fact that there’s a way to interact with or pet each of them is a huge bonus.
Now, I know I said that the narrative is the main reason to play this game, and while that is still true (along with some very beautiful visuals), I don’t think that’s the most interesting thing about Haven. The most interesting thing about it is how I feel when playing it. You need only come to this game with an open mind to find yourself suddenly wrapped up in it. I know there are games with better combat systems, more action-packed gameplay, or wittier dialogue that I could play, but I want to keep playing Haven because I just feel warm while playing it. You can practically feel the warmth flowing through the controller and into your body. It’s clear the developers poured themselves into this work, and that radiates through every aspect. I think this was also the perfect game for me to play in a year where I too would want to just head out to a far away paradise with the person I love most. This may not be the way that everyone feels playing this game, which is why I still maintain that the story is the reason you should play Haven, but it’s how I felt and what struck me more than anything else.
Though it may get repetitive quickly and not offer a huge variety in gameplay, Haven is a beautiful story that makes it an indie worth checking out. On top of that it, made me feel something more and became a bright light during a dark year. I highly recommend this to anyone who may need a little warmth in their life, or if you just want something calming and peaceful to play.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.]
- Great visuals and sound design
- Beautiful story
- Fun traversal and natural exploration
- Lack of variety in gameplay
- Becomes repetitive quite quickly