Tales of destiny are often nihilistic in nature. The very idea of destiny suggests that we have preordained paths to walk, and we can submit to them and accept that nothing we do matters in the end because it’s all decided by the deity above us, or we can resist that idea and trying to take control by destroying what may have been our destiny all along. Fate is, at its heart, a hopeless concept. How fitting, then, that I often felt hopeless as I made my way through Harmony: The Fall of Reverie.
There are a lot of things I should like, things I’d like to like about Harmony. There are even quite a few ingredients that I like. But that makes the disappointment of how it comes together all the more devastating. There’s a lot to like about Don’t Nod’s choice-based approach to storytelling in both Life is Strange and Tell Me Why, but this time around there’s a more colorful, animated art style that makes it popular. At first I thought this shift from 3D and exploration to 2D and visual novel design was what took me a while to get used to, but it seems more like the studio’s decision to ‘redesign’ while keeping the name and just tweaked the logo a bit and the grammar was akin to cutting Samson’s hair.
You play as Polly, who discovers at the beginning of the game that she has the power of a god and is part of the Pantheon of Daydreaming, much like her mother Ursula. In the normal world, Ursula has disappeared and Polly must use her new divine connection to the pantheon to discover where her mother has gone and unravel the mysteries of the world. But eventually I found my interest unraveling along with the supposedly compelling mysteries I discovered.
It’s a fascinating world here, and these conditions could make a good game. The normal world is set in a near future where a single company—not Amazon, certainly not Amazon—controls everything, is the only possible employment option, and has drones constantly flying above them. Meanwhile, each god in the pantheon has his own story and personality to reveal. The gods have a fairly literal design (Power is a strong, angry man, Chaos is a masked but appropriately genderless creature with a broken crown and a painted face), but still manages to have some semblance of originality – this is especially true of gods with less obvious manifestations such as the colorful and carefree teenage girl who represents Bliss, or the older and organized old man who represents Bond.
However, Harmony paints itself as a choice-based narrative game, which should be Don’t Nod’s strong point, but the two ideals get in the way of each other. The choices work on too complex an equation to help the narrative, and the narrative drifts when you don’t feel like you’re in control of it. Sometimes the choices are simple – you call Not Amazon and the woman at the call center recognizes you as an old school friend. You can lie to her and give her a fake name, hoping it works, or admit who you are, despite the wrinkle it makes in your existing plan. It’s an easy choice, but once you get deeper into the conversation, you’ll find that some choices are blocked because you don’t have enough Power or Bliss or Bond tokens that you might have earned in a previous, almost completely unrelated conversation.
After each interaction—which can often be a line or two of dialogue rather than a full exchange—you return to the conversation flow chart, stylized as a constellation, and decide where to go next. Unfortunately, the over-reliance on the token system means that it feels like every choice is taken away from you, and the story itself isn’t strong enough without the interest that agency provides. The gods have some intrigue, especially Chaos and Bond, but they support the players in a story that just doesn’t have much juice.
Finding your mother, who is secretly a goddess, while discovering that she was in an open relationship, not to mention juggling all the family drama that comes with that and a futuristic dystopia, should be compelling. It’s not true. I’m not sure I have any deeper analysis than this narrative front. There is no character with a Chloe Price, Tyler Ronan, Sean Diaz flair. The characters are unlikable in many ways, and while many are that way on purpose, it still doesn’t make you want to spend time with them. They often act in ways that suit the plot, or veer off in odd directions to cause a rift that Polly must then mend, except that the choice probably depended on having a much lower-stakes conversation earlier. placed on the side of Bliss or Truth.
The biggest redeeming feature is the art style, where the vibrant cartoony depictions help add a sense of opulence to the gods, even if the ‘regular’ characters seem rather generic. If the writing made me feel more connected to these characters, I might see something deeper in the art. Even without the standout design, it’s an interesting direction and I hope we see it again in a more realized game.
Harmony: Fall of the Reverie is too tied to its core concept of directing the future based on fate and faction, and this idea means that players must abandon both choice and narrative in this choice-based narrative game. It’s not exactly a formula for success. Despite some interesting designs and a potentially compelling story, there’s nothing harmonious at the heart of Harmony.
Rating: 2.5/5. The publisher provided a PC code for this review.
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