For the entirety of 2020 all your average gamer spoke about was Cyberpunk 2077. It was the most anticipated game of the year, most marketed and hyped due to its status. It’s a game even we got a bit excited for given CDPR’s reputation but alas it was not the game to steal our hearts and controllers. That distinct honor goes to the magnificent Haven by The Game Bakers – same Devs behind stylish indie gem Fury. An indie surprise which came out of nowhere and Haven is no different.
In Haven we follow the story of two lovers who leave everything behind to be together. All in an effort to escape a society which sacrifices freedom in an attempt to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity of the collective. Well that’s usually what’s peddled to the masses while in reality it’s all about control and consolidation of wealth for a select few. It’s a familiar dystopian tale that we’ve seen countless times throughout visual/ written media, especially film, but this is the first time It’s been captured so intrinsically well in a game.
The team behind it describe it as a romantic RPG about love and freedom, but a strong characteristic of the game is that you play two characters at the same time. It’s first and foremost a solo experience, in which you play these two characters, but with such a duo for main characters, they couldn’t pass on the opportunity to make it also a couch co-op experience.
By focusing on two characters equally while also giving great emphasis to their relationship together, the Gamer Bakers were able to capture some truly authentic human moments. Characters Yu and Kay are so well written, animated and voiced that it’s easy to mistake them for a real couple in love. Both Janine Harouni (voice of Yu) and Chris Lew Kum Hoi (voice of Kay) are equally articulate in their delivery to the point of, dare I say Perfection. Yu’s boisterous nature contrasts so well with Kay’s more solemn appeal simply because opposites make for some interesting dialogue. It’s that raw unadulterated tension produced from being challenged by differing perspectives.
According to the dev team, while casting for Yu and Kay they were looking for actors that would excel at conveying subtle emotions, everyday life feelings, and be at ease with intimacy and humour. The two actors recorded the 80 000 words of dialogue together in the SIDE studio in London in 2019 and 2020, reenacting the scenes together to achieve as much complicity and authenticity as possible. Oh and it shows. Every line, transition and the smooth flow of the conversations is almost palatable. The only break in the dialogue comes as a result of the game’s frequent dialogue choices for both characters. These usually result in either a funny, charming conversation or some sort of short lived friction. If it helps, always choose the whimsical option, not the serious ones.
Oh wait, isn’t Haven a game?
Where’s the stuff about the bloody gameplay? You may be asking… Well It’s here and though not quite as show stealing as the story or characters, it’s still worthy of praise. It’s an RPG afterall and a simple one at that from a gameplay perspective. The complexity of it’s play comes from the combination of using two characters in combat simultaneously similar to The World Ends With You. During combat Kay is controlled via the D-Pad while Yu’s controls are relegated to the adjacent face buttons. Each character is capable of shielding, firing energy blasts, performing physical attacks and purifying monsters.
The Power of Rust
Their opposition are usually creatures infected by a substance called rust. This turns them red along with the unfortunate side effect of being violent. Once downed there is a short window of time where they can be purified and returned peacefully to the wild. At first all you’ll need to do is focus on using the right attacks but in time enemies will require more than just choosing if to blast or strike them. Some will require one of the two to guard their lover while they charge an attack to be used in a short window. Others will require both Yu and Kay to attack simultaneously. At its most basic it’s not too complicated. They even have the ability to heal and pick each other up from nearly fatal damage. Plus even if you’re unsuccessful in combat, you’ll just respawn at your last rest-spot. This isn’t a game to test your combative skills but rather one that uses combat as a respite between the much more fulfilling story elements.
Initially after crashing on this seemingly untamed world, Yu and Kay have limits on where they can go and the abilities at their disposal but after some progression they’ll gain more capabilities to explore even further and perform much more fantastical things. The primary narrative vehicle used for their progression comes from them salvaging scraps and rust to rebuild their ship. A miniature craft which also serves as their home and base of operations. At the ship they can cook, craft items, heal themselves and interact with each other. Their interactions on the ship are what mostly deliver the believability of their relationship and those are easily the best parts of the entire experience.
They’re hilarious, charming, interesting and Ooooh so adorable but that’s not all. Oh no no no… Haven is also mature in all the right ways. It’s tasteful yet sensual in a way that’s difficult to explain without examples like this one…
When not on the ship, you’ll be charged with exploring the beautiful futuristic planet made up mostly of gorgeous dynamic fields. There’s a full time of day cycle and both characters also share a hunger metre, making this not just an RPG but also a bit of a survival experience. Filling the hunger metre requires collection of ingredients, cooking said ingredients then having the characters eat them at the Nest (ship) or at camp sites. Eating, having them interact and building their relationship allows for them to level up, thus further emphasizing that this title is more about navigating the intricacies of mature relationships more so than anything.
There’s a lot more that I’d like to share about the gameplay experience but seriously it’s better to experience it all organically yourself as you play. Just know that it’s all positive…
Oh wait, almost forgot. There is one issue with the game and it’s a minor one. You see the game has no manual way of saving. It’s all auto save and though I’ve not run into any save bugs or anything of that nature, it’s still always a comforting feeling to know that it’s possible to save. Presumably the devs made it that way to give the dialogue choices more weight and It’s much appreciated but JRPG OCD is difficult to overcome. Items must be divisible by 5, all areas of the map must be explored and by god must we save every few minutes.
Essentially we don’t make the rules, we just follow them.
One of those rules is that every great RPG has a beautiful soundtrack and Haven meets that rule exceptionally well thanks to It’s futuristic thumping yet calm soundtrack. The best way to describe it would be a mixture of tranquil piano music with a subtle techno electric beat. It’s a very similar sound to Steven Universe Save the Light, another great RPG.
Haven is a beautifully crafted game with interesting ecology and two of the strongest lead characters in all of fiction. Their strong resistance towards societal expectations and compassion towards each other is the driving force of this game and everything else is gravy. I think Chris (Kay’s voice actor) put it perfectly, Kay is vulnerable and sensitive and a perfect match for Yu. She has a fire that keeps him in check and he has a jokey manner that pokes holes in Yu’s armour. There’s also his cautious, analytical nature which helps keep her outgoing, carefree personality in check and the same can be said about her bringing him out of his shell. There have been many a good game this year but this is the one and only one you truly can’t miss.
The copy of Haven used for this review was provided to us by its publishers,
The Game Bakers.