Haven for Xbox Series X/S Review – A Certain Space Romance!
Developed By: The Game Bakers
Published By: The Game Bakers
Story-Driven Adventure, RPG.
Two lovers gave up everything and escaped to a lost planet to be together.
Glide through a mysterious landscape, explore a fragmented world and fight against what’s trying to tear them apart in this RPG adventure about love, rebellion, and freedom.
*Note – The entirety of my playthrough was played on the Xbox Series S*
Love is in the….Space?
Haven is unlike any RPG you have ever played. Taking place in an intergalactic setting on a fictitious planet known only as Source. Like The Game Bakers previous outing, Furi, the story takes centre stage here.
However, unlike most story-driven adventure games, Haven doesn’t really have a beginning, as is tradition. Instead, you are thrown in the thick of our couples story and with very little fleshing out, most of their story is left up to interpretation. This can be a risky decision from a directorial, writing and pacing standpoint. That said, I had every faith in The Game Bakers going into this review.
So what you are left with is some truly excellent writing, married together with some endearing voice-over work for our dual protagonists Yu and Kay. Fret not, as the story does come together after the first couple of hours of play. Throughout the many conversations our lovers have in the various cutscenes, certain names and locations are thrown at you several times until you slowly begin to piece together the story for yourself, or at least the gist of it.
That Special Source
Our journey begins with our couple stepping out of their spaceship The Nest onto the planet Source. At this point, they are fugitives from the mysterious “The Apiary”. A planet or a shady organisation? It’s unclear. What was clear to me though, is that they were living in a dystopian future of sorts as their love was deemed illegal by The Matchmaker. Another dark government entity whose sole purpose is to match citizens with their “optimal” mates, maybe?
Either way, it’s clear from the outset that our escapees were having none of this. After all, you can’t help who you fall for right? It’s this forbidden love that fuels Yu and Kay’s life of solitude as the only humans to reside on Source, or what’s left of it!
As soon as you venture out into the wilderness of your new home, it’s abundantly clear that something is seriously wrong with the planet. With various parts of Source floating in the void, something terrible has happened to the planet. It would seem that someone or something has destroyed it, and you are going to need to circumnavigate the surface by means of Flow Bridges, by gliding around with your hover boots.
These hover boots not only serve as a means of transport though, but they are also a vital tool in cleaning up Source’s Rust problem. Across many of the planet’s islet’s, you’ll find this red gloop. By simply gliding over it, you’ll not only cleanse the planet Mario Sunshine style, but you will collect various forms of Rust which can be later used as a crafting material.
For the most part, at least, it starts as something rather linear. But the world soon opens up to something that feels more akin to a Metroidvania. Especially once you unlock the map and realise just how big the world is. Like most Metroidvania style level designs, there will be some backtracking involved to reach areas that were previously unreachable before obtaining certain upgrades. Although, this backtracking was kept to a minimum and never detracted from the overall experience.
Haven plays out very differently to any RPG you might have played. The combat system is like that of a conventional turned-based RPG. It uses an ATB or Active Turn Battle setup instead of a traditional turn-based battler. Meaning battles play out in real-time. You’re going to need to keep an eye on your enemies to see when they’re about to make their move so you can get your return volleys prepared.
Where Haven’s battle system differs from many other games within the genre, however, is in the way you plan your attacks. Because you have two people in your party at all times, the move menu is split between both analogue sticks. Despite the menu system being stripped back somewhat from many other games, there is still a surprising amount of depth. Most of this depth (and challenge) revolves around impeccable timing and preparation.
Each direction you tilt the analogue stick(s) will determine which move you make. The options are as follows;
- Up is used to Pacify: This is used once an enemy has been downed. Much like the Pokemon line of games, the rabid fauna that inhabit many of Source’s islet’s aren’t there to be killed, only to be subdued and cleansed of their Rust infestation.
- Left and Right are Impact and Blast: These moves are handed depending on who is performing the move. Whilst the former is a barrage of melee attacks, the latter is more of an energy attack. It uses Flow, the planets main energy source. Both these attacks can be performed solo or as a combined attack for greater damage. But beware, these Duo Attacks do take considerably longer to pull off, opening you up for counter attacks!
- Down is for Shield: Either combatant can pull this off and enables them to shield themselves from attacks for one turn, very helpful for reducing incoming damage. While this is more of a passive move for the individual using it, it also acts as an active shield for your partner, should they be attacked. The shielded partner will simply swoop in automatically to cover their unshielded partner should they get attacked, very handy.
There is also a co-op feature for two players to partake in, however, I was unable to test this feature at the time of review.
I’m In The Mood For Love
The Game Bakers have knocked it out of the park again when it comes to setting the scene. In visual terms, they have gone for a very colourful cell-shaded, yet painterly art style when it comes to the vistas. Combine this with a light anime vibe for the character models and wildlife and you have a game that looks very stylish indeed.
It’s worth noting that for my playthrough, I chose performance mode over visual mode. Whilst it is nice to have the choice, I personally didn’t notice enough of a visual boost to justify the latter option. Sure the environments looked slightly crisper and the foliage did look thicker and more detailed, I felt the sacrifice in frame rate wasn’t justified. Least of all in a game such as this, that puts a heavy emphasis on movement, “flow” and verticality. With that said, everything looked fantastic on my 4kTV and ran at a mostly stable 60fps on my Xbox Series S. I did notice some minor chugging from time to time in the busier environments with denser settlements or higher amounts of Rust, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of what is otherwise a stellar game.
For those (like myself) that were a fan of the Furi soundtrack, you are in for a treat here. As renowned musician DANGER returns to compose the soundtrack for Haven and to fantastical effect too. From the opening music video to the shifting moods as you move from islet to islet. The highs and lows of Yu and Kay’s relationship and even the tension from the battle theme. Everything really comes together to help engage you in not only the atmosphere of your surroundings but the thoughts and feelings of our couple.
The soundtrack and emotional rollercoaster are elevated further by some of the best voice work I’ve ever heard in an indie game. I really feel that the developers have outdone themselves in this department. To add to the authenticity of the dialogue, voice actors Chris Lew Kum Hoi and Janine Harouni recorded some 80,000 lines of dialogue within the same room of Side Global Studio in London.
None of these lines goes unnoticed neither. Whether in one of the many cutscenes within the Nest or out in the wild, there is plenty of interaction between the two lovers. It’s usually small talk but it is endearing nonetheless.
Feathering The Nest
So the narrative-driven adventure or the turn-based RPG aspects of the game not enough for you? Haven goes for the triple threat by offering you some light base building and resource management.
It’s here that really kicks off proceedings for the rest of the game. As shortly after leaving the Nest to start their adventure. Source experiences some tremors, causing the Nest to fall from its perch, leaving it damaged and unable to fly again. To fix it back up, you are going to need to all the required parts which are scattered throughout the various islet’s.
Whilst doing that you are going to need to collect Rust for building and crafting, crops for cooking and synthesising medicines and seeds to set up your own garden. Even searching the various settlement buildings boasts “relics” for you to bring back to the Nest, such as ornaments or games.
All this goes a long way toward progression and healing the couple up but also toward levelling their attributes. Doing this is a simple matter of battling, conversing, making new recipes fixing the Nest until you fill the relationship metre enough so you can both “celebrate” over some Applebrew.
I found that Haven had just enough of what it needed without drowning its audience in menus buried inside of menus, or stats on top of stats. The very things that usually put me off most RPG’s these days. Haven is much more focused around the experience and story rather than the mechanics which made me want to play more and more.
In a game that deals with a lot of strong themes too, such as loneliness, isolation, fearing the unknown and intimacy between the pair, it’s worth noting that none of the content here was over the top. Nothing was smutty or overly risque for the sake of it. I found it all very tasteful and even cute in parts, that even I felt comfortable playing it in front of my wife.
In terms of playtime, the “Bakers” claim it is a 10-12 hour game and around 16 hours for the completionist which I found to be fairly accurate. I found this to be an ample playtime and at a modest price tag too of £19.49 or $24.99. You are getting a lot of game for your moolah!
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Reviewed by Micramanic on Xbox Series S. Game provided by The Game Bakers.