While I slowly get through my “list of shame” from 2021 games I have yet to play (and finishing up with Nobody Saves the World ), I thought I’d talk about one of those games that I’m still in the process of getting through, but is very long and best served in small daily doses. Grow: Song of the Evertree is the next game by Prideful Sloth – the studio behind Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles – and it is a very interesting game when seen as a continuation of what Yonder tried to be, but fell short of in many ways. Yonder was an attempt to make an open-world, exploration-focused, adventure game that had no combat or killing of any kind; instead, the player would farm, craft, fish, and collect resources to expel a poisonous fog that damaged the environment of the mysterious and magical island you shipwrecked in at the beginning. While novel and surprisingly fun for the most part, I actually never finished Yonder because it felt stagnant after a certain point; I just felt like I had seen and done everything it had to offer and didn’t see the point of going on for another dozen hours. But, it was a budget game at around 20 euros and I had a great 12 hours with it, so I was not disappointed necessarily by it.
Grow is very different from Yonder; it’s riskier in what it does, but the lineage between the two titles is apparent from the get-go – in fact, I did not remember Prideful Sloth was the studio behind Yonder but Grow felt like a spiritual successor to that game that it did not surprise me at all when I found out that they were the studio behind Yonder as well. Grow is a world-crafting sandbox that aims to deliver an experience that involves farming, fishing, crafting, exploring, and more, in a beautiful-looking world. In Grow, you play as the last Everheart alchemist trying to breathe life back into the Evertree where worlds used to exist on its branches. You’ll start small with various chores on a single world, but within hours you’ll have a bustling town with various districts at the base of the tree, multiple branches with worlds to grow and take care of, as well as residents and buildings to build and manage. There are lots of interconnecting mechanics and systems in Grow that allow for player preferences, customization, and specialization because at the heart of the game is essence.
Essence is a resource of various types that the player can get by extracting the various resources they collect either by exploring, farming, fishing, or buying from stores they built in their town. It is used to create the world seeds that, when planted on the tree branches, will form a new world with new resources and tasks to complete; thus, in theory, farming will yield resources that can be broken down to essence, but exploring and getting Myora (this game’s equivalent of gold or money) from chests can also get you the various types of essence you’d want. If you want to just deal with the base building aspect of the game, then there are various objectives to complete that also reward Myora. This makes Grow sound complicated or, at the very least, allowing for many playstyles, however, I haven’t found that to be the case; it actually feels like it’s streamlined to a fault and the studio’s ethos of not pressuring the player works against their ambitions. Since a day usually takes up to 25 minutes of real-time and the base worlds (as well as the branch worlds before they expand on their own) are gated by the need to complete specific tasks, I don’t feel like someone who wants to have a Banished-like experience of just base building can actually do that; simultaneously, someone who is looking for a Stardew Valley alternative will find a lot of the features that make up a successful farming-RPG to be too simplified to be any fun in the long-term. Farming is not about setting up a farm by clearing weeds and rubble; it is about clearing weeds and rubble, then if a seed spot pops up, planting a random seed and watering it. It could be a flower, a bush, or a tree. Fishing, befriending and adopting critters, bug catching, solving puzzles, all suffer from the same fate; when your world grows a lake then you can fish; when the world spawns bugs and critters then you can interact with those systems; when the world spawns puzzles then you can solve them.
This isn’t all to say that I think Grow is a miscalculation. Far from it, I’ve loved my time with it so far, because it is so different from other similar games; however, that is my opinion on Yonder as well and I’ve never (nor I intend to) finish that game, because it does feel like I’ve seen everything there is and without the characters and charm games like Stardew possess, I worry about the staying power Grow has. Having said that, the world seed system is one I haven’t messed around with much and it is the pivotal system of the game’s loop. Gathering essence through simplified mechanics and busy work is something I can do if the world seed system is good. Basically, you add essence of different types (cute, hot, cold, etc.) to create a world seed and that dictates what kind of world you’d create. Given the game’s gorgeous art style, if the world seed system can create a variety of aesthetically pleasing worlds with new resources and essence to collect, then I’d have no problem spending dozens of hours within Grow. If not, then Grow will fall in the same fate as Yonder; a beautiful game that has many interesting ideas that can keep your interest for a dozen hours instead of dozens like it could have. That’s not a bad thing and I recommend both Grow and Yonder to people interested in them, but it is not matching their potential and that is a little bit disappointing.