STAFF REVIEW of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (Xbox One)

Friday, March 15, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles Box art Sometimes I simply need a break from my go-to shooters and competitive multiplayer games. Usually I unwind with something less stressful, like a racing game or puzzler, but recently, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles has been capturing my attention for this specific need. While there’s objectives and goals to meet, they are in no way forced upon you, and you’re free to openly explore and do as you wish in Yonder, something I found truly relaxing, helping de-stress at the end of a long day.

Set in the world of Gemea, you are aboard a ship before it wrecks on a mysterious coast. You awaken, but can’t seem to remember anything about the place you were travelling to. A mysterious entity sets you upon a journey and it’s up to you to free the island from an enigmatic Murk that blocks access to certain areas and houses many secrets within.

There’s an overall narrative, nothing too serious or involving, but the real journey of Yonder is exploring at your own pace and doing whatever it is you want to do at any given point of time. You’ll need to seek out adorable creatures known as Sprites to rid the land of the mysterious Murk, but there’s plenty more for you to also do to fill your time and adventure.

Where Yonder shines is in its sense of exploration and freedom of gameplay. Never are you forced to play a certain way or progress if you don’t desire to, but eventually you will need to find Sprites if you want to clear the Murk and explore blocked off areas and uncover more secrets. Even so, you’re able to fill your time with exploration, crafting, cooking, fishing, farming, trading and a handful of quests whenever you see fit to do so.

Your general progress will be gated behind these Murk gates, a black magical substance that requires little creatures, known as Sprites, to clear the way for you. You only have one Sprite at the beginning of your adventure, and will need many more if you want to uncover all of the islands secrets and areas. Every Murk blockade requires a specific amount of Sprites on hand to clear, and while the first few will be easy to find, gathering them all will take some time and set you on quite a journey. Sprites like to hide, so finding them isn’t always so easy. Sure, they have a glow around where they are hidden, but the island you’re on is quite large, and you’ll have to explore every inch if you want to find them all.

Early on, the majority of my time was simply gathering any wood, rocks and flowers I saw lying on the ground. Eventually you’re given all the tools you’ll need to gather more, like a pick axe, hammer, scythe, axe and fishing rod, and again, it’s completely up to you how you want to play. Maybe you want to go on a wood gathering binge, cutting down all the trees you see to harvest some wood for your Guild and crafting.

Obviously, you’re going to want to replant trees so that you can cut more down later after they grow, so you’ll need to use your scythe on bushels of grass to gather some seeds, which can be planted where you cut those trees down. It feels very much like a cycle of life, as I would cut down regular trees, but plant more exotic ones, allowing me to trade them for a higher yield and for better items at traders. The same goes for stone, as you can use your hammer to smash boulders into to smaller collectible portions. Every material has a use, and by a few hours into Yonder, you’re going to want all you can get your hands on if you want to explore all that it has to offer.

Crafting eventually plays a huge part in the gameplay, as the mechanics in place are very simple and easy to understand. Want to create a pen for your animals for your farm? The crafting menu will tell you exactly what materials you’ll need to do so. Join a Guild, like the Carpenters for example, and you’ll have access to special recipes and craftable items, even more so after you’ve become a master in said guilds. And there’s numerous guilds from all different professions to join, so there’s plenty to delve into should you want to take the time to explore and learn it all.

Eventually you’ll be given a plot of land for your very own farm, something I wasn’t sure if I was going to sink a lot of time into, which was until I noticed an hour easily slipped by. Your plot of land is fully customizable, and while you’re given a few basic items to start out with, this is where the crafting system comes into play should you want to further customize it more. You aren’t simply given animals to populate your farm though, so you’ll need to find wild ones, feed them their favorite food, and then they’ll follow you back as you guide them back to your farm.

After you’ve got an animal or two, that’s where the farming becomes quite enjoyable. Your farm is rated on its cleanliness and care of animals, so you’ll want to check in every so often to make sure you’re cleaning up their poop. Yes, they poop all over the place. You could even setup gardens if you wish, for flowers and trees, and you’ll even earn materials for any animals you have, like milk, so it pays to spend time doing so. You’ll even be able to eventually hire farm hands to take care of your day to day duties for you, allowing you more time to explore or do whatever else you wish.

Or maybe you want to become a cook and spend time fishing? While the fishing minigame is simplistic, as you only need to move the thumbstick in the direction of the moving arrow to reel it in, it’s soothing and relaxing to try and catch a new type of fish, or a rare large catch in a new pond. You can use these fish to trade and barter, cook with, or feed to your farm hands to hire them, so there’s lots you can do with your catches.

NPC’s will be scattered throughout Gemea as well, but instead of simply selling all your unwanted items for money, instead there’s a bartering system in place. If you want an item from a vendor, you’ll need to trade something of equal value to obtain it. It’s simple, but it works, so this is where your hours of gathering, fishing and farming come into play. Maybe you don’t have the materials to craft a specific component, so you’d rather trade for it instead; this is completely possible and could save you some time if you have spare materials for trade. It’s an interesting system and is very easy to understand.

All of Yonder’s mechanics are actually quite easy to pick up and understand. There’s some menu management when it comes to crafting and equipping new cosmetic clothes, but nothing terribly difficult to figure out. And for those looking for even more to do, there’s tons of quests to be had, some of which are very simple and quick, whereas others are a little more vague and will take some exploration to solve. There are rewards of course, and even hidden collectables to find throughout Gemea, like cats; a simple way that makes me want to explore more of the island.

Yonder is very pretty to look at from an aesthetic perspective. The world is very bright and colorful, animals and Sprites are absolutely adorable and practically any area you see in the background can be explored, given you can clear the Murk blocking its path. More than once I saw an interesting object on a faraway hill and went to explore, sidetracking me for a good hour. While the character models are quite basic, it has a certain charm. Audio is just as suitable, as the calming soundtrack sets the mood and tone for your adventure, never becoming too serious or unnerving.

I’m actually glad there’s no combat involved. While it would add more gameplay, Yonder is suited for the experience that it is; a freeform adventure to calmly explore and do as you wish. There’s no shortage of discovery and adventure to be had, all at your own pace and prerogative.

While Xbox will never have Animal Crossing come to the console, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is essentially as close as you’re going to get, and arguably, a more robust experience. Sure, Yonder could use a little more depth in some areas, I appreciate the freedom to do and focus on whatever I want without any pressure or objectives I don’t want to complete if I don’t desire to. If you’re looking for a title to relax and unwind with that’s simple to understand and play, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles should be looked at.

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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