Developer: Polygon Treehouse
I almost didn't get around to finishing this review or this game, not because it was that long, but because I happened to pick up Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town two weeks ago and that's been my life since. I tend to not let myself get new farming sim games very often specifically because this happens... Anyway, this review isn't about that. I also took breaks to play Röki, a popular 2020 indie that was nominated for Best Debut Game and I was excited to finally pick up. Röki is a Scandinavian folklore-inspired adventure game about a young girl on a quest to rescue her little brother. Röki is a heartwarming yet surprisingly dark tale about family and learning to forgive; it tells its story well despite sometimes making you back-track for little missed details.
You play as Tove, a young girl who lives with her family in a remote cabin nestled between woods and mountains. She's looking after her little brother, Lars, while they're out playing in the snow. Lars is an unstoppable ball of energy and is always running ahead while Tove tries to catch up with him. Even just in a few minutes of the introduction I could feel how exhausting it would be taking care of this wild child. Although the two kids live with their dad Henrik, it becomes quickly apparent that Tove is the responsible caretaker in the home. Tove and Lars' mother has passed away sometime ago, and Henrik clearly hasn't recovered from it. I don't want to say he's blackout drunk, but uh... he might be. The kids come home and he's sleeping on his chair with "pickled herring" jar (ew?) and a bottle of unidentified liquid next to him. He definitely is or was a sweet dad from what Tove leads us to believe, but it's likely he's been absent like this for a while. Tove puts Lars to bed and only a few moments later, their house is attacked by giant monster. Henrik still doesn't wake up, but Tove and Lars make a run for it through the forest. Unfortunately, the monster manages to catch up and suddenly Lars is gone, taken through a portal, leaving Tove desperate and alone in a mysterious part of the forest. Determined to save her little brother, Tove must befriend magical creatures and wake literal gods to get back to him.
The art style in Röki is reminiscent of a storybook, with colorful designs that look sort of paper-like. The environments are snowy and majestic, like a place untouched by humans. There was an extra amount of care taken for the villain's character art, including detailed close-ups of her face, which was really cool to see during cutscenes that felt like short movies. I only wish they'd given the rest of the characters this sort of detail and close-up, as I think it would've allowed us to relate even more to the protagonist and her family. The music in Röki's soundtrack also has an ethereal feel to it, instrumental with a lot of string and woodwind. It's really beautiful and adds a grandiose to moments like when you meet a giant wolf god and save them from their plight.
The way you move in Röki is in some ways satisfying, in some ways frustrating. Tove runs by ramping up slowly and then gets off to an intense run, which feels really good and like a realistic way a character would run. Despite a certain heaviness to it, as comes with running through snow, she still moves pretty fast. However, one little quirk that only started to bother me near the end is how long each loading screen would take. Not that the loading screens actually were that long, but the game auto-saves after each loading screen, delaying you for yet another few seconds while that finishes. It's a little excessive, seeing as the game is basically saving every 10 seconds if you're running through multiple screens. I'd rather have the option to click save than it save than for it to do it so often, personally. It was noticeable at the end of the game where you were often traversing back and forth between smaller areas. Röki has a lot of puzzles and fetch quests which most often involve finding out how items interact with each other and where to use the items. I enjoy these types of challenges for the most part, because it makes you think about how items work together - from cooking to making a Molotov cocktail. However, there's a couple times where you sort of just have to guess what item would be the right thing to drag-and-drop onto the next step, doing one after the other blindly. The game has a really helpful feature that highlights any intractable items in that screen, but even then occasionally I missed tiny items or ones that were hidden and had to backtrack later for them.
Röki is an excellent videogame storytelling of what would normally be a storybook or oral folklore of Nordic origin. Much like fairy tales often do, it tells a story for kids that also hits pretty hard on darker themes of death, abandonment, grief, and regret. I recommend this game for fans of adventure games and those who are curious to experience a game that gives insight into a different world and culture. Much of the dialogue has scattered (I believe) Swedish terms and names used as well. Despite a little gameplay hiccups and confusions, it's a beautiful story about the both the love and the difficulty that comes with being a family.
Röki is available on PC and Switch.
Played on: Switch
Playtime: 11 hrs