I wouldn't have guessed in my wildest of dreams that the follow up to the boss-centric hack and slash Furi would be a romance JRPG, but here we are! Instead of causing our blood to boil pitting us against a gauntlet of tough boss encounters, Haven is a much more therapeutic affair, as it focuses on cooking, crafting, and exploration. It certainly shows that The Game Bakers have diversity, but should they have played things safe when it came to a follow up?
Haven follows the tale of Yu and Kay, a pair of young lovers who have fled their home planet and have sacrificed everything for a future together. The two hail from a world where relationships are forcefully arranged by a mysterious entity known as the Matchmaker, so their love is pretty much forbidden. Throughout the story, you begin to unravel the mysteries surrounding the new world you find yourself in and will learn more about the pair's relationship and backstory. It's pretty much the plot of Black Mirror's Hang the DJ episode whether the devs intended it or not (hopefully, you've seen it to understand the reference).
I'll say with confidence right off the bat, if you are not interested in romance stories in the slightest then Haven will not be the game for you. Yu and Kay are pretty much exclusively the only characters to be given significant screen time, and the bulk of the story centres around their thoughts, feelings, and how they are dealing with this troubling situation together. It can be cheesy and even a little risqué at times, but I did find both characters to feel instantly likeable and their relationship does feel believable. There's Kay who is slightly dim witted but all around good natured, and Yu, who has a fiery personality but is equally as caring and affectionate. The pair compliment each other well, and I was surprised by the breadth of dialogue that was present during actions such as cooking and camping.
So, I've mentioned the story, but what does the gameplay mainly consist of? Well, not long after getting acquainted with the dual protagonists, your ship is badly damaged by a tremor, and it's up to you to search across the planet to find the remaining pieces. My first major complaint with Haven is that this central objective feels awfully tedious, as you simply just have to explore the map and bring those components back piece by piece. The frustrating part is that you have to teleport back to your ship every time you find a new piece. You can later unlock a fast travel system to ease the burden of this, but it just feels like needless padding to progress the story forward.
The planet isn't just one seamless open world and consists of several small islands that are separated by loading screens. These loadings screens are frequent, but luckily, due to the SSD on the Xbox Series X, I found them to be lightning fast. Traversing these planets is fun too as Kay and Yu glide across the environment and don't just walk around on foot. What's great is that you'll need to soar through the air to reach other platforms using this mechanic by following beams of light known as Flow Threads. These are scattered across islands and require you to follow their every twist and turn before you can absorb all of their energy.
I found myself having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the combat system, as it feels distinctive, but also pretty cumbersome. Playing solo you take command of both Yu and Kay simultaneously using one side of the controller for commands for each character, with the action being a hybrid of turn-based and real-time mechanics. What I mean by this is that actions are performed by selecting one of four options (Blast, Impact, Shield, and Pacify), but enemies won't hesitate to attack before you have made your selection. I really like this idea in concept, but having to read my opponents moves and scramble around to control two characters did feel like too much at times. This is perhaps remedied within co-op, as here players just have the one character to command. Sadly though, I was unable to test this out.
Crafting and cooking are two major pillars of Haven, as your health doesn't automatically regenerate even if you get knocked out during combat. Within the Nest you can cook meals using ingredients you've collected in the world, and you can craft medicine using shards found on the ground. Again, I have mixed feelings with the execution here. Having to collect these materials did give me something more to do other than moving from point A to point B, and it was fun experimenting with different recipes to see what would give me the best buffs. What I disliked about this, however, is that it padded out the experience, as I couldn't charge right back into battle after failing without having to look for ingredients to craft.
The presentation here though is just excellent, and I can easily say that Haven is one of the best looking indies that I have played on the Xbox Series X. The colours are vibrant, and it has a look and feel that reminded me an awful lot of the Gravity Rush series. I also really like that the dialogue sequences are displayed as cartoon stills, as this helps to provide a fun contrast. The music I found to be heavenly as it's a mesmerising mix of ambient and electronic sounds. The same loops can get repetitive after a while, but they are certainly catchy (in fact, I have one looping around my mind just now as I am writing this!).
Sadly, it wasn't love at first sight for me and Haven. I found its combat, playing solo to be quite cumbersome and things soon felt repetitive when locating all the components for my spaceship. Haven does shine though through its characters, as Kay and Yu are instantly likable and I found myself invested in their journey into the unknown. The visuals are also top-notch for an indie game, and the script is fleshed out with many different interactions. It has its flaws, that's for sure, but if you're looking for something story-rich to cosy up with and play with a significant other then you could do much worse than Haven.
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