The Good Life - Fish and Chips!
PC, Switch, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series
I did it. I played through the totality of the main story for The Good Life. And this review is only… *checks notes*… about a month late, rounding the numbers a bit.
In a way, this is appropriate.
In fact, in more than one way, this is appropriate.
I played my own backers copy of The Good Life on a PlayStation 5, running the game via backwards compatibility. For the majority of that play time, it was, to put it bluntly, downright painful to look at. Walls of buildings and distant objects would just straight up flicker in and out of reality. This wasn’t a quirk, it was just how the game was. This flickering was everywhere, and it happened all the time. This glitch was just a part of playing the game through Sony’s BC.
A couple of days after I had completed the adventure, a notification of (another) patch popped up on my dashboard. Curious, I stepped back in to dally around some neglected side quests. What I found was a game now running more smoothly than ever, with not a single glitch in sight. If you’re in possession of a PS5, then, any recommendations here no longer need to come with a flashing asterisk. I’ve been enjoying a smattering of side content for a week or so now, and we’re back to the main complaint about the visuals being that its technical appearance is that of a supercharged Dreamcast game. I mean, fuck it – the lead character is basically named after the console.
It feels silly opening a review by effectively telling a specific audience to worry not; being able to say that, at this point, the game simply works. But had this been written even a couple of weeks after launch, this wouldn’t have been the case.
Fortunately, the other way in which my own delay is appropriate is a bit more compelling, and a whole lot more relevant to what The Good Life is all about. I’d consider saying something like buckle in, but frankly, we’re not going to be going all that fast, and it’s possible that we may be travelling by sheep rather than car.
The Good Life was sold early on (primarily) to fans of Swery’s work (the opinion-splitting likes of Deadly Premonition and D4) as a game about a down-on-her-luck New York photojournalist sent on assignment to the small English town of Rainy falls, where the inhabitants turn into cats and dogs on nights where the moon waxes full. While photography seemed a safe assumption, exactly what the greater story and mechanics were was largely left up to the imagination.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that the proper appeal of The Good Life didn’t crystallize for me until I was closer to the end than I realised, and just about ready to give up on trying to pour in the hours to make the review timely. That dogs and cats thing had proven to be at once more and less than I had anticipated; Naomi pretty much inevitably gains the ability to transform into either at will irrespective of time or day and playing as both opens up new mechanics that never quite feel as fully utilised as they could be. Sure, it’s fun to run around as a dog and wee on things – and it’s possibly even more fun to highlight this in a review – but the real magnetic appeal here isn’t the turning into animals.
No. It’s the inevitable knock-on effect of the cycles of the lunar calendar having an overreaching effect on The Good Life’s pacing.
It’s embarrassing, just how bluntly the game had to point this out to me, and how wonderfully by chance it happened. In a traditional sense, I totally messed up the order in which I had Naomi undertake certain tasks, and this resulted in me cycling around something that needed to be done while the inhabitants of Rainy Falls were in feline and canine form… literally a day after a full moon. Sure enough, You can have Noami do things like read books to pass large chunks of time. You can probably sleep ad infinitum, too. But…
There was a whole world out there, bland at a glance, but wonderfully off-kilter if you take the time to really look. Sure, the basic premise is that Naomi is somehow 30 million British pounds in the red (being from the States, I can only assume she missed a student loan repayment or had to see a doctor at some point in her life), and in order to pay off this overwhelming debt, a massive media conglomerate known as Morning Bell News has assigned her to the small British town of Rainy Woods, a place that, contrary to what its name suggests, is apparently the happiest place on Earth. The reason? A vague mission objective of ‘uncover its secrets’.
Namoi, quite naturally, takes an immediate dislike to the place. “Goddamn Hellhole” is one of the most used dialogue snippets in The Good Life. While Naomi can be bratty, it’s also easy to see where she’s coming from – all of the live fast, play hard aspects of her urban lifestyle have been stripped from her. Forget somehow always being within a five-minute walking radius of a Starbucks; here, the only local eatery doesn’t follow a very strict schedule, and if the mushroom-obsessed owner isn’t there, then forget about lunch.
Nonetheless, the actual, literal title of this game is The Good Life. And, it seems, according to the team at Osaka-based While Owls, living the good life means being able to take it slow, to simply enjoy each day as it comes. While not up to the standard set (and still maintained) by the likes of those in The Witcher 3, The Good Life is absolutely loaded with side-quests. These range from absurdly game-like fetch quests (of which eventually result in too many winks at the camera), to simple feats in exploration, or indeed just… living. Appropriately, several quests require Naomi to make use of her camera, but others may involve simply remembering to try a new beer each day or even catching a cold.
It is here that The Good Life is at its best. Simply existing in a world that at once does a fantastic job of capturing the vibe of the English countryside, while having no shortage of quirks. Sure enough, being produced on a limited budget, there is a lack of shimmer and polish in places. Despite simple models and straightforward animations, draw distance is low. The fields of this countryside are divided by stone fences that can sometimes be leaped over when in cat or dog form, but also sometimes can’t. I got over it. I expect a lot of people will. There’s a quaint charm here, a wholeness to the experience that most other open worlds lose in all of their noise. Nonetheless, it could be more refined and accommodating in places.
While The Good Life understands that there is appeal in not having to rush, in quests being more about keeping your head above water in a capitalist world that would happily see you drown than in becoming increasingly better-equipped and more powerful, it isn’t immune to getting lost in some of its own details. It’s a lovely touch, having cooking play a meaningful part of the daily grind, and it’s cool that Naomi has a garden, but the details go too far.
The total number of ingredients available is just overwhelming, and I will never for the life of me understand why Naomi requires a pear in order to prepare a bowl of porridge. Similar issues arise should you wish to do something like expand Naomi’s wardrobe: the simple pleasure of these diversions let over-ambition get in the way of their own potential.
And that side quest about getting sick mentioned above? There’s a good chance you’ll manage that by accident because of all of the buffs associated with different meals and activities, and they don’t always line up with your own logic. That aforementioned porridge, for example, doesn’t include the ‘healthy’ benefit. Some pies do, though, if I’m remembering correctly.
This mess of detail left for the player to sift through is a shame, sure. I’m a little saddened that The Good Life understands so well that not every character adventure needs to blaze by at blistering pace, that adventure and daily routine can absolutely combine with plenty of room for weird things like riding sheep around and dealing with a rival who keeps on yelling LOBSTAH left over, only to muddy the waters by getting too granular.
I’ll take it, though. For everything that I’d like to see reconsidered in The Good Life, it’s still a unique and ultimately fulfilling adventure. It hits enough modern conveniences to be perhaps more accessible than some of Swery’s other work while also taking an approach to open world and narrative design that is just so beautifully, calmly divorced from the dominant formula. Plenty of players will likely bounce off, but for those who find the right time to stop and smell the flowers, The Good Life is a more than worthwhile diversion.
The Good Life was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 (in BC mode) using a Kickstarter backer’s code