Wylde Flowers - Magic is Real
Wylde Flowers is a game that really only comes along sparingly. At a distance it’s easy to see similarities with other games in the cozy genre, a certain kinship with occult-flavoured sitcoms from yesteryear, and an absolute commitment to presenting a world with depth that includes people of all kinds.
What Studio Drydock have put into the game above all, is heart. From the moment you see the town’s flag, it should be clear this is a game with a vibrantly beating heart. Heart in the stories, heart in the characters, heart in the details. There’s so much love that emanates from Wylde Flowers, its town, characters and story beats that you need to experience it for yourself.
The surface detail that seems most prominent, or most different to what a lot of older cozy village types have done, is that there’s magic. It could have easily been a side market, another type of goods and currency to grind through. What’s clear in the case of Wylde Flowers is how seamlessly it slots into the rest of the world, and that instead of a side-note, the magic really becomes the mechanical centrepiece.
You play as Tara, granddaughter of Hazel, and have come to the quiet seaside village of Fairhaven. Tara’s had a rough time lately, having lost her job and her fiancée (or fiancé), so when her grandmother Hazel fell sick, it was a chance for her to help, as well as get away from the bustle of a life gone off rails. You start like a lot of the cozy ones do, in the early days of Spring, helping with the garden, foraging for mushrooms, and cooking up a meal or two. Yet as you explore and become a bigger part of the community, it becomes apparent that there’s a mystery or two underneath the surface (although Hazel and Tara do seem to talk about it all much more openly than other characters of a similar persuasion). Before long, it’s Tara who’s becoming part of the local coven, and the story really begins to kick off, as not everyone in town is accepting of the unknown or occult.
Most of what you do is farm, mine, forage, and then make things. Whether it’s meals, goods, or magic (Speed Boost Incantation is a goddess-send), you’ll either give, sell or use them. All the while, you’ll gradually talk to everyone in town, and decide more details about Tara’s character, or who in town she cares for more. Occasionally there’ll be special scenes with characters as you progress and while romance is a possibility, most of what you’ll make here is friends. You’ll learn about their lives as they are, as they were, and what brought them to Fairhaven, and slowly build a better sense of who the characters are.
The overall aesthetic of the game is cute – the style choice for the characters is cartoonish, but with enough expressiveness that sometimes it feels like Tara is doing a fourth-wall break when the conversation ends. The environments are similarly gorgeous, decorated with so many extras, and really helping to sell the experience of Fairhaven.
In a way that I want to make clear as being a very good thing, it’s strange to play a cozy village type of game with full voice acting. It completely elevates the authenticity of the world and makes it more immersive than it might otherwise be, and as a roundabout effect, makes the player less likely to speed through the dialogue. While the accents in the game may not be what you’d expect from a game with head office in Australia, it means Wylde Flowers is ready for a larger audience. It also means that as the characters have their moments, you feel the weight of the emotion in their voice, instead of a grunt or repetitive bark. There is a mix of diegetic and extradiegetic music, so as you run past the cafe you’ll have the sounds inside pan from ear to ear, while exploring the forest carries with it its own theme from the ether. They’re fantastic themes too, carrying all the joy and whimsy of your favourite Joe Hisashi piece, and never slips into being obnoxious or overpowering.
There’s a part of me that wants to use the word for the sake of referential humour, but Wylde Flowers is magical. There are so many aspects to it that make sense, that I am worried about going back to other games in the genre. Even tiny little choices like making your tool interactions context-sensitive means you never have to fish out the right tool for what you’re doing, because the interaction is smart enough to pick the right one. In just the same way, walking by a fence you can jump will just.. Jump it. It’s such a small detail, but really shows that the design understands these sorts of games inside out. There’s even repercussions to succumbing to exhaustion, which is nothing a visit to the town doctor won’t fix, provided they’re open. Even still, it’s not all roses for Tara, but this is more about a fragment of her life – and if there’s anything we can attribute to Tara, it’s that she’s able to pick up the pieces when life happens.
It’s fantastic that it includes so many different people, each with very different life experiences and attitudes, and does so in a way that feels natural. People from different countries, of different beliefs, of other genders, and orientations are all part of the town. Each of the characters feels like they were designed with depth, not merely one tick of difference on a checklist of representation. It means that as you get to know the characters day by day, you have a much better sense of who they are as people. While the town feels similar to the likes of typical cozy towndom, with elements of either Portia, Olive Town, or in some respects, Adventure Bay, it’s the little flourishes of Australia that feel like a secret nod. The second that you see the ferry you arrive in Fairhaven on, it’s like the developers took you aside from the crowd and said “Hey, this is for you.” It’s possible this is something that’s there for other countries or cultures too, as although Studio Drydock is based in Melbourne, Australia, their team is scattered across the globe.
If you’ve never really gotten into the cozy game scene, not touched the likes of Stardew, Story of Seasons, or all the rest, this is the one. If those are part of your favourites already, then prepare for a new one to join the list. Start here, and just be spoiled by something amazing. Take your time with it. Heck, even slow the game time down so you can get every second out of it possible.
Wylde Flowers was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly provided by Studio Drydock.