Haven preview: not the holiday camp

If you played The Game Bakers’ ultra-difficult, all-boss fighter Furi, a tender romance is probably the last follow-up you’d expect. Then again, it might be exactly what you should expect from a French indie team who boldly claim to “make games like we cook food: with a lot of love,” whose Montpellier office is located above a patisserie, and whose creative director Emeric Thoa confesses a passion for romantic comedies.

“Haven is a much riskier bet [than Furi],” Thoa says, “but the one thing that the two games have in common is the goal of creating something that stands out. A game that you’ve never experienced before. The story of a couple already in love and fighting for their freedom. An established relationship – I don’t think that’s ever been done in video games.

“What love looks like when you’re past the early seduction phase. When you can be your true self with one another. Creating an RPG around that idea is pretty outstanding to me.”

Haven’s protagonists, Yu and Kay, share a comfortable domestic life on Source, a ‘lost’ planet they escaped to so they can stay together. Playing as both characters, you’ll glide over serene, grassy landscapes to explore the planet and unravel its mysteries, while also learning who Yu and Kay are and how they got here.

Yu and Kay are a couple rarely seen in games, past the giddiness of first love and together for the long haul.

“I really like when the characters know more than the player at the beginning of a game,” Thoa says. “Spending time with them will tell you the backstory, but also make you fall in love with them as you ‘make them live’ their couple’s life.”

Their Persona-like daily routine will include meals and pillow talk, with dialogue choices shaping the story and sometimes having long-ranging consequences. And what about what happens under the sheets? While sex is an essential part of their love life and may come up in conversation, “there is nothing graphic other than seeing them in underwear,” Thoa says. “They have sex, and they don’t make a fuss about it, neither do we. Overall, sex in the game is presented in a very natural way.”

Yu and Kay’s utopia, which Thoa describes as “a fragmented planet of flying islets,” is a stylish place of flowing grass, floating rocks, and tumbling waterfalls. This setting will be enhanced by an original soundtrack composed by electronic musician Danger, who also contributed to Furi.

“He’s created a wonderful range of tracks that will carry you from the positive energy of a sunny Sunday morning to the tension of a walk in the mountains [on] a moonless night,” says Thoa.

Getting around on Source involves gliding with the help of ‘flow boots’, sometimes hand-in-hand with your beloved. “It’s very relaxing to glide through the landscape and [that’s] one of the strong intentions of the game, making the player feel relaxed,” Thoa says. “This art style really came from the game’s priorities: simplicity and elegance. No trees or complex vegetation, very little architecture. The serenity of a mountain valley covered in tall grass.”

Source’s landscape is intentionally sparse, without complex vegetation or architecture to obscure the fluorescent view.

In motion, Haven’s navigation elicits comparisons to the casual sand surfing in Journey, but Thoa says it’s more like a kart game. “You hold a button to glide and another one to take tight turns. It’s very simple, but it feels a little bit more sporty than Journey. The intention was to make the feeling closer to skiing or ice skating. Their flow boots require a bit of skill and energy.”

Idyllic as it all sounds, there’s trouble in paradise. Thoa is tight-lipped about what trials the couple will face, but their goals will be to stay on Source and to stay together. “Although it’s about survival, the gameplay doesn’t ask you to really manage their survival needs,” he says. “The danger is not hunger, thirst, or cold; it’s a bigger threat than that. A threat to their freedom.”

The first gameplay trailer hints at machinery breaking down, giant mythical creatures roaming about, and a grassy open world that Yu and Kay will glide through to initiate combat and sweep up the rust that blankets the landscape.

Though it’s billed as an adventure/RPG, Thoa says Haven’s gameplay falls more on the adventure side. “Both elements are important in the game, combat and adventure. But the game experience is more weighted toward story, exploration, and dialogue than combat. Combat is fun, useful, sometimes required, but not at the core of the experience.”

Thoa says gliding was a late addition; for the first year of development, the team worked on a version that lacked this navigation system.

When combat does arise, you’ll hold down buttons to load actions for Yu and Kay to carry out when you let go, with tactical thinking and good timing required to coordinate their attacks. It’s neither real-time nor turn-based, but something in between, with loose similarities to Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle (ATB) system and the early Phantasy Star games.

While it’s not technically a co-op game, Haven does support local multiplayer, in that a second player can join in any time with a second controller. (On PC, keyboard and mouse will also be supported.) “You can fight together; you can explore together, choose dialogue answers together,” Thoa explains. “It’s very welcoming for, let’s say, a couple who want to share a moment playing together.”

Keeping in mind The Game Bakers’ mission to make games like they cook food, Haven’s recipe so far seems to be equal parts Persona and Journey with a pinch of Romeo and Juliet and a dash of Danger, but they’ve no doubt sprinkled their own secret ingredients into the mix.

After two and a half years of development, the gourmands plan to pull this sweet treat out of the oven in early 2020.

Genre: Adventure / RPG
Format: PC / PS4 / Switch
Developer: The Game Bakers
Publisher: The Game Bakers
Release: Early 2020

Wireframe issue 27 is out now.

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