Haven takes you to the planet Source as Kay and Yu, a young couple on the run from the powerful and menacing forces of their homeworld. Glide effortlessly across the verdant grasslands of this mysterious and broken world, engage in strategic real-time combat with the local wildlife, but above all take the time to lose yourself in the charming scenes and meaningful conversations of this duo who gave up everything to be together.
Story – Literally Star-Crossed
Haven puts you in the shoes of Kay and Yu, two young lovers who have escaped the confines of a regimented and dystopian society known as the Apiary for the idyllic and mysteriously fragmented landscapes of the planet Source. After an unexpected earthquake severely damages the Nest, the ship that now serves as their home, Kay and Yu must explore the floating interconnected islets to find a way to fix it. Along the way they’ll unravel the mysteries of Source, including the strange red substance known as Rust that’s covering the land and corrupting the local fauna and an apparent attempted colonisation of the planet by the Apiary.
That is certainly the main story arc for the game, and it’s a compelling one with elements of exploration, fleshed-out science fiction and low-key conspiracy all rolled together in a neat package, but the real narrative draw of Haven is in its incredibly nuanced and beautifully rendered exploration of the two lovers’ relationship. Much of the game plays out like a support scene from Fire Emblem or a skit from a Tales game, where you simply watch the interaction between the two characters and occasionally make a dialogue choice. What on paper might sound relentlessly dull is masterfully executed with a wonderful harmony between the writing, the emotive character art and the first-class voice acting. As much as I wanted to progress the main story and continue unravelling the secrets of Source, I still found myself putting things on hold to seek out another little vignette between these two immensely likeable characters again and again.
These scenes will provide extra information and lore about the world – there’s no Mass Effect-style codex available so if you want to learn anything about the Apiary, its connection to Source, or the morally-ambiguous ExaNova corporation, you’d best pay attention – but more often they’ll simply explore the relationship between Kay and Yu, in what amounts to a surprisingly honest and heartfelt portrayal of two young people, intensely in love and forced to go to great lengths to preserve it. They laugh, they cry, they joke, they tease, they bicker, they play board games, they talk frankly about their sex life, they adopt a local alien lizard as a pet. It all feels remarkably three-dimensional, a far cry from the lifeless romances of many other games.
All in all, it’s a very satisfying story to play through on several levels: the main plot itself has enough twists and wrinkles to keep you interested and engaged if you do want to just blast through it, but it really shines in the smaller, more personal scenes, and you’ll soon find yourself endeared to and invested in your two main characters.
Gameplay – Fly, My Pretties
There’s a real grab bag of gameplay mechanics and systems at play in Haven, most of which work pretty well together. The first thing you’ll discover is gliding, the primary method of movement as you traverse Source. You can use your feet, but walking is so slow that even Kay and Yu will comment on it if you opt for that over gliding effortlessly across the grass. Quick 180° reversals and sharp turns are easy and intuitive to pull off and the camera is usually quite good at keeping up with your movement so you rarely lose track of where you are or where you’re going.
A limited crafting system of sorts opens up fairly early on as well: as you explore Source you can gather fruits and plants along with the Rust that covers the islands which can be brought back to the Nest to be cooked into meals or combined into healing items or combat aids. It’s simplistic in its execution: you can only ever combine two ingredients, and there are some limits on what can be used for what purpose (you can’t cook with Rust, for example, but you can use it to create combat items) so you’ll never be overwhelmed with creative choice. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your personal preferences for crafting systems in your games: for my money, I found it just the right balance.
Combat is where things risk getting a little unintuitive. In what feels a bit like the old-school active time battle system from some of the older Final Fantasy games, you must choose and charge up your attacks while keeping an eye on the movements of the Rust-infected wildlife, gradually whittling them down to a point where you can ‘pacify’ them and cleanse them of their corruption. It can be a little tricky, particularly early on when you’re unfamiliar with the ins and out of it: the system is probably the least tutorialised in the game, so you’ll be relying on a bit of trial and error to work out the difference between your Impact and Blast attacks, when to shield and when to attack, the timing for duo attacks, and that sort of thing. It took me quite a while to discover, for example, that in most cases, you only needed one character to be shielding regardless of who the enemy was targeting, allowing the other to keep attacking.
That said, once you get the hang of the battle system it really is quite novel and tactical, with a challenging blend of turn-based and real-time activity. Enemies have tells to indicate that they’re about to attack (and usually who they’ll be attacking as well), but you usually have quite a small window to react to it accordingly, so you’ll need to be strategic, particularly against bosses. Once you unlock craftable combat items you can wipe out hordes of smaller enemies in one fell swoop, but keep an eye on your resources lest you end up in a big fight without any Omni-Impacts to fall back on, as healing opportunities are usually few and far between until you get back to the Nest each night.
Explanation for mechanics and systems in general is probably where the game suffers most: while gliding is given a lot of opportunity for testing and tutorial right at the start of the game, once you hit your first battle you’re pretty much on your own. Pop open the menu to the status screen and you’re greeted by all sorts of exciting-sounding terms like ‘flow burst’ and ‘duo impact’ and a neat little emblem of two interlocking Vs in the corner but, while their meaning eventually becomes clearer, there’s little obvious indication of how to improve them or use them more effectively (for the record, the V symbol is your relationship level: fight battles and do couple things and you can level up your abilities accordingly). It’s a tough trade-off, because excessive tutorialising would undoubtedly mar the pace and tone of the early game, but perhaps a couple of screens nestled away in the options menu to go over the main systems could help. All in all, though, it’s a small quibble in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable game.
Graphics and Audio – A Gorgeous and Heartfelt Tour de Force
Haven is undeniably a visually arresting game, and a lot of effort clearly went into its art and graphics. From the watercolour-inspired animated intro cinematic to the wonderfully emotive and varied character art to the stunning and colourful vistas of the islets of Source, style was evidently near the top of the list of priorities when making the game. The 3D character models are a little simple, but the majority of the time when they’re most on show they’re accompanied and, honestly, eclipsed by the expressive and fun character portraits in dialogue and skits. Even the loading screens are beautifully drawn and full of character.
The sound work is also admirable: the atmospheric electronic music of Danger vibes well with the setting, feeling appropriately chilled or exciting at the right moments, and the voice acting is frankly some of the best I’ve heard, bringing an honesty and character to the couple. The wildlife of Source is given some delightfully evocative sounds and cries of their own, and extra effects on the dialogue like muffling it inside buildings or giving it an echo in an underground cave all show off the amount of care and attention to detail that the team lavished on it, and indeed on the game as a whole.
Haven was reviewed on PC with a Steam code provided by The Game Bakers.