Röki is a heartwarming story of a brother and sister in the shivering cold of Scandinavia. Made by Polygon Treehouse out of Cambridge in the UK, lead by a couple of ex-PlayStation art directors, the game explores Scandanavian folklore coming to life, and the dangers and adventure faced by two children in this mystical world. As Tove sets out to save her family, you’ll come across great mythical beasts, strange puzzles, and explore a deeply touching narrative. It is simple, pleasant, and heartfelt. I had a truly wonderful time with it.
Story — Trolls Have Feelings Too, Y’know
The first thing you notice is this game’s beauty. Grand mountains, a placid lake, a child playing in the snow, with a calm aurora of piano and pads bedded beneath it all. The kid is ignoring cries for him to return. When he eventually listens, he runs off and starts playing hide and seek. You, as the boy’s sister Tove, start running through the woods, stark shadows running across the snow from tree trunks, and crows fluttering off into the background. You throw snowballs, pick up a snowdrop, and run across a bridge which, according to Lars, your brother, has a troll living under it. It is a really beautiful way to open a video game.
After this lovely opening, you get more wholesome goodness in the form of Tove’s and Lars’ lovely relationship. Believable sibling dialogue, homely interactions, and a genuine love radiating from them both. They make an impact quickly and it’s very easy to care about them. But not everything is quite right, whether it’s the occasional eerie splatter of synth or the tales of great beasts of legend—supposedly just stories. It is a very traditional set-up: a lovely, likeable family unit whose melancholic peace is disturbed by . . . something.
As you venture out, you get swept up with how endlessly lovely Röki is, even as you explore graveyards and dark crow-infested woods. While there are dangers lurking, almost everything in this game is pleasant. Even the mushrooms (yes, mushrooms) are nice to you, like some forest spirits from Princess Mononoke. Alongside the gorgeous visual aesthetic, every aspect of this game is good-natured and simple. Not simple in a bad way, just clear-cut and pleasant.
As the story progresses there may be some points where it starts to drag for you, especially if you’re coming to this game looking for a Video Game Experience. But if you come to this game looking for a pleasant story, it’s all very relaxing, and the pacing mostly holds up. In general, though, the breadth of this game, and the way it expands before you from such a tiny, unassuming beginning is really special. It’s not a standard, linear adventure game even if the story basically is. Its imagination builds as it goes on, not just in the character designs, but in the vignettes, gameplay, aesthetic, and overall experience. The story itself stays aligned with this, and the whole game has one of the best hallmarks of most good things: it evolves along with you.
Gameplay — Nisse and Easy
The gameplay is simple and satisfying. It involves collecting items, dragging them onto each other or objects in the world to see how they interact, and solving little puzzles. It’s never challenging, but very pleasant. Little things like tying some clothes together to make a rope or using a chisel to open a stuck draw, to more complex recipe-like combinations feel like nice mini-successes as you follow Tove’s story.
Sometimes, the game doesn’t give you quite enough to do. Instead of one big scene, you have a small scene, then run from one section to another section, then another scene, then another run, then another scene, and then something to actually do. This is par for the course for adventure games like this, but I still wish these sections were interesting. At least when you do get to a puzzle they are reasonably varied, not always relying on the item-based mechanic. There are simple maze puzzles, like the Lost Woods in Zelda, or rune-matching puzzles, like in Bleak Falls Barrow in Skyrim. The game keeps it simple but doesn’t keep it the same.
This simplicity works especially well as the game expands a few hours in. Different aspects open up, and you have to remember multiple objects and different slithers of conversation to build a full picture of the solution to a puzzle. It’s rarely over-obvious but it is definitely not obtuse. It’s comfortable and interesting to a good extent. The simplicity of the gameplay allows you to relax with the game, but the imagination in the puzzles and level design means that it’s unlikely you’ll get bored. The loveliness of Röki isn’t reserved for the aesthetic; it spreads to every corner of the experience.
Visuals & Audio — Gorgeous as Galdhøpiggen
The visuals of this game are gorgeously simple, and the key to feeling emotionally connected to the story. Huge, snow-covered pines, grand, mesmerising mountains, and glittering, peaceful lakes within a world that gets more mysterious and fantastical with every step you take. You also come across strange creatures and characters, ranging from cute to terrifying, with imaginative designs and a generally winsome aesthetic.
There are gorgeous, icy piano arpeggios as you glide away from your home; fluttering flutes and ethereal melodies. Every inch of the soundtrack here sounds exactly how it should, like some ethereal monster coming down from the aether. Speaking of which, that’s the composer’s name: Aether (aka Jason Taylor). The success here is the way the soundtrack is able to swell and recede with your actions. The first time you meet a tomte — a little gnome-like creature of Nordic folklore — they help you get a grindstone turning. As the machine starts spinning and the cogs slip into place, a breath of calm, celebratory piano comes to the fore. It’s subtle but not too subtle. The sound makes sure you feel extra happy about your success.
There’s also the wonderful voice acting. Single words or short phrases accompany larger lines of well-written dialogue, along with sighs and grumbles. This isn’t grating as it often can be in other games, as Tove says “Pappa” or “tomte” or just sniffles in the snow. It’s all done just as charmingly as the rest of the game and brings a human element to these otherwise voiceless characters. Every time Tove said “Lars”, sounding on the verge of tears, I felt a little pang in my heart. I may be a sucker for stuff that’s heartfelt, but this is a step above the usual—I cannot overstate how much I care about Tove and Lars as characters, and I think that’s something really special.
Röki was reviewed on Nintendo Switch and a code was provided by Evolve PR.