Signs of the Sojourner is a narrative-driven deck-building game by Echodog Games. After being released PC and Mac in May 2020, the game made its console debut in March 2021. Following your mother’s passing, you take up her mantle as the local shopkeeper of your childhood town. The cozy atmosphere and pensive take on adventure bring the charm of beautiful indie favorites harboring deep themes like A Short Hike and Night in the Woods.
Story – A Tale of Tragedy and Travels
Sojourn, verb. To reside temporarily. Signs of the Sojourner has you step into your mother’s shoes as you try to revive her dwindling business in the insignificant town of Bartow. The caravan threatens to drop the town from their route should it stop making them profit, and so the fate of your mother’s legacy and your childhood friend Elias is in your hands. It’s a lot of responsibility for a newly-minted sojourner, and the pressure stays on you as your progress through the story. Like a good old road trip movie, you can’t plan for everything on a long-haul journey. A straightforward expedition never seems to attainable…
The highlight of the game is the different characters that you meet on the way to your goal of stocking up your shop. They live in beautifully fleshed-out towns, alive with the passion for their products and the pressures of doing business in a wary part of the world. Every character presented their own problems and rewards, whether that be goods or information.
I enjoyed the personality and writing that was put into these characters and settings because they felt quite believable in their struggles and reactions to you and the happenings outside of their bubble. I felt that it offered an interesting insight into the lives of the working class comprised of small business owners. Each had a corner of their world to fulfill, and they also helped you understand the nature of your mother’s activities way back when she was alive.
You can choose to be their friend or their enemy – but this part really depends on how you want to sharpen your card collection. Your deck is basically your personality and holds the responses that you give during your interactions with the various characters in your journey. It is your tool to discover more paths, places, and stories about your mother. As the story unfolds, these bits and pieces of narrative effectively push you to strive harder for a better ending for yourself, Elias, and the town of Bartow.
A big selling point of the game is the fact that your decisions matter and that your playthrough should be catered to making friends and helping certain people. It’s a bit of a mixed message, having to avoid some people because you know you don’t have the capability to succeed in a conversation with them. There were times when I pushed my luck with a catered deck, but in the end, I gave up on trying. I felt sad when I started having a hard time talking to Elias. You are encouraged to go through multiple playthroughs in order to see everything the world has to offer. As someone who personally does not like playing the same game twice, I did not really appreciate this but could be better for players who are looking for replayability.
Don’t be fooled by the Saturday morning cartoon visuals the game offers. This is a story of tragedy and hope – there are genuinely heartbreaking moments and frustrating compromises that need to be made in order to move forward.
Gameplay – Discussions, Domino-Style
Deck-building games have cemented a good fanbase in the world of gaming, but don’t expect a Hearthstone or even Slay the Spire here. However, depending on how you play, you can experience the same nail-biting suspense and satisfying wins. At the heart of Sojourner is the card-based dialogue mechanic, where you match up card symbols. You’re stuck with just 10 cards, so you’re shuffling around your strategy throughout your entire playthrough.
At face value, the gameplay can seem simplistic, but as the game progresses it proves that there is a lot of strategic thinking involved. It was fun to discover new cards and skills and to pull off winning tricks to help you gain people’s trust. However, the multiple restrictions on players – the limited deck, the fatigue cards – can feel discouraging at times. I felt that luck played too big a part in the card sections.
How you wish to upgrade your cards also dictates who you will be able to talk to and the quests that you can accomplish. I focused on certain sellers in order to maximize my hand, but even then, I couldn’t trust that they were the right people for my goals. Sometimes, a successful conversation reaps no rewards or all the cards offered at completion are to the detriment of your strategy. Even when I succeeded in conversations with some of the characters – there was a negative outcome, and they eventually stole some of my stock! What gives? If Sojourner is really going for the realism of being a nomadic entrepreneur, they’ve got the frustration and number of skeevy businessmen on the road just about right.
Overall, the card-based system is a lovely metaphor for how we get on with people who we know intimately and those who are complete strangers. This is one game that intelligently melds narrative and gameplay in a convincing manner, where success is satisfying and failure is frustrating.
The start of the game felt like a visual novel that’s trying to be clever, but as your drag your truck across the map, you will find there’s a lot to discover. Exploration and deciding where to go is also an interesting aspect, but because of this nature of gameplay steering the narrative, journeying through the land feels stilted. After a few tries, I felt scared to take risks and venture further because the consequences were too great and would not allow me to accomplish anything once I got there. But this is all part and parcel of the message, and I appreciate that I’ve been forewarned that I can’t please everyone. People I’ve encountered in my journey have told me my mother was the real deal when taking on risks – in retrospect, I applaud her for that!
Signs of the Sojourner is an experience that can be completed in 3-5 hours.
Audio and Visuals – Light-hearted Art for the Heart
One of the best things about the game is its eye-catching visuals and pleasant, cozy soundtrack. From the character and town designs, the long journey between each stop feels convincing and on-point. Each settlement looks, sounds, and feels different from the rest. I can even tell the characters apart – not only by their unique designs but by their manner of speech, too. The amount of care given to writing and designing this world is palpable, and it’s hard not to enjoy how well built the overall presentation is.
The UI, however, could deliver information in a much clearer way. Starting up the game shoves you into a mish-mash of different menu screens, which was overwhelming. It took the first few trips to understand what each section and symbol represents, and by that time you’re already halfway through the playthrough. Navigating through the menus and symbols was finicky in the beginning and needs some getting used to. It’s a lot of things to keep in mind and could have benefited from more straightforward instructions for beginners.
Signs of the Sojourner was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Digerati Distribution.