There are lots of farming sims and farming-adjacent games with action-RPG elements out there, and each tends to have its own gimmick. Rune Factory works by bringing in runes and tying in things like running a kingdom or dealing with monsters while farming and fighting. Stardew Valley focuses on farming, with mines and other places for light adventures. In Garden Story, the focus is on the sense of community. Yes, you’re going to be doing some gathering, crafting, and fighting. But you’re also a critical member of a society working to make things better for everyone.
Editor’s Note: There will be no Garden Story spoilers below.
The Grove is an island with multiple communities. Anthropomorphic fruits, vegetables, frogs, and fungi are all attempting to live in peace. Trying is the key word, as Rot is infiltrating and contaminating the land. So much so that Concord, a young grape, is the last person to grow on the vine in the Kindergarden. There is hope, however. Guardians care for and protect The Grove and its inhabitants. After being chosen by their best friend, Plum, Concord is moved to Spring Hamlet and tasked with helping and protecting people around them. Which eventually will not only extend to this initial town, but also Summer Bar, Autumn Town, and Winter Glade.
Every element of Garden Story seems to emphasize how important working together is. For example, what would be your shipping box is labeled as the Village Storage. When you wake up each day, you see how many requests you have from people who need your help. Which isn’t totally an uncommon concept. Rune Factory and Stardew Valley also offer similar sorts of sidequests. But here, it feels more like a focal point. You’re doing all you can to help others. So these sorts of quests and the occasional favors really call attention to how important community is.
See, this is the system that has you restoring the four villages. Rot is invasive, and things fell into disrepair as a result. Each sort of request falls into a Conflict, Forage, or Maintenance category, bolstering up one of the levels of the three areas for each village. This, in turn, affects growth, enemy status, and the support they can offer you. And, at the end of each day, you get an explanation of the town’s status at that level and how handling each request influenced people’s lives.
But what really ties things together is the Memories system. As you go through Garden Story, you will experience poignant moments with some characters. As you do, Concord will note them in their journal. While you initially can only equip one, eventually you can have up to nine equipped. Rather than equipment, as any hats you might find are cosmetic, the reminders of times shared with friends are what make Concord stronger. So, for example, your first official “memory” with Plum will increase Concord’s health by two, stamina recharge by one, and decrease luck by two. It really encourages these connections and gives them a tangible value.
Garden Story really makes you think about what you can do for others. People are depending on you as a guardian. And every action makes you realize just doing one sort of thing won’t be enough to help. You have to diversify and take other requests, and the game will show you the affect that has on the villages and what they can offer you. Interacting with people is a necessity, and the time you spend with them will give you the opportunity to become stronger. The game wants you to make the effort and will show you how you’ll be rewarded for doing so every step of the way. You’re not only making The Grove a better place, you’re making Concord a better person.
Garden Story is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.