Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks

 

Review by · December 27, 2022

A wintery mountain range curses those who enter to wander until death, with two assassins who are sworn adversaries forced together by circumstance. That is the central premise behind Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks, a shorter visual novel experience developed and produced by Foxdrift Studios for the 2021 Winter VN Jam. While the story itself only takes around an hour or so to see, Curse of Gravehollow Peaks is an enjoyable, romantic-tinged visual novel that sufficiently whets the appetite for more extensive projects on the horizon.

Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks starts interestingly: you happen upon the campground of a mysteriously hospitable older woman named Zhaara at the foot of a mountain range ominously named Gravehollow Peaks. As Zhaara welcomes you, she begins to spin a tale of two people who’ve wandered into the mountain range despite its well-known curse for their personal goals. Iris and Seth are both assassins with checkered pasts and motivations and have a tense history together. Finding themselves stuck in Gravehollow Peaks, thanks to its mysterious curse, the two form an uneasy alliance to survive the following hardships while trying to figure out a means of escape.

Iris trying to intimidate Seth in Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks.
Iris and Seth have an interesting dynamic, to say the least.

Given the game’s shorter length, there are only three central human characters in the plot though some non-human cast members also throw their considerable weight around later on. Zhaara, the chaotic-minded self-proclaimed fairy godmother, sets the narrative’s wheels in motion. Iris is the story’s main character, through whose eyes (both seeing and unseeing) you witness the tale unfold. Seth, Iris’ haughty assassin nemesis, travels through Gravehollow Peaks for his reasons. “You,” the player, exist in the plot as the person Zhaara tells the story of Iris and Seth to, serving as an engaging narrative feature.

Of course, Iris and Seth are at the forefront of the VN. Their tense dynamic comprises disdain and no small amount of frustration, and perhaps something else below the surface that neither wants to admit readily. Their interactions and snappy back-and-forth drive the story home, and I enjoyed seeing how things evolved between them on the way to the game’s true ending. So much so that, since I know Seth is one of two potential suitors for Iris in an upcoming main story game, Garden of Seif: Chronicles of an Assassin, I’ll be hard-pressed not to go for his route first in that title, given how lively their exchanges were here. Iris herself is a phenomenal heroine: not afraid to voice her opinions, showing vulnerability at certain moments while also thinking quickly on her feet and moving past hardships. I like stepping into her shoes, and I’m curious to learn more about her backstory when given a chance to do so later in the future project.

Iris and Seth embrace in Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks. Seth is asleep and Iris is awake.
The art is certainly pretty.

This is perhaps as good a time as any to dive into the crux of Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks, which is its existence as a side story to a much larger, more expansive tale. Curse of Gravehollow Peaks serves as a prologue to a vaster story-verse, letting you step briefly inside a world you will be delving into on a much grander scale later. This fact is not hidden thanks to the extensive worldbuilding lore you can read up on in the Journal section of the menu screen, of which this game barely scratches the surface. It is also hinted at by the mention of characters and places you don’t see in this title, but which are essential to the bigger narrative. Teasing dialogue from Iris later on additionally hints at a much larger picture yet to unfold. That makes sense when you realize that the developer intends for Curse of Gravehollow Peaks to be viewed more as an introduction to Iris’ story from the upcoming VN Garden of Seif: Chronicles of an Assassin. From that angle, the shorter length of this title makes sense since it serves simply as a taste of what’s to come. That is both Curse of Gravehollow Peaks biggest strength and weakness, as it’s still very much a self-contained VN experience, but one you know has more to it once you finish playing. Personally, given the lower price of the game on itch.io and just how much I enjoyed the presentation and content it provides, I don’t necessarily mind since now I’m even more curious about Chronicles of an Assassin. In that regard, I think Curse of Gravehollow Peaks succeeds in its goal.

Gameplay in Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks is pretty typical if you’re familiar with the standard VN format. You move the text with a button press until you reach one of only two decision points in the game. These decisions impact the direction the story takes next, depending on your chosen option. There are three different endings you can view based on how you respond to these choices: two “bad”/abrupt ones and a true path ending that reveals the whole story and provides further insight into both Iris and Seth to help set up the future plot points involving them in the next game. Because of this title’s length, the decision points break up the text flow while providing an excellent little bit of interactivity. You can save at any time during a playthrough. Simply choosing to save whenever a decision pops up is a great way to circumvent the game not having a story map since there aren’t many decisions and the game’s also on the shorter side.

A decision-making point in Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks.
Making choices dictates story direction.

The project leader, writer, and programmer for Curse of Gravehollow Peaks is Aeriel Gael, with idea bouncer and editor Neptune, and they did a solid job on all fronts. Considering that this VN was created in just a month, what is on display is even more impressive! They also designed the UI, which is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and quite fitting for the game and its setting. Aerial Gael also plays a role in creating the background art alongside Miss Whimsy. The game’s entire visual presentation and art direction are fantastic and grab the attention. I love how beautiful the backgrounds are. Remnantation does the gorgeous character sprites and CG art. The mythical sprites designed by Allison Warren are also a sight to behold, and the use of animation effects is impressive all around. One art portrait of a sad Iris is noticeably missing, with a placeholder silhouette in one of the ending routes in the itch.io version. Still, it isn’t more than a bizarre nuisance. The music is limited in Curse of Gravehollow Peaks given the game’s shorter duration, but the tracks featured are quite nicely composed, and a lovely listen. You can find individual music track credits in the Journal section of the game’s settings alongside the lore and other recognition for those curious.

Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks is controller-friendly, which I greatly appreciate. You can also access a very informative Help menu at any time while playing, providing you with the control schematics should you need a refresher. A limited Options menu offers skip-text features, display preference choices, text speed, and music and sound effect volume settings.

My time playing Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks might have been short, but I genuinely enjoyed it. For only $2.99 on itch.io and with an upcoming Steam release that promises to make UI revisions and adds achievements, it is a fully realized VN experience that also happens to pique interest in a larger future project. Garden of Seif: Chronicles of an Assassin recently had a successful Kickstarter, and after playing this side story, I sincerely want to see more of Seth and Iris in that title. By that token, I believe Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks admirably accomplishes what it intends to do by exposing you to a fascinating, lore-heavy world with likable characters you’ll want to see further. I’ll be looking forward to Foxdrift Studios’ future works!


Pros

Excellent dynamic between the two main characters, interesting prologue to a much larger narrative, gorgeous artwork and visual direction.

Cons

Might be too short for some even if you complete all the routes, one missing portrait in itch.io version.

Bottom Line

Garden of Seif: Curse of Gravehollow Peaks is a solid-albeit-short fantasy visual novel side story.

Graphics
82
Sound
80
Gameplay
78
Control
79
Story
78
Overall Score 78
For information on our scoring systems, see our scoring systems overview. Learn more about our general policies on our ethics & policies page.
Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling is a reviewer for RPGFan. She is a lover of RPGs, Visual Novels, and Fighting Games. Once she gets onto a subject she truly feels strongly about, like her favorite games, she can ramble on and on endlessly. Coffee helps keep her world going round.