We all have a video game that we go to specifically to relax, whether it’s Breath of the Wild with its sparse and haunting Hyrule waiting to be explored or Xenoblade Chronicles and the steady rewards you get for filling out checklists of quests and finding hidden secrets. But there really isn’t another RPG that feels like Haven, a game that is the very definition of chill. There are no lists to tick off and no real responsibilities to fulfill, just two lovers alone on a planet, attempting to live their life their way. And while The Game Bakers have managed to create a soothing experience, the central characters and romance fail to reward or deliver in a meaningful manner, even if gliding around and petting all of the lizards is pretty rewarding.
Yu and Kay are lovers on the run and land on an uninhabited planet called Source, deciding to spend their lives away from home together. While they gather ingredients for food and do all they can to survive, their ship is damaged by an earthquake, and the two are forced to explore the planet further to rebuild their ship, as well as confront their pursuers and the idea that their freedom may be short-lived.
Something I want to commend early on is The Game Bakers dedication to accessibility. Certain features change at any time, such as a difficulty modifier akin to Celeste‘s Assist Mode and the ability to change the controls for gliding and attacking from a button hold to a simple press to activate a charging motion. Many considerations are baked into the game from the get-go, detailed in a Twitter thread, which is such a wonderful thing to see. The discourse around accessibility in video games continues to develop, and simply making some of these the default for the game is the right way forward.
When I jumped into the game, I was gently enticed to simply look around and soak in the surroundings because of the soft colours and simple yet beautiful visuals. The pastel palettes of the sky as it shifts from the soothing cerulean tones to the warming, gentle rose and peach hues instill a sense of calm in you. The grass swaying in the breeze and brushing against Yu and Kay as they glide across the planet makes you feel safe. Danger’s electro, synthwave beats undulate in the background and help you get into a steady rhythm of exploring. You’re never being pushed towards that goal, and are instead encouraged to take things at your own pace.
I adore this sense of freedom and safety that Haven exudes, but it also works against it in many ways and can make things frustrating. I love to get lost in an expansive world, as long as there’s quick-travel or a decent map that I can use to figure out where I am. Haven does have a map that you unlock early on, but it only really tells you what direction you’re facing or where you can access the next area. Many places require you to travel up on flow threads, blue lines of light that provide pathways through the air or over small gaps for Yu and Kay to travel along. These paths often swerve in random directions, and the full length of each thread is only gradually revealed as you glide along it. The right thread or direction often didn’t feel obvious to me and led to me gliding into cliff faces or dead ends multiple times.
This isn’t helped by the controls either, in particular the gliding, which took me a couple of hours to even start getting used to. You really don’t want to walk across the planet Source. Yu and Kay’s movements are extremely slow, which is deliberate because many areas are fairly expansive. Gliding becomes your main source of travel, but it feels incredibly floaty and precarious. It’s easy to drift off of a flow thread or into an invisible wall. You can drift, which makes turning corners much easier, but it’s a learning curve to get used to the trajectory. I didn’t feel fully comfortable with exploring until halfway through the game.
You might also bump into some creatures as you explore Source, some of which will attack you. In combat, both Yu and Kay share the same actions — Impact, Blast, Pacify, and Shield — all mapped to a different direction on the d-pad or a different face button. Impact and Blast are essentially physical and magic attacks (respectively), whereas Shield means one character will defend themselves and their partner until they get hit. Pacify is used once you’ve reduced an enemy’s health bar to nothing, and once all creatures are pacified, the fight is over.
Ensuring Yu and Kay support each other and work together is key, whether you’re playing alone or with a friend. For instance, if Yu or Kay die, the surviving character can revive the other. You can also time the same attack with each character to carry out a more powerful Impact or Blast. Like gliding, timing these attacks can take some getting used to, and figuring out how to beat most of these monsters can also be annoying, especially since you can’t target stuff yourself. Also, the vocal cues Yu and Kay give aren’t always clear. But if both characters lose their health, you just get taken back to the ship and don’t lose anything.
As you explore Source, you can harvest ingredients to cook with back at your ship or collect Rust, a reddish-coloured liquid which is condensed into a crystallised substance that can be used to enhance equipment or make medicine/healing items. Ensuring you have food on you is vital, as eating restores health and replenishes hunger. Your characters will indicate through dialogue if they’re hungry, but it’s never intrusive, nor is it essential to eat, as this only affects the speed of your attacks during combat.
Most importantly, cooking and eating food is one way you can improve Yu and Kay’s relationship, and their partnership is central to everything in the game. Improving their relationship not only gets you new dialogue and cutscenes but improved skills for combat and exploration. Cooking leads to them chatting about the food they’re eating, or playfully flirting with each other, and often exploring with them sees them bantering. They’re an entirely believable couple, and the game goes to great lengths to make you feel that their relationship is healthy and secure, right down to the lovely artwork on the loading screens.
Then it’s perhaps frustrating that, despite how believable their relationship is, they never really grew as characters. Mechanically, this is most noticeable through dialogue options, which change maybe one line of dialogue, but don’t affect anything else throughout the story. All along, they talk and argue like a normal couple, and even at one point separate over a disagreement, but it doesn’t feel like they learn much from their experiences on Source. The concept of playing an RPG with a pre-established romance in the lead is what attracted me to Haven in the first place; we’ve seen characters develop crushes and fall in love, but it doesn’t mean that an established couple can’t grow too.
It didn’t matter how many cheesy, risque lines Yu came out with or how much Kay flirted; I failed to connect with them because they still sounded like the same in-love couple as they did when first landing on Source, despite the threat of their home taking them back and forcing them to pair off with their respective match. The game is ultimately an experience to relax to, but when your central characters’ very relationship is a rebellion against common dystopian fiction ideals like state-mandated relationships, their affection needs to adapt more noticeably.
This is my dilemma with Haven, then: as a chill-out RPG with a beautiful world to explore, it’s a pleasant experience that really helped me relax in the evenings after a rough day. But it has a story, a story with a real threat that is swept aside, and a central couple that, while sweet and believable, never grow beyond their typical “hot-headed girl” and “meticulous research boy” characteristics. Even as I was rebuilding my ship and growing plants, I didn’t feel like I’d gained anything or learnt anything new about the characters. If I were to return to Source, it would be to give my pet lizard Oink a little scratch on the chin, or to see the breeze blow through the grass and experience a brief moment of calm in this currently chaotic world.