Jane: Welcome to the second episode of BP&J Discuss, a series of collaborative reviews with my friend Bishounen-P!
Bishounen-P: Today we’ve decided to review something a little unorthodox for us, as we usually review visual novels, but we felt like those who enjoy VNs might like this game!
J: Verdant Skies is one of the many Harvest-Moon-inspired farming games out there, in which building potentially romantic relationships with the people who live near your farm can be just as much of a focus as actually making money farming. This one sets itself apart from the other games like that with a sci-fi setting—your farm is part of a small but growing human colony on another planet—as well as with some really refreshing diversity among the characters you can pursue. But before we start debating which one is best girl, let’s talk about the gameplay.
BP: One thing I really appreciated about this game is that the scale was much smaller than other games of its type. I thought I wouldn’t have liked that, because I usually want to play a farming game for dozens of hours, but as I’ve aged and have less and less time to spend on games, it was nice to be able to fully complete this game in around 20 hours. I also felt like the gameplay was decently well-rounded, as there’s much more to do than just farm all the time.
J: The space in which you can grow crops is pretty limited, which really motivates you to spend time walking around, gathering resources, and finding ways to make a profit that aren’t just building a giant, automated farm. Townspeople will also request collections of specific items, and early in the game they’ll give you quests that further incentivize exploration and experimentation. However, one area in which the game could improve would be in offering more of those quests, as right now they run out fairly quickly.
BP: I was looking into the forums on Steam about this issue, and it seems like the developer was relying on the thorough mod tools they released alongside the game. Their responses to a lot of things were along the lines of “Well, we were hoping people would be interesting in modding the game to add this or that…” And while adding tools to make modding easier for modders is a fantastic idea, leaving out content and hoping people will flesh it out through mods seems like a mistake on their part. However, I still got great enjoyment out of the game, particularly thanks to the fleshed out cast.
J: I was excited every time something I did triggered an event that introduced a new migrant from Earth to the colony. Each of the characters has a different personality and a different job to do, and they tend to have some really fun dialogue when you meet them wandering around town. And despite the cast being fairly small, there’s representation of a wide range of identities—for instance, the first two characters you meet are Rosie, a blind Latina mechanic, and my personal favourite, Jade, a black trans woman who serves as the colony’s administrator.
BP: While the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons games require the player to commit to only one character, Stardew Valley introduced the concept of dating multiple characters at the same time. It was, however, done behind the partners’ backs, and there was no exploration into the idea of polyamory. In Verdant Skies, that isn’t the case. There are both monogamous characters and polyamorous characters. I discovered this by first accepting a confession from Jade, who said that she was okay with me dating others but she would not reciprocate. Later on, I was confessed to by Wyatt, who acknowledged I was dating someone and said he wasn’t interested in polyamory no matter what. I really enjoyed building up romantic relationships with the poly characters, and the friendships with the monogamous ones.
J: As sad as I was to find out there were some adorable characters, like Nessa, who wouldn’t date me when I was already involved with Jade (I started dating her first too because she’s the best), I really appreciate that Verdant Skies portrays so much diversity in terms of relationship preferences. They could have easily just made it a harem fantasy in which everyone wants the protagonist no matter what, but instead some characters want to be monogamous, while others want to see other people too, or don’t but don’t mind if you do. It really makes them feel like real, diverse people.
J: That being said, a bit of that realism falls by the wayside when you’ve completely filled all a character’s “hearts” and get the option to marry them—as long as you break up with anyone else you might be dating first. I understand that writing and programming events relating to marriage and children could have become extremely complicated if the developers tried to account for the possibility of players marrying and/or having children with multiple different characters, but it was a bit of let-down when even characters like Yuki and Kenji, who until that point seemed very happy with open relationships, ended up serving me monogamy ultimatums.
BP: I was personally uninterested with going into a polyamorous marriage, so before I even got my chosen romantic partner (Anthony) to his full hearts, I felt it was my duty to go around town breaking up with everyone. One by one. They had unique break-up scenes, and each one hurt more than the last. Breaking up with Jade hurt the most, but I take solace in the fact that Jane married her in her file.
J: Another thing that we both found a little disappointing is that despite all the other good representation, the token non-binary character is the incredibly boring Zaheen. We hate them.
BP: You’re able to change characters’ names for whatever reason, so I changed Zaheen’s name to Loser.
J: Zaheen is every quality you wouldn’t want in a party guest rolled into one. Zaheen talks about nothing except religion, yoga, and saving the environment—a sentiment that rings a bit hollow when you’re in a video game in which the trees you cut down literally grow back a few days later.
J: But if our only issue with the personalities of the game’s love interests is that we had a good time making fun of one we found amusingly unlikeable, I think that just goes to show how great the rest of the characters are.
BP: In a world of farming games full of entirely cis, white characters with maybe one token non-white character, I was glad to see all different types of people represented in Verdant Skies. Despite these minor issues we have, they all felt like real people that I was actually interested in forming relationships with. Other developers should take a look at this game for a fantastic example of a quality cast.
J: I would definitely recommend Verdant Skies to anyone who wants a casual, relaxing game with a bit of romance. I hope to see more from Howling Moon Software in the future!