Point and click adventure games are ‘almost’ a relic these days, however, there are some games in the genre still being released in 2020. Not all of them are winners but Röki from Polygon Treehouse is. Focusing on emotional heft and the importance of family rather than comedy sets Röki apart.
From start to finish, I felt every beat, every moment and every single bit of the emotional throughline. This is, after all, the deeper, darker purpose of fairy tales. To connect us with that which we’d rather avoid.
To tell stories, framed by the fantastical in order to deal with reality. In Röki, the reality is loss and heartbreak and what the refusal to accept that does to a family.
Based on Scandanavian folklore and starring Tove, her brother Lars and their father, Röki is a gorgeous storybook of a game. The opening hour or so gradually introduces players to the point and click mechanics, puzzle-solving and exploration, while laying the foundation for what’s to come. Tove and Lars’ mother is no longer with the family and although not explicitly mentioned, it’s assumed she has passed away.
In the time since, the children’s father has become withdrawn, alcoholic and depressed, leaving Tove and Lars to fend for themselves and for Tove especially to run the household. The bonds between Tove and Lars are readily apparent as soon as Röki begins, but having to raise her brother has pushed Tove away and made her a maternal figure in his life. She picks up his toys, reads him stories, cooks his meals and puts him to bed, she even escorts him to the family’s outdoor toilet in the middle of the night, while their father sleeps, passed out in his chair.
Clearly, this is a family in crisis. For all the love, games, fun and laughter, there’s a rift and it’s not being dealt with. Like a band-aid over an open wound, it’s not helping it heal, it only hides the damage, while it gets worse.
Like all fairy tales, there’s an event in Röki that sets in motion the necessary upheaval for Tove, Lars and their father to face their past and begin to look forward to their future. During the night, the family home is attacked and destroyed by a huge, mysterious beast and Lars and Tove barely make it out alive, while their father remains trapped. Heading to a nearby town, Lars and Tove are separated and Lars is carried off by the beast, through a portal and into a magical fairy tale world.
With their father trapped in the house, Tove takes it upon herself to rescue her brother.
On entering the fairy tale world, Tove recognises the statues of the four guardians; Bear, Wolf, Stag and Raven. Realising she’ll need their assistance to save her brother, she sets out to find and convince each one. This becomes the main thrust of Röki and sees Tove travel to a multitude of different locations based on each of the guardian animal’s personalities.
The emotional throughline remains for the duration and the player is reminded of it at every turn. To fast travel around the game world, players need to remove ravens from special trees so they are able to open their eyes and reconnect with their ‘mother tree’ whom they’d lost over time. One quest requires Tove to find and return three lost sons for a mother toad and another, tasks her with helping a lost soul move on by reminding it of its true name and identity.
The depth and thought that’s been employed by Polygon Treehouse in developing the story alongside the gameplay in Röki is simply staggering. Nearly every quest, every objective and every action have roots in the emotional turmoil swirling inside Tove’s head. In the beginning, she’s only vaguely aware that how she feels isn’t “right,” but as the game progresses and she’s faced with these tasks, her understanding of her own pain and burden becomes clearer.
Röki’s gameplay is a classic adventure game. Tove collects items, uses them at the right location, combines them with other items and works her way through a linear set of checkpoints. However, due to the power of the narrative and the relative freedom you have as you play and move about the world, Röki rarely feels like a chore. And even though adventure games are glorified fetch quests, it doesn’t feel that way playing Röki.
The drive to see the story through to the end, to save Lars and to reunite this family pushes you forward and keeps you invested and engaged in what’s going on. However, the game’s third act introduces a brand-new mechanic that, while narratively paying off, feels like it artificially extends the overall length and frustratingly makes playing somewhat less enjoyable.
I’m loathed to spoil anything much about how Röki plays or how the story unfolds but suffice it to say I would have been happier had Act 3 been a little briefer.
All that being said, Röki is a modern-day fairy tale with all the makings of a classic. It tells an incredibly complex, emotionally deep story that brought tears to my eyes more than once and playing it is (mostly) a great experience too.
Kudos to Polygon Treehouse and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Röki was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the developer.