Don’t Nod are about as far from being a stranger to story-centric games as a developer could be. The studio has made their name creating narrative adventures, with their breakthrough title being 2015’s Life is Strange. Since then, the studio has cooked up some wonderful narrative outings like Life is Strange 2, Tell Me Why, and many others.
The latest game in Don’t Nod’s narrative slate is Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, which was revealed a few months back via Nintendo Direct. While certainly a story-first experience, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie shows Don’t Nod getting even closer to their paperback predilections by heading down a visual novel path. Most of Don’t Nod’s titles let fans move throughout 3D landscapes for investigation and conversation purposes, but Harmony: The Fall of Reverie keeps things straightforward with text boxes, menus and animated visuals.
This seems like it would be an easy win for Don’t Nod, as the company clearly knows how to build a game where story is the driving force. In that respect, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie more than gets the job done, as an intricate tale is told, fueled by player decision. What’s truly surprising is how that story unfortunately collapses to a rather baffling degree in its final act. Acts 1 through 4 give more than enough to sink your teeth into, but Act 5 completely fumbles most of what was set up before it, leaving players with an unsatisfying conclusion and an extremely bitter taste in the mouth.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie puts you in the role of Polly, a young woman who returns to her childhood home after being away for years. Polly’s homecoming isn’t a happy one, as she’s come back to find her missing mother. Polly’s mom has vanished under extremely mysterious circumstances, but those are nothing compared to what happens to Polly just minutes after her arrival.
Upon touching a necklace found in her mother’s room, Polly is transported to a fantastical world filled with even more outrageous characters. This world is named Reverie, and you come to find it’s populated by aspirations personified. You’ll get to know Chaos, Truth, Bliss, Power and many others as you spend time in Reverie, and it just so happens they are all aware of your mother as well. You’ll soon learn that the world of Reverie and Polly’s homeworld are inextricably linked, and the path to finding her mother and saving humanity are one in the same.
The main gameplay hook in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is in how the story is told, and it’s directly related to your decisions. As you guide Polly through the world she knew and the world of Reverie, you’ll learn of her clairvoyance. Not only do Polly’s decisions directly impact the story, but she can also see how things will play out ahead of time. As the player, this puts you in a very unique situation. You’ll be able to see a timeline of events that show off the major story beats via short descriptions, but you won’t know the finer points. With the various paths laid out ahead of you and important moments highlighted, it’s up to you to guide Polly in a way that hopefully reunites her with her mother while also saving Reverie and her own world at the same time.
You might think that knowing what’s ahead story-wise would make for a rather easy adventure, but it turns out quite the opposite is true. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is more than happy to tantalize and taunt you with story branches in the moves ahead, but not knowing exactly what happens to arrive at those points makes for an ever-present unease. Do you choose a path no matter how bad it seems in order to arrive at a pleasing outcome? Do you make decisions based on how you actually feel, rather than following fate’s guiding hand? Is there a way to use your knowledge of the future to make the present better? You’ll struggle with all this while working through Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, and the burden you bear only gets heavier with time.
Along the way, you’ll have a wonderful cast of supporting characters to help you. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is filled with family, friends, strangers and Aspirations that offer up distinctive personalities, and each of them is expertly written. Polly will have aid from her father, sister, and a multitude of friends old and new, all richly detailed and well fleshed-out. In particular, the mother and father figures in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie are standouts, offering a ton of depth and emotional support/baggage that really deepens the experience. Truly, there’s not a single character in this bunch that doesn’t add some heft to the adventure, and each is brought to life by a stellar cast of voice actors.
The same can be said for the game’s list of Aspirations, which seem arguably harder to write. How do you personify the ideas of Glory or Truth and not have them turn out to be shallow one-note characterizations? I don’t know what magic Don’t Nod employed here, but every single Aspiration comes across as genuine and thought-provoking. Once again, we get another group of fantastic voice actors fueling the experience, and ideas like Bliss and Power are presented as intricate personalities offering far more than their monotonal names might otherwise indicate.
This back-and-forth between worlds and characters makes for a story that is multifaceted, and it’s filled with twists and turns that are always tough to tackle. If you’re someone who dislikes making choices, especially when there are heavy outcomes tied to them, then Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is going to be a real challenge. Pretty much right out of the gate, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie will have you figuring out answers to some tough questions, and as you can probably guess, there’s no 100% right way to go. Even when you can see the future and some positive outcomes potentially in play, getting there can be equal parts difficult and heart-wrenching.
While the humanity side of things certainly plays into the story’s final outcome, it’s the Aspirations that matter most. There will be multiple instances where conversations with Aspirations will result in crystals that represent their personalities. From there, specific story paths and branches will only be open to you if you have enough of a particular type of crystal. Want to have a conversation with your father that could provide serious insight into what your mother has been up to? You might need three Truth crystals, and you can only get those from choosing multiple story paths with Truth. If you don’t have enough crystals for the path you want, there are always other branches to take, but you might not get the answers you want.
As you travel throughout the story, you’ll also see choices that are locked behind other walls that have nothing to do with Aspiration crystals. Sometimes you’ll need to have a set number of conversations before a path opens up, and other times you’ll arrive at a point that’s forever blocked due to a decision you made an hour back. Again, the ability to see major points on the timeline of events is an absolutely crucial element in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, and it will inform your decisions in numerous ways. That said, it’s not the be all/end all when it comes to finding your way, and more often than not, following your instincts will be the way to go.
What I will say is that you’ll need to be prepared for some emotionally taxing content as you work through Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. Without a doubt, there is some heavy stuff discussed here, and in a number of different areas. I don’t want to spoil what lies ahead in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, but you’ll see grief, loss, anxiety, and many other ideas explored in great detail. These won’t be just blips on your timeline of events either; they’ll instead be major plot points that drive the grand scheme of things. There are even times when an entire chapter will be spent on these uncomfortable topics, so be ready. Thankfully, right from the title screen, Don’t Nod gives players a clear warning that rough subject matter awaits.
While Don’t Nod has definitely tread carefully through serious subject matter in their previous titles, I don’t think they’ve ever done better than in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. The deft with which they navigate these situations is extremely impressive and realistic. I know I felt the weight of these situations deeply while working through the story, and there are moments that will stick with me for years to come. All elements are handled with care, respect and dignity, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a game manage such a tightrope walk with this level of expertise.
This multitude of poignant moments are both highlighted and elevated by an absolutely beautiful soundtrack from Lena Raine. Raine has crafted some phenomenal soundtracks in her career thus far, and that track record continues with Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. There are plenty of tunes that scream out Raine’s unmistakable style, but there are also some songs that show her stretching her limbs in fresh ways. As a major fan of Raine, it’s really impressive to see her trying new things with her music and succeed right out of the gate. There’s not a bad track to be found in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, and anything you hear only serves to enhance the experience and sear moments into your memory.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie clearly has so much going for it. A top-notch cast of characters, a story filled with intrigue and importance, a litany of decisions that will have your blood pumping, a soundtrack that demands to be listened to time and time again…so what’s there to complain about? As I touched on earlier, everything was moving along fantastically for the majority of time with the game, but it’s the final act where, for me, things completely fell apart. Honestly, I can’t tell you the last time I made my way to the final hours of a game only to see it make so many missteps, and it was absolutely heartbreaking.
The best way I can put it is that it seems like the writing team knew exactly what they wanted to do for the bulk of Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, but they had no idea how to wrap things up. Either that, or the final Act was written by a completely different team of people than Acts 1 through 4. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everything felt completely off from what I experienced in the 8 hours prior. There were plot holes all over the place, story payoffs that never happened, what felt like incredibly rushed writing, elements that are skipped over completely, and pacing that is noticeably wonky. I really don’t want to come across as more harsh than constructive here, but I’m only trying to express my true disappointment in how the final Act came together. Being as cut and dry as I can be, the way Harmony: The Fall of Reverie ended for me makes me feel like the entire journey wasn’t worth my time, and I truly hate saying that.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is a game with multiple endings, so there could be one that comes together in a better way. I did some research after the game’s credits rolled, and I found out that the ending I received is considered one of the best, if not the best outcome there is. Knowing that only made things worse, as what I experienced was so unsatisfying it ruined the whole story for me. Again, it’s all from a combination of story beats that make little to no sense or aren’t explained, along with a voice and pace that are completely different from what I had seen up to that final Act. Even if there are endings that handle things better, it still doesn’t excuse how off the mark my ending was.
In a game where storytelling is the entire focus, the final Act of Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is about as close to unforgivable as things can get. I wish I knew how things went so off the rails, and how multiple developers and writers didn’t send up red flags like crazy. A misstep here or there is fine, but the idea that entire teams signed off on this direction and quality is mind-boggling.
I will always be 100% honest in my reviews, but it never brings me any joy to pile on the lumps for a developer. Based on Acts 1 through 4, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is a serious achievement in visual novels and storytelling for games. Including Act 5 completely turns my opinion on its head, and it’s honestly hard for me to recommend the game. When story is the core of everything a game hangs its hat on, seeing things stumble this way makes the entire package feel like a waste of time. Again, there are multiple endings and some of the others could handle things much better, but my story ended in a way that brought things to a screeching halt. If you do decide to give Harmony: The Fall of Reverie a go, I sincerely hope you have a more satisfying conclusion to your story than I.