In this unnaturally long year, I found myself seeking out games whose worlds were filled with quiet, relaxing, magic. It’s the kind of magic that, rather than bombarding you with rules and consequences, slowly envelopes you until the barrier between it and what might be considered normal has dissolved entirely. These games helped me forget what was happening around the world for a while, transporting me instead to places where the wonderfully bizarre is commonplace.
In Spiritfarer I found the magic of discovery; nearly every island has something you need hidden away somewhere on its shores and I started keeping notes on which lands I hadn’t been able to fully explore, so that I wouldn’t forget to revisit them. Even the sea has its own secrets – I love sailing through the patches of endless night, because the music and change in atmosphere create the idea that, for a short while, you’re gazing upon the true nature of this world. My favourite part of Spiritfarer, however, was, in a year where I’ve spent six months in the same room, it made me feel helpful. You’re not just ferrying the dead, you’re healing their wounds, soothing their demons and finding the perfect way to help their souls finally rest.
Dépanneur Nocturne is very much about the magic of kindness – you walk through the rain to fulfil the simple act of buying a gift for the one you love, only to find yourself within a shop where the ordinary and the odd live in harmony. Magic threads itself not only through the items on sale, but through the shop’s owner and the very building itself. I won’t spoil it for you, but, if you decide to insist upon using the toilet, you’ll discover the shop is a lot deeper than you think.
Coffee Talk , on the other hand, takes you to a world where magic is the ordinary – you live alongside it, observing it’s coming and goings through your regular customers. The game’s storyline is less overarching and more short story anthology; you never take a direct role in the lives of the characters you meet, choosing instead to nudge them in the right direction either by offering the right advice or simply providing them beverage comfort.
Aside from the storylines, the coffee brewing mechanic is a lot of fun, reminding me of another personal favourite VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action. The moment you discover a new drink recipe is highly rewarding, as you’re not only solved a small puzzle, but you get to witness how this new creation changes your customer. Magic isn’t just confined to dusty, slightly sentient, spell books or the whisperings of unseen creatures, it’s also in the act of mastering a craft and using it to better the world around you.
In Röki , I abandoned civilisation for the mountains and the wild. Here, against a beautiful landscape of snow and ice, you explore a magical forest on the cusp of forgetting itself and whose survival depends on Tove reawakening the old powers. The point and click gameplay never overpowers Röki’s storytelling, instead it guides you through this world, helping you embrace its soft sadness. Röki reminds of a folktale which has evolved ever so slightly with each retelling; while the cast of characters has remained the same, their personalities and motivations have been slowly warped to the point where the original storyteller wouldn’t recognise them anymore.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town feels like the odd one out on this list, partly because it’s a remake of Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for the Game Boy Advance, which is itself a remake of Harvest Moon: Back to Nature for the PlayStation One. Still, it holds the quiet magic I was searching for in the act of slowly cultivating a patch of land into a flourishing farm. What I wasn’t expecting from the remake of Friends of Mineral Town, however, was for it to include LGBT+ relationships.
If I wanted to romance a bachelorette in a previous instalment in the Story of Seasons series, I had to play as a male character and, if possible, waste a lot of money on character customisation. Returning to Mineral Town with the ability to play as a female farmer who could have a girlfriend was amazing. I didn’t have to worry about budgeting for my character customisation at all; I simply got to play the game exactly the way I wanted to from the moment I started. I felt like I was playing the game for the very first time all over again and that’s definitely a special kind of magic.