Anyone who’s ever played a role-playing game has been frustrated by a nonsense quest, some sort of menial task that must be completed before a character agrees to give you a vital item. Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles veers entirely too far in the opposite direction, as its characters can’t wait to hand you the items you’ll need for harvesting resources. One, an overly enthusiastic miner, presents a pickaxe to anybody who prompts him for conversation; speaking to him a second time completes that task. As he insists, he just really wants you to have that tool, no strings attached.
Traveling through Gemea, the island at the center of Yonder, carries a similar ease. There are no enemies, and your protagonist can’t die: jump off a cliff and he will cutely glide down via umbrella; submerge the hero in water and she’ll simply wash up nearby. The natural barriers that exist in the game apply only to shortcuts, like having to take the long way around a river until you’ve at last gathered enough skill and resources with which to craft a stone bridge, or having to satisfy the requests of Moai-like statues before you can leap into their mouths and fast-travel between them.
In a few rare instances, you’ll need to gather a certain number of Spirits so as to dispel the Murk from which you’re attempting to save the island—never mind that all of its inhabitants are leading perfectly happy, unthreatened lives. But even here, it’s not as if you’ll have to survive a puzzle-filled dungeon to retrieve any of them, as they’re often just hanging out in a glowing inanimate object, waiting for you to interact with them.
From the bland, Lego-like aesthetic of the game’s townsfolk to its overly cutesy animals, Yonder is a game for children. But what exactly is the game meant to teach them? Minecraft allows players to build anything they can imagine, whereas Yonder limits players to specific objects, and then further limits the placement of those objects to confined areas. Stardew Valley has a well-considered economy and makes players work to maintain their growth. Yonder operates like a late-night Ronco advertisement: You just set a seed, forget it, and your farm does the rest. Removing monsters doesn’t impart any sort of lesson about how to overcome obstacles, for if pacifism isn’t a deliberate choice on the player’s part, as in Undertale, then it’s just a meaningless convention. What challenge, what fun, is there in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign played with a die that only ever rolls 20s?
Gemea’s environmental composition doesn’t make any sense, what with the Shivering Plains sandwiched between the autumnal Dapplewood Forest and spring-like Sunderland Wilds. But the island’s eight biomes do offer some scenic vistas, and imbue a sense of erratic beauty upon the land, especially if players start planting the seeds from one region in another. Every quest essentially boils down to fetching a series of items, but at least a few of these otherwise mundane tasks are elevated by their comic value, as with the retrieval of Kozi’s top-hatted or beribboned menagerie, or helping a woman grow a beard so that she can impress her hirsute friend.
All of these things are meaningless without stakes. The “main” campaign can be completed in under five hours, most of which involves tedious backtracking on account of a far-too-finite inventory. A tacked-on denouement at last provides a reason for your journey, but also outs everything up to that point as a glorified tutorial that teaches you how to craft, barter, and build, but only once or twice asks or expects you to do so. (Farming exists but is never needed.) Without a way to fail, the game just soldiers on like its fishing minigame: a thing that’s tedious but not at all difficult, and which simply continues until players either succeed or become bored enough to give up.