Röki Review: Visually and Narratively Breathtaking, but Slightly Frustrating
For a more in-depth version of this Röki Review watch the video version here:
Family is a common theme in indie games. In Ori and the Will of the Wisps we embark on a quest to save a loved one, while What Remains of Edith Finch shows us how a family curse leads to their haunting demise. Both games are as beautiful as they are harrowing and Röki, a point and click adventure game set against the backdrop of Scandanavian folklore, is no different.
In short, Röki is visually and narratively breathtaking. It presents us with an immersive world, full of fantastical creatures, tonnes of tiny details and a realistic family who all share a painful past. If you’re a fan of narrative driven indie games, that teach us about love, loss and ultimately what it means to be human, then Röki may be one of your favourite games of the year.
- Developer: Polygon Treehouse
- Publisher: United Label
- Available: PC (Steam/GOG), Switch (TBA)
- Played On: PC
In Röki, you play as Tove, a young girl whose brother has been taken to another realm. A realm twinned with our own and full of Scandanavian fairy tale creatures. But Röki isn’t about these creatures necessarily. It’s about Tove, her family and how they come to terms with the loss of their mother. For example, there are many flashback sequences throughout, where Tove must face memories from the time of her mother’s death. It’s already a heavy subject matter, but as Tove is a child they resonated with me that little before. During these sections, it’s revealed that Tove doesn’t quite remember what actually happened. As you face them together, it was shocking when the truth was finally revealed. I empathised deeply with Tove and everything she’d been through.
It’s also easy to emphathise with Tove as she feels like a realistic person. She acts like a child, has human emotions and more importantly, is struggling to come to terms with her past. Even in the games opening level Tove is shown as a real person, as we participate in a a regular day in her life. In this beautiful sequence you play in the snow, cook the family dinner and read you’re younger brother Lars a bedtime story. Not only does this immediately immerse you in Röki’s world, but it keeps the story focussed on family even in its most fantastical moments.
Over Röki’s 10 hour playtime, Polygon Treehouse use other techniques to immerse you in this world. For example, there’s a lot of passive world building. As you explore, your character provides more information about the world if you examine certain objects, like the family car, tombstones and equipment leftover from a lost expedition crew. As there are items to interact with everywhere, I was constantly engaged when exploring a new area. I wanted to find more items and learn more about this world.
Similar to Red Dead Redemption 2 (although not on the same scale), there are tonnes of details to make the world feel realistic. For example, specks of snow glisten in the sunlight and forest creatures fly away as you pass by. It encourages you to pay attention to your surroundings just to experience them all.
In all puzzle games it’s a difficult balancing act between creating puzzles that are satisfying to solve and creating those that aren’t too illogical. Well, in Röki the balance is almost perfect. It starts off simple, like opening a fridge, picking up some food, and cooking it in a pan. But as the game progresses the difficulty ramps up to points that are utterly mind bending. (And will likely take you a good 30 minutes to solve).
As there’s a large focus on puzzles throuhgout the game, the developers have created variety to keep things fresh. Sure, most involve using items on objects, but there are a couple of riddles, a few involving statues and even asymmetrical puzzles, similar to Luigi’s Mansion 3. When solving every single puzzle I always had that eureka moment, which is the sign of a great puzzle game.
“This issue was compounded when key items were small in size or hidden in a level where the camera was zoomed out to extremes.”
But unfortunately, there were times when the puzzles were overly frustrating, simply due to their item based nature. As most require specific items to solve, if you don’t have the item, you can’t progress. This issue was compounded when key items were small in size or hidden in a level where the camera was zoomed out to extremes. To help alleviate the problem, you can press F or click in the left thumbstick to highlight items in the area, but when an item is flashing white on a white background they are easy to miss.
Other times, it feels like your jumping through hoops as unnecessary barriers to progression are created. I noticed this when spending around two hours gathering the ingredients to craft a mask, only to be told I had to craft another one straight afterwards. This happens a lot during Röki and I can’t help but feel a couple of hours could have been cut from the game.
Röki Review – Final Thoughts
If you’re a fan of narrative driven indie games (and willing to accept the frustrations baked into certain puzzles), then Röki may be one of your favourite games of this year. I know that exploring it’s beautiful world with tiny details scattered everywhere was so much fun, and I connected with the characters on an emotional level which is rare in entertainment.
Once the credits started to roll, I didn’t want to say goodbye to Tove and her family. I felt part of them and I understood everything they’d been through. I immediately pressed continue and replayed the final section for one last time. Afterwards, as I shut down the game and started writing this review, the family was finally at peace.
And if I had to be frustrated at one or two puzzles to experience it over again, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.
Thanks for reading my review of Röki