I think it’s a blessing that my first review for Kotaku Australia happens to be an Australian-made title. Something really important to me is putting a spotlight on the talent in our local games industry. The indie market in Australia boasts games like Hollow Knight, Untitled Goose Game, and Unpacking, which have all made waves in the gaming world. Our designers, developers, and composers deserve high praise for the work that they do. In saying this, I want to talk about Grow: Song of the Evertree.
Grow: Song of the Evertree is a world nurturing sandbox game made by the Brisbane-based studio Prideful Sloth and published by 505 Games. You might recognise Prideful Sloth from their 2017 release Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, a gorgeous adventure game filled with exploration and cute animals. Their focus on detailed world building and player-driven narrative experiences is incredibly refreshing, and really resonates when it comes to Grow: Song of the Evertree. I’m playing the game on Switch, which may look a bit different to its more powerful counterparts but still manages to capture the vibrant beauty of the game nonetheless.
You are the last of the Everheart Alchemists, a guild of people whose ancestral task is to care for the Evertree. You reside in Alaria, a vast and beautiful land filled with colour, cute animals, and mystery. The worlds of Alaria and the Evertree unfortunately fell victim to the Withering, an evil force that saps life from the land and shrouds it in huge thorny purple vines. Unfortunately, nobody else in Alaria gave a shit about this happening and just left when things started to go bad. Now, as the last Everheart Alchemist, it is up to you to grow your own worlds and nurture a deep natural connection with everything they hold. By doing this, you will see the world around you bloom.
Let’s start with a personal box-ticker for me: character customisation. The game begins with your character waking up in a first-person viewpoint, which worried me at first but that worry swiftly vanished when I was whisked away into a character customisation page. The customisation options aren’t Cyberpunk-level but I wouldn’t call this an issue. There are enough options to make you feel like your character is truly yours, with more hair/hair colour and accessory options being discoverable throughout the game.
Once you’re all made up and ready to exist in the world, you are led through the story, goals, and mechanics of the game by your large orb dad called Coppertop and your normal-sized book mum called Book. Their back and forth is very entertaining, it really feels like they raised you from birth. They teach you about the story of the land and remain useful throughout the whole game, rather than being cast aside after the tutorial. Book holds your in-game achievement guide, which pretty much rewards you constantly (there’s literally an ongoing achievement for getting a good night’s sleep) and points you in the right direction for getting through the game. Coppertop allows you to extract essences from the various bits and bobs that you collect in your adventure, with essences being the vital source of creation in the game.
Essences are interesting. The essences extraction process is somewhat randomised, with some essences being more common than others. This can unfortunately leave you with a LOT of one essence and NONE of another, with the latter just so happening the be the one you need to build a certain building. However, gathering resources is super easy and extracting essences at Coppertop also gives you Myora so if anything, this is more of a slight nitpick than a glaring issue.
Myora is essentially the magical currency you use in the game to pay for certain buildings, expansions, customisations and items from the travelling Everkin salesman (I’ll get onto Everkin later). When you begin building your first town district, most of your Myora is going to be sapped from building houses and clearing rubble from the area. This can be a little annoying considering these things are pretty expensive, but as you grow your town and continue to care for the land, Myora pretty much flows freely to a point where you’ve got more than you know what to do with.
Building up your town districts is a big chunk of the game, and is reminiscent of the town building aspect of Ni No Kuni 2 (one of my very favourite games of all time). The space that you are given to build at first is quite small, but this space expands as the story progresses and as you clear rubble and vines. A really important thing to note with this game is it encourages you not to rush it. You set the pace that you want to play it at, and achievements are unlockable at any point in the game. If you haven’t got enough space for your buildings, take a day or two to farm Myora and unlock more space. When you’ve got more space, you can make homes for your new citizens and buildings for them to work their dream jobs in.
Your new citizens. An interesting mix of folk that suddenly decide that they want to move to your town and work their dream job. They’re all very cute and have unique personalities but there’s something that I can’t shake. I am out here, the LAST Everheart Alchemist, bringing life back to the land and taking care of everything and everyone. Everybody else LEFT because they didn’t want to deal with the Withering. So how come I’m expected to give a SHIT about these clowns that only decide to come back and frolic around the lovely land because somebody that isn’t THEM is finally dealing with the problem facing the one thing that breathes LIFE into the WORLD? Are you freakin’ kidding me?! Regardless, they’re coming and I can’t stop them so I might as well accomodate them because I’m a nice person. Also because they are essential for making Myora and getting achievements.
The townsfolk are an interesting bunch but when it comes to NPCs, the Everkin easily take the cake. These little fellas are adorable.
The Everkin do literally everything that you are too busy to do and the townsfolk are too lazy to do. They give you additional tools, teach you how to use them, build all the structures in your town, clear all the rubble and vines from your town, as well as provide good laughs and cute moments. Maybe my brain has been melted into goo from Animal Crossing, making me prefer the non-human characters of the game, but I don’t care. Let my brain be goo. The Everkin are based and they are my friends. Speaking of non-human things that are my friends, the creatures.
Oh my god, Bingus. My sweet beautiful Bingus. Your travelling companion (who you name, I named mine Bingus) is the first creature that you meet in Grow: Song of the Evertree. The design of the flying beast is a gorgeous miso-mash of animals, and over the course of the game you’re able to strengthen your bond with her through feeding and cuddling her. The same goes with the other creatures you meet along your adventure. A large part of the game is showing love and compassion to the flora and fauna of the land, and the latter is achieved through playing and petting. There are many different types of creatures that you meet in the different areas of the Evertree that require you to save them from the muck and treat them with a cuddle or a pat. You are then rewarded by getting to take pictures with them whenever you like (think quokka selfies) as well as invite them to the nature reserves that you discover around town.
Something I really admire about Grow: Song of the Evertree is that you are constantly rewarded for the work that you do. It’s not empty, but rather you are able to see day-by-day the positive effects that your work is having on the world around you and as you progress through the game, others see it too. At the heart of this game is a message of pro-environmentalism, a message that we are regularly seeing in Australian indie games. With climate change having a disastrous effect in Australia, from bushfires to extinction, it’s not hard to see why this message shows up in so many of our games. In Grow: Song of the Evertree, this message is delivered by showing the benefits of caring for the world around you in a magical and mystical way.
The art design in general of Grow: Song of the Evertree is really beautiful. The colourful and vibrant world that you explore has gorgeous views at every turn, and makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a fairytale. The quality of the in-game camera makes this even better as you’re able to capture these beautiful moments wherever you are. When you take the lovely art design of the game and mix it in with the music that accompanies it throughout, it’s incredibly easy to lose hours and hours in the world of Alaria.
The music in the game is also something I really, really love. The soundtrack is composed by Kevin Penkin, a British-Australian composer who has worked on the music for games such as Florence and Necrobarista, both of which also boast fantastic soundtracks in their own right. He’s also done composition work in the anime world, composing the score for Made in Abyss and even winning Best Score at the 2nd Crunchyroll Anime Awards for it. Music in Grow: Song of the Evertree works as a part of the game, with your character using the power of Song to help plants and flowers grow, but the soundtrack behind the game is just gorgeous. The opening theme to the game is powerful and beautiful, while the themes that you encounter in different areas are fitting for their environment and embody the cozy nature of the game.
I will say that I’ve been playing this title on the Nintendo Switch, and haven’t seen how it runs on other consoles. While I haven’t run into any game-breaking issues, there have been a few framerate issues here and there and some graphics not rendering until moving closer. Taking into account just how much is in the game and that this is coming from an indie studio, I’m pretty lenient but otherwise I haven’t found these problems to be an overall smear on the gameplay itself. Movements are smooth and commands are responsive.
Like many sandbox world-building games and life simulators, the game can start to feel a bit repetitive. However, with there still being an end goal of restoring the Evertree and bringing life back to Alaria, the things that feel tedious still feel as if they are worthy means to an end. As well, you rarely feel lost in the game with the ‘Find Work’ function, which leads you in the right direction of things to do and people to see. And there’s always things to do and people to see.
The story of Grow: Song of the Evertree is one that tugs at the heartstrings and makes you feel good. While I won’t spoil anything further, it’s definitely a beautiful tale of taking the time to be kind to the world around you. This is a game that I highly recommend for fans of Animal Crossing, Ni No Kuni, Stardew Valley, and other wholesome simulation and farming games. After entertaining rounds of dying over and over again in Hades and Death’s Door, coming back to this game has been a welcome relaxing relief that while asking you to keep going and do more, feels purposeful and ultimately therapeutic.
Grow: Song of the Evertree is available now on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC.