Fan favorite Yonder, has a spiritual sequel!
Grow: Song of the Evertree, from developer Prideful Sloth, serves very much as a spiritual successor to 2018’s Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. And while Yonder wowed us at the time by blending elements of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with a life sim, Song of the Evertree serves to finesse this formula into something more refined. In so doing, it creates something that is familiar yet wholly unique in its execution of a variety of genre elements, all while maintaining a cozy, inviting atmosphere that is welcoming to players of any experience level.
As the last human living in the shadow of the once flourishing Evertree, your quest is to fight back the encroaching withering. This plague has covered most of the world in a thorny bramble and forced the rest of the human population far away. To reclaim this world, you’ll travel into the branches of the tree and plant a world seed in order to bring new life to the tree. As you diligently tend to your world high in the tree, the withering below will slowly be pushed back, and as it is, life will return to the world below. Gameplay is separated into three primary activities: tending to your garden-like worlds up in the Evertree, growing a town to support the returning population, and exploring the world as the withering is pushed back.
The most basic element of Song of the Evertree’s gameplay is tending to the worlds you grow from world seeds. These will start as barren places covered in weeds and other undesirable trash. You’ll acquire most of your tools right off the bat, and given that they never break, gardening is less about managing tools and resources as it would be in other games; the focus is more on relaxing gameplay. For example, you’ll only have one kind of seed to plant, and what grows is based on where it’s planted rather than managing a deep inventory of seeds. You don’t need to worry about stamina, food, or anything like that. There are no monsters to fight outside of occasionally breaking something free of its poison caused by the withering. But even then you’re never in any danger. Through hard work and lots of gardening, these worlds will slowly become more hospitable. As they do they’ll expand, providing more opportunities for life. Bugs and animals will eventually join the flora, creating a thriving ecosystem. Later on, you’ll begin reaping resources from your worlds, which can then be broken down into essences and used to develop the world below.
As the withering is pushed back in the world below, people will return to the land beneath the Evertree, but they’ll all need somewhere to live and work. As an alchemist, resources harvested from your Evertree worlds can be transformed into essences to construct whatever your town needs. Houses, inns, bakeries, libraries, and much much more can be placed freely wherever you like. As visitors look to move in, you can assign them to houses and give them jobs. Buildings can even be visually customized with items you acquire by completing a variety of daily jobs and quests. These range from accomplishing a specific objective, to simply catching a certain number of fish. I found that without really trying I was constantly unlocking items and progressing forward.
Beyond the borders of your town is a wide open world that grows larger and larger as the withering is pushed back. This world is full of secrets to explore, characters to meet, and a surprising amount of lore on the land that existed before the withering. Caves dot the landscape and are often full of treasure. There is constantly something new to find, though Song of the Evertree rarely tells you to go find it. This was one of the elements that impressed me most. Unlike Yonder, Song of the Evertree does an excellent job of always giving you some idea of what you can do to progress, without stopping you from doing whatever else you may want to. And going off and doing something else will likely still lead to progress. It does everything Yonder did but achieves it with a greater sense of intention, and as a result is able to push deeper into each of those mechanics, while not being confusing or overcomplicated.
The one area in which Song of the Evertree is anything other than a constantly soothing joy to play, is in its performance. It presents an absolutely gorgeous world, with a wonderful soundtrack to go along with it. Unfortunately its frame rate is a near constant issue. Performance drops below the 30 frames-per-second target on a very regular basis. While I will note that due to Song of the Evertree’s combat-free, slow-paced gameplay, these drops don’t actually affect playability, they do hamper its otherwise excellent presentation. Long initial loading times are also an issue. However, beyond the initial starting load, additional loading screens really only crop up when transitioning to a new day and after doing a lot of construction in your town. The transition between your town and the Evertree worlds is surprisingly smooth with only a brief pause going into the travel menu.
While some will almost certainly find Grow: Song of the Evertree to be a bit too menial to keep their attention, those who simply want to enjoy a quietly beautiful adventure need look no further. From working on garden-like worlds high in the Evertree, to building a town to your own specifications, and exploring an ever growing world full of secrets to uncover, a rich experience is packed into this adventure. Performance concerns are certainly worth being aware of on Switch, but they rarely hamper the actual gameplay. If you need a break from Animal Crossing or want something even calmer than Story of Seasons, Grow: Song of the Evertree isn’t likely to steer you wrong. This is without a doubt one of the most pleasantly cozy experiences I’ve had playing a game.