STAFF REVIEW of Harmony: The Fall of Reverie (Xbox Series X)

Thursday, August 10, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie Box art DON’T NOD, creators of the Life is Strange series, are well known for their immersive storytelling games that blend the mundane and the mystical. Their emotionally charged games have made me a fan for years, and when I was given the chance to try out their demo of their newest game, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, I jumped at the chance. I was captivated from the moment I played the demo, and now that the full game has launched, I was able to see how the story I started a few months ago played out.

This visual narrative game stands out from anything else I’ve played from this genre in the past. It’s characters, gameplay and art style combine to make a unique and captivating gaming experience that I couldn’t stop playing. Each choice you make has meaning and can change the outcome of the game. In fact, while I was recovering from surgery over the last month, I decided to play through a few more times to see how much the game would change based on a different set of choices and decisions, and I can say without a doubt, you will get a variety of endings if you play multiple times. This truly is a game that delivers on its promise of choices having consequences and meaning.

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie follows a young woman named Polly who returns to her hometown of Atina to search for her missing mother. Shortly after arriving home, she finds a mysterious necklace and is transported to Reverie, a realm inhabited by the Aspirations. These Aspirations each embody a human characteristic. When she first arrives in Reverie, the first Aspiration she meets (Bliss) tells her that she is an Oracle named Harmony in that world. Her position is important as she is tasked with keeping the balance between both worlds. Part of being an Oracle means that she can peer into the future. She will be guided by the Aspirations she encounters to solve the mystery of her missing mother, keep the balance between the two worlds and rebuild her home of Atina. Atina is currently in a state of decay as a shadowy conglomerate by the name of MK (Mono Konzern) is taking over the town, ruling with an iron fist and generally making life miserable for the people who live there.

I have a soft spot for Bliss. Not only does she represent doing what makes you happy and brings you bliss, she is in the form of a young girl obsessed with gaming, music and other hobbies that I have in common with her. She also loved to eat and drink because, even though they don’t need to consume food, her reason is that “food is yummy”. The other Aspirations you meet are Power, Bond, Truth, Chaos and Glory. The Aspirations survive using Egregore, which is a type of energy fueled by humankind's hopes and dreams. This is why it’s important that Polly find a way to have a balance between the two worlds.

As the story unfolds over five acts, Polly will travel between Brittle (the real world) and Reverie. You will primarily be a spectator as the game unfolds around you choosing which dialogue options feel the most appropriate for the way you want to play the story. There is a lot of reading in the game, and if you are not a fan of narrative driven games, then Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is unlikely to change your mind. Each character you encounter from Brittle or Reverie creates a bond and influences the story arc. Between the Aspirations and the characters in Brittle (including your sister, an old school friend, a man you consider a grandfather figure etc.) the relationships are complicated and interweaving. The story is full of twists, turns and unexpected surprises, and even when I was certain of what would happen next, I was often mistaken. I loved this. Choices made may have consequences that aren’t actualized until much later in the game.

Harmony’s gameplay is based on the Augural, a flow chart with multiple nodes and checkpoints. As with many narrative driven games, different paths will open as you reach the nodes, and some will end up locked to you once you make a choice of a patch to follow. What is unusual for a game of this style is that you can look into the future and see the results of decisions you make before you make them. This means you can plan to make decisions based on what you want to happen, not just hoping you’ll get a result based on a decision made. Other games, like Detroit: Become Human, allow you to see decisions not taken, but normally this is done after completing the game, and not before as to not influence your decision making. While this may feel like ‘cheating’ in a story-based game, it’s not as simple as picking what you want to happen and just coasting through the game as in order to unlock some paths, you need to earn gems from the Aspirations.

Each Aspiration has their specific type of crystal that can be earned, consumed, or requested to unlock paths. Multiple times I ended up choosing a less desirable path as I didn’t have the right amount of a particular gem to take the path I originally wanted. This may sound complicated but it really isn’t, in practice, although sometimes your ethics and morality may not exactly line up with the path you wish to take in the game. A decision that you think may give you a particular crystal, may give a different one than anticipated if you follow your heart though the game. This was the way I chose to play through the first time, not looking too far into the future and allowing my gut to guide me. On my second playthrough I specifically tried to find my way to a particular ending and that wasn’t as easy and originally thought either. Paths and choices mirror the pace of the story. Sometimes there are a multitude of path options in front of you to choose from and at other times it’s simply a choice between two options.

The Augural is both engaging and frustrating. You are either going to choose free will and let your heart guide you or choose to follow what you think will get you to the ‘best’ ending. If this whole experience taught me one thing it was that the story really made you think about the path of your real life. If you focus too much on the end goal, you lose the joy and freedom to follow other paths that might being your joy and unexpected surprises. Also, as in life, when one path becomes blocked off to you, you simply choose another path and carry on with your journey. You will never be stuck in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. There will almost be a path for you to follow, even if it’s not the one you wanted to initially follow. If you are of a similar age to me, you may recognize a lot of this sort of familiar feeling to the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books of your youth. It really did have a lot of the same nostalgic feelings, even if you couldn’t hold your finger in the previous section and backtrack once you discovered you didn’t like the choice you made.

Taking a closer look into the graphic style and the audio, simply put, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is stunning on both counts. I highly recommend using a headset and surround sound to experience the beauty of the soundtrack by award winning composer, and legend in the industry, Lena Raine. Lena Raine is the brilliant mind behind one of my favourite soundtracks in recent memory, Moonglow Bay, as well as Celeste and many others. Fully voiced dialogue was impressive and strong enough to ignore the often out of sync animations while characters on screen were talking.

While the graphic style is beautiful, it does suffer from being repetitive at times. The art style is predominantly one or two characters in the foreground the with scenery in the background and the dialogue box overlaying the entire thing. When a narrative game reuses assets in multiple scenes, it's easy to start losing some immersion into the game and becomes more focused on the dialogue. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but once I started to accumulate a lot of hours in the game, I noticed I started looking less at the beautiful imagery and became more focused on just the dialogue.

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is easily one of the most inclusive games I’ve played, ever. It presents LGBTQ+ characters and values gracefully with fantastic and fully developed characters and deliberately uses They/Them pronouns instead of He/Him or She/Her. It also tackles difficult issues of grief and memories. It talks about topics of beauty, integrity and ethics. It covers immigration and the fear that comes along with the potential of losing a “permit to stay”. It dives into the complexities of romance and the pursuit of knowledge. It covers deep topics related to mental health like depression and grief in a way that seems natural and not patronizing. Ultimately it proves the memories can be a strong force for change.

I loved Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. It spoke to me in a way that not a lot of games do. I was not really prepared for the feelings I had when I wronged someone I cared about, or when I used influence in a way I wouldn’t normally in my real life; I was left feeling uneasy with my decisions. I easily put over 100 hours into it over the past six weeks, and I’m sure I will put more into it still as I decipher other potential story outcomes. It’s a beautifully written story that I was fully invested in, although I will admit I found it stressful at times since I was responsible for decisions that affected both worlds with no way to reverse my choice if I made the ‘wrong one’. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie raises the bar when it comes to games that promise consequences based on choices made. I firmly believe this is DON’T NODS best game to date.

**Harmony: The Fall of Reverie was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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