The only way Yu and Kay could be together was to leave everything behind and flee to a distant planet. But while the world of Source seems to lack any other sentient life, it is full of other mysteries – and the only way for Yu and Kay to build a life there will be to uncover them all.
After seeing praise for Haven on Twitter shortly after the game’s release, I considered myself intrigued. Add in some screenshots of beautiful alien landscapes, and I knew I had to try it out.
Right from the opening cutscene, the thing you can’t fail to notice and love about Haven is the interaction between its two protagonists. Yu and Kay are lovers who have travelled across the galaxy to be together, and while this might sound like a recipe for a cloyingly sappy romance, it’s actually one of the best-written relationships I’ve encountered in video games. Their daily interactions are a delight to behold, capturing not only the couple’s deep love and affection for each, but the discussions, debates and disagreements that accompany most relationships. Right from the start, I felt an emotional connection to the couple, even feeling bad when I collected ‘appledews’ for them to eat, right after Yu had complained about being tired of eating them. And without giving any details away, some of the story notes later on definitely pierced me right to my emotional core.
Yu and Kay’s deepening relationship not only leads to some great cutscenes, but it also plays a key part in the rest of the gameplay, with simple interactions awarding the couple RPG-style EXP. In fact, as has been much commented on elsewhere, when the couple are ready to level up, it triggers a cutscene of the pair enjoying a romantic evening with the aid of some home-brewed alcohol.
When you’re not cosying up inside your space shuttle, Yu and Kay are out exploring Source, a planet which is effectively a set of interconnected islands. Each island is traversed by gliding around with a pair of anti-gravity boots, which themselves are powered by riding ‘Flow threads’ – essentially grind rails that criss-cross every corner of Source. Keeping your boots powered up is also key to clearing out the ‘Rust’ that infects each island. Since clearing islands is a key part of gameplay, it’s a distinct inducement to explore each and every corner of the map.
I have to admit that it took a little while for Haven’s exploration to click with me. On my first few goes, I couldn’t quite get the hang of riding the Flow threads, which made every excursion feel a bit stressful and frustrating. At some point, however, I got it, and from then I understood the appeal of the game – being able to ride a Flow thread high into the sky and uncover a new section of an island brings with it a real sense of accomplishment.
One complaint that I’ve seen others make is that exploring and clearing every island of Rust can feel a bit repetitive, especially given the limited amount of biomes in the game (islands come in four types – blue, green, yellow and red). Although I can see why others might make this point, personally I didn’t find this to be too much of a problem. The overall map of Source is small enough that exploring it doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time, and the sense of accomplishment in clearing an island never got old for me.
It must be said that exploring an island isn’t just about zooming around at high speed. As well as picking up ingredients for cooking and a bunch of other rare collectibles, there’s also the chance of running into some aggressive fauna. Battles in Haven can be thought of as RPG-lite – turn-based affairs in which Yu and Kay can perform either a melee or ranged attack, defend one another, or use one of a limited range of items. The couple can also attack together to pack an extra punch, but it’s not always as simple as just pounding the enemy into the ground with your strongest attack. Different enemies have different weaknesses, and finding the proper attack strategy can be the difference between an easy win and limping home with your health in the red. Only a few story battles result in an actual game over, but it’s worth keeping your wits about you as even a random encounter can sometimes turn nasty.
As mentioned above, Haven’s setting only has a limited number of biomes, but the look of the game is still pleasing and distinctive. Source is clearly an alien world, filled with all manner of weird and wonderful creatures to encounter – and in some cases, even befriend. The designs of the human characters are also strong, with my favourite visual touch being the cute everyday scenes of Yu and Kay’s life that appear on every loading screen.
The game’s music is an electronic-themed soundtrack composed by Danger. From the stirring strains of the opening theme to the otherworldly vibes that accompany your exploration of Source, the music fits the game well – and is also good to listen to in its own right.
On the surface, Haven is a solid game to play, but scratch a little deeper and you’ll find a far richer experience. In a medium where romance so often tends to be superficial and unrealistic, Haven stands out for perfectly capturing the depth and nuance of Yu and Kay’s relationship. Experiencing all the highs and lows of their stories is something I’d definitely recommend.