Who hasn’t accidentally destroyed a town and attacked a bunch of harmless monsters all over a misunderstanding, just to get forced into a gardening job to pay for the repairs? Oh, no one has ever had that happen ever? Well, guess what, now it has happened. That is the plot of A Hero and A Garden, out now on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch, which describes itself as a visual novel and clicker game.
The story begins with the hero setting out on a journey to rescue the princess from the evil witch who has her captured at her castle. But after destroying their base, defeating the monsters, and finally making it to the witch’s stronghold, the hero is knocked unconscious. Upon waking up it is discovered that the witch easily defeated the hero and the monsters are actually pretty non-violent. And as penance for attacking them, the hero now has to tend a garden to grow berries to sell and pay off the damage that was caused to the town.
After sitting down with it and playing through it all though, it’s really hard for me to call A Hero and A Garden either a visual novel or a game. It feels like a mesh of the two genres that come together to make an incredibly tedious and slow experience.
The “gameplay” consists of collecting berries by pushing a button that corresponds with a specific bush, and once enough berries are collected they can be turned in. Once turned in a character will appear at the shop to talk to, and once they leave you’ll get another request for a larger amount of berries. And thus the cycle continues. It’s hard for me to qualify that as gameplay since it’s no better than just waiting for an in-game timer to run out. In fact, I’d say it’s worse since you can’t just leave and do something else while you wait for the berries to accumulate.
Technically there is a little monster called Sooty that will sometimes, and by sometimes I mean very rarely, help collect berries. But those moments are so few and far between that relying on it in any capacity would be a foolhardy endeavor.
The visual novel aspect isn’t much better, since “novel” implies some amount of content. It took a little over an hour to get through the game and I’d say about 50 minutes of that was me just waiting for berries to grow. It can be summed up as having a cutesy art style, incredibly bland dialogue, and music that is highly forgettable.
The dialogue follows traditional tropes and all of the characters are incredibly two-dimensional. It certainly doesn’t justify waiting all the time that is necessary to get through the game.
Just as an example of how lazy the lessons come across: at one part the main character, the hero, whose name turns out to be Cyrus, insults the monsters by saying they all look alike. He then immediately becomes offended when the monster says the exact same thing about humans, literally with the exact same words. An obvious commentary on how you shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations about any group of people, but done with the subtlety of a wrecking ball.
And really the rest of the dialogue is no different, and the characters are no more cleverly done. It includes the not so stellar cast of the knight who became a knight purely for tradition, a princess tired of being a princess, a villain who turns out to actually be a good person, and monsters that are just like people if you stop to get to know them. The entire plot is built on cliched characters that struggle to carve any sense of identity beyond the basic lesson they are trying to teach.
Really, if it was just a visual novel, it wouldn’t be that terrible of an experience. A short and forgettable one, but manageable. The issue remains though that it’s all wrapped into an hour-long experience that is mainly just waiting.
And really it’s hard to expand on the game more than that. There aren’t enough mechanics present to provide more commentary. I could dedicate more time to why I didn’t care for the plot but at that point I’d just be piling on to an already hostile commentary.
The one thing A Hero and A Garden on Xbox One does right is to give whoever sits through it an easy 1000 Gamerscore. It won’t get unlocked right after playing through since there is actually one decision to make. At the end of the game there is a festival and you get to choose who you ask to go with. Participating in each ending unlocks an achievement, and thankfully there is an “Extras” menu that lets you quickly replay the festival dialogue and change who you go with. But when all is said and done the only real reason I could find to suggest A Hero and A Garden is the easy 1000G.