The power of a story and how it might finally end up is something that we take for granted. We are generally used to the traditional arc – a story that goes from A to B to C, split across multiple acts. It starts off innocent and happy, then there is some conflict or disaster that tests the hero, before they head off on a quest to save something, nearly dying in the process, before returning victoriously. But what happens if you take that story and inject many endings, all whilst throwing in the opportunity to go back and rewrite the choices you make for a different outcome? Well, Beacon Pines examines this, and let me tell you now, it’s a charming treat.
Beacon Pines is a fictional place, one where everything on the surface seems colourful and peaceful, much like an Animal Crossing type of game. But there is a darker story sitting underneath the colourful shine. Things aren’t quite what they seem.
The story, or many stories, found in Beacon Pines follows the teenager Luka and his adventures in this small town. Luka lives with his gran, after his father’s death and the strange disappearance of his mum. His best friend is Rolo, and they enjoy times in a treehouse and heading out into town having teenage adventures and fun. However, there was a blight to the harvest that fuelled this town and now its recovery is led by a strange cult-like corporation who are in charge. Of course, what the story does from there is tell a tale of deep sci-fi fantasy; one that is original and engaging throughout.
On top of this, you have two people who are telling this story – Luka and the narrator. The narrator, the only voiced character, will act the part of the storyteller, not just delivering the narrative but also getting frustrated with the possible endings that you might run into; she constantly encourages you to make better choices in order to deliver different outcomes.
You see, the story you encounter has many paths and whilst some of these will end abruptly with your death or the destruction of the world, others will conclude with a weaker ending, or those which are not particularly satisfactory in their outcome. Throughout, you get to weave in and out of this narrative, change branch trees as you go. And it all works brilliantly. As does the amazing story, the characters, and the setup for the surprising and authentic plot.
The gameplay works well, moving you around the different locations in the town of Beacon Pines. There are things to explore and things to find along the way, some that move the plot along and others that are dropped in as nice little extras of storytelling. Nothing feels wasted or pointless though and this is a place that is a delight to wander around. You might even have to take in some fetch quests along the way, or some fishing, or some target practice.
What you do find along the journey are charms. These might be little static animations that describe an action or feeling. For example, there might be a charm that says “flight” and another that says “fight”. Now you will get to a point in the story where you have to make a ‘turning point’ decision and you can use these charms to turn the course of the narrative. In this instance, our hero will run or face their enemy. It’s a robust system and good fun, ensuring that if the story finishes in a terrible way you get to go back and make different decisions, hoping to affect the outcome by changing around the charms.
Beacon Pines also has a lovely visual tone to it. It reminds very much of some of the older Final Fantasy titles, but also like illustrations in a storybook – something which I imagine is the vibe the developers were aiming at. All the characters are brilliantly drawn and well animated with their human/animal hybrid designs which works wonderfully. The colour palette is beautiful and the chance to work through various decisions is a work of genius. The soundtrack is solid as well, with some lovely musical touches including a beautiful hummed melody. The only voice-over in Beacon Pines is that of the narrator and she does an amazing job throughout; a perfect choice.
You will adore Beacon Pines from start to finish, mostly as you get hooked by the impressive and unusual narrative. Ultimately it’s a game about the power of story and the decisions you make when choosing different narrative paths, but it’s helped along by the warmth of the characters, ensuring you’ll want to invest time and emotion into the hunt for the perfect ending.
Thank you Hiding Spot and Fellow Traveller for putting together Beacon Pines. This is a wonderful experience – one that is a truly immersive tale of wonder.
Beacon Pines is available from the Xbox Store