Everafter Falls Review – Island In The Sea Of Weird

As genres go, the “cozy farm simulator” is pretty well established at this point. A village full of colorful and unusual characters? Check. Various crops you can only raise certain times of the year? Check. A limited day to get tasks done? Check. Our resident Stardew Valley expert/junkie Kate has played quite a few of these sorts of titles, so I figured it was probably a good idea to ease their load (or prevent a relapse) when Everafter Falls came up. I’m hardly a stranger to the genre, but I’ve also never quite been as much of an enthusiast. And after getting in some time with it, I’m still not up to “expert/junkie” levels of enthusiasm. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another question.

Everafter Falls puts you in the shoes of a human living among anthropomorphic animals on the titular island. The game starts with you getting run over by a truck during a rainy night, followed by the brief message, “Simulation Concluded.” Apparently, your time on Earth was something akin to The Thirteenth Floor, and you’ve been away for a while. Long enough that your little homestead on the island has basically fallen apart, as well as convenient amnesia about your neighbors and a lot of other pertinent information. It’s up to you to clean up and expand your farm, reintegrate yourself with your neighbors, and otherwise make a life for yourself in this “real” world.

All units, we have a report of shots fired…

On the visual side of things, Everafter Falls is generally hewing to the typical 16-bit console aesthetic for the genre, though the character sprites are considerably more detailed and fluid in the environment than their slightly pixelated conversation portraits would suggest. Weather effects are nicely rendered even in their stylized form. There’s rarely any question about what season you’re currently in (even if the UI wasn’t telling you), and I appreciated the little touches which gave you a sense that time was passing outside of the day/night lighting changes. Seasons felt genuinely seasonal. The various farm implements you work with are distinctive and easy to recognize when they’re in operation or not. And there’s a lot of variety, visually speaking, in all the livestock and other critters you can catch or raise. Lighthearted and whimsical seem to be the tone the developers were shooting for and hit quite squarely. About the only real complaint I can register is the button reminders for certain actions. The circle button on a PlayStation controller gets a lot of work, but it’s rendered a little too much like the square button, so occasional confusion in the opening parts of the game are a minor pain point.

From the sound perspective, Everafter Falls takes to the conventions of the genre nicely. Lots of chip tunes, each theme fitting with the seasons or the environments you’re currently located in (though it’s a little weird there’s no music inside your house). Plenty of good sound effects, each one tied up to a particular activity. There’s no voice acting, obviously, though there’s also no Simlish so conversations have a vague “silent movie” feel to them. For games of this sort, you don’t need a lot of positional audio and big orchestral pieces, backed up by top name voice actors, and Everafter Falls realizes this.

Maybe not the most helpful attitude around the island.

The gameplay in Everafter Falls is by turns simple, enjoyable, and sometimes frustrating. Moving around the map is easy enough, though navigating the UI feels vaguely clumsy, at least on a console controller. The process of planting crops is easy enough, even taking a couple of steps before throwing down the seeds, but the process of harvesting is a little more fiddly than I’d like it. Some “renewable” crops like corn or berries harvested by a basic interaction and others (generally root or tuber veggies) being one-time harvests handled as if you’re picking up an item, which requires a long press on the circle button. Interacting with your livestock to keep them in a good mood is one thing, but I didn’t get a chance to see if their “favorite” foods shifted with the seasons, which could potentially be a problem if they like certain items which are “out of season” for most of the year.

The various event and activity mini-games are something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, some are very easy and entirely within your control. Others are something of a chore, particularly the “Meal Service” event where you have to cook up different dishes. Yes, the recipes are there, but you’re sort of hampered by your stats, which dictates how quickly you can get to different stations to cook. The fishing mini-game is basically unplayable until you craft a better fishing rod and pick up better mods to make things easier on yourself. There is an RPG-like progression of sorts, in that you can unlock portals to a dungeon which carries treasures and rare materials, though slaying monsters doesn’t gain you anything unless you take a post from the local job board to kill monsters and report in after you’ve succeeded. And even then, it’s only a cash award, not experience.

It’s like an episode of “Fishing With Jon,” only less weird and less entertaining.

You essentially have to luck into discovering treasures and consumables which buff your stats, which will theoretically help you later on. Compounding this, the various “collections” you have to try and complete are voluminous. You’re obviously not going to get everything in that first year, but at the same time, the breadth of stuff you have to collect can get a little daunting. Which, in turn, adds to the frustration factor in some of the mini-games. You want to get all the things, but doing so sometimes feels highly discouraging.

This brings up another problem: inventory space. In your daily perambulations, particularly in that first year when you’re trying to get everything started up, five of your immediate inventory slots are taken up with the tools you need to obtain resources of one sort or another. Yes, you can move the ones you’re not likely to need into storage containers you can craft, but you shouldn’t as a general rule. Which means that you’re going to be very pinched for space at times. This is especially obnoxious when you’re going through the dungeon areas and you’re trying to find a room with an exit portal that will let you get back to the surface, but you don’t really have the time available to backtrack to the point you entered. And that time limit will be enforced, which doesn’t really penalize you much except for reducing the amount of time you have after you wake up the next day.

“Lemme get this straight: you created a simulation of a terrible world, and you didn’t think to maybe add mod support?!”

Incidentally, yes, you can get killed in the dungeon by monsters. And that’s actually got a bigger penalty attached to it, a chunk of your current cash reserve to resurrect you. There are methods to expand your inventory space, but they’re not what you’d call easy to discover. And there’s a lot of grinding needed to make it happen. It’s situations like this that tend to undermine the whole “cozy” vibe which Everafter Falls is shooting for. You may be able to expand and improve, but the deliberately throttled pacing might bring out a far less “relaxed” response.

Narratively, Everafter Falls relies on a mix of metagaming humor, soap opera-style romance plots, and slice-of-life silliness. You are the only human on an island full of anthropomorphs and nobody blinks an eye at the strange mostly hairless mutant abomination among them. It’s a genre convention which is conspicuous by its lack of comment, yet it feels far more obvious here than in something like Animal Crossing. It feels like somebody should have said something beforehand, and everybody around town has agreed not to mention it.

“Are you the evil twin? Did I sleep with the evil twin? Or am I in a coma right now? God, not both, please!”

At the same time, there are somewhat ominous rumblings about the different dungeons that you’re delving into. Some unnamed entity makes vague threats every time you unlock a new dungeon and step in for the first time, promising all manner of violent retribution for your trespasses, and how it’ll be all your fault. As you clear a dungeon, you recover the rune key needed to unlock the next dungeon, and the requirements to utilize it keep getting more esoteric. That throttled pacing once again. It’s clearly leading up to a climactic event, but the process of getting there is tooth-grindingly obtuse.

I suspect fans of the genre may find Everafter Falls a little too constrained for their tastes. Newcomers who want to avoid bellwethers like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing might very well dive into it and either love it or hate it. There are interesting elements floating around, but the payoff requires such ridiculous amounts of grinding or seemingly wasted time trying to ultimately reach, it might sour players on the finale when they reach it. It’s not casual or cozy if you’re being forced to burn up time without any payoff. Give it a whirl, if you’re of a mind to do so, but don’t expect things to flow languidly in a naturalistic fashion.

Axel reviewed Everafter Falls on PlayStation 5 with a review code.

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