Review: Harmony: The Fall of Reverie – Life Is Extremely Strange

DONTNOD Entertainment has repeatedly tried to recapture the magic of Life is Strange, but has consistently produced middling titles that never quite land right. Life is Strange 2 was a botched sequel that lost all the charm of the original; Vampyr took a swing and a miss at the action RPG genre; Tell Me Why and Twin Mirror both attempted to just do Life is Strange again without the branding after the studio’s break with Square Enix. These games are not bad, certainly, but I saw no evidence over the past eight years that DONTNOD would ever be capable of producing something better than fine. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie has proved me wrong. It’s no Life is Strange, which is to this day one of my all time favorites, but Harmony is one of the most interesting and unique games I’ve ever played.

Players step into the shoes of Polly, a jaded 30-something who returns to her island nation home after her mother mysteriously goes missing. Upon returning for the first time in 10 years, she finds that a mega-corporation called MK has slowly bought up most of the land, all the utility companies, the food supply lines, and of course the government. Skyscrapers tower over this once-humble island, and the people seem to have lost their cultural identity. While learning about how MK has destroyed her home, Polly slowly puts together a task force of her mom’s boyfriend Laszlo, his granddaughter Nora, her friend Jade, and her mom’s research partner Omar. Just as the team starts to pull up some leads, we meet the more mystical cast of Harmony.

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The stunning 3D environments had me entranced.

Polly awakes one night to find herself dressed in priestess robes in a strange but beautiful realm called Reverie, where a small pantheon of gods welcome her home. Chaos, Bond, Bliss, Truth, Power, and later Glory are the Aspirations, the ultimate wants of humanity personified into a character. While most of them are welcoming of their new oracle, every one of them has a hidden agenda – it is time once again for humanity to choose a new Aspiration as its ultimate goal, and Polly has been chosen as the decider.

While searching for her mother back in the real world (which the Aspirations call “Brittle”), the story takes a turn into a well-thought out anti-capitalist narrative that actually has the story beats necessary to support it. I feel that many stories today try this theme out and never really get beyond “capitalism bad”, but Harmony digs into why the machine destroys everything it touches. This narrative poses that capitalism depends on pulling good people in who think they can make a difference from within the system, and can only sustain itself because its existence depends on harvesting the optimism that comes with individuals believing they have the power to do good and extinguishing it.

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I ended up siding with Bliss, and it’s not because she’s the only god that has a Nintendo Switch. But it certainly didn’t hurt.

This visual novel is very unique in its presentation because it presents Polly with an astral chain of events that serve as her actual dialogue choices in conversation at the start. These choices are all “sponsored” by one of the gods, and they’ll reward you with a token for following their advice. For example, Polly will come to a point in the conversation where she needs to decide whether to confront someone or restrain herself as to not upset them. The aural map is the conversation, and by hovering over a node you can see what it will do and which gods approve/disapprove of it. If I choose to confront someone, Power is thrilled – therefore, I gain a power token.

This gets progressively more complicated as the story goes, adding different kinds of nodes with different kinds of locks and nonlinear reasoning. My major issue with Harmony stems from the fact that this extremely cool method of decision making, in which every conversation tree is a literal flowchart with perfect information about the future, is wildly complicated to grasp. I had a lot of trouble in chapters 3 and 4 trying to follow the logic chains of the twisting and turning connections, keeping track of which tokens i needed for what outcome, and generally feeling like I was in control. Maybe the intention is that Polly, as a human who can see through time is supposed to be overwhelmed with information? Even if it is, it very much detracted from the originality of the idea.

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Why doesn’t Nirav just follow the logic chains? Is he stupid?

Chapter 5 adds an entire new layer to this concept, and I think that’s where Harmony managed to slam dunk me with just how cool it is. The astral map evolves from a dialogue-choosing mechanism to a fate-controlling one. As in, the player is given full control of the universe, especially things that are well outside of Polly’s control. And still, I managed to totally flub it. Oh well. One of the secondary themes, supported by both the story and gameplay mechanics, is that we shouldn’t get so mad at the gods; having perfect information, unlimited foresight, and omnipotent power is totally overwhelming.

With Polly growing into her role as the oracle Harmony, I had the thought that perhaps I should try to balance my decisions so that each of the six gods were equally powerful at the end. Harmony, right? I abandoned this quickly after realizing I was forcing myself to pick decisions I never would, and I think I had a better time for it. Harmony doesn’t allow you to freely change courses halfway through, though; you’re locked to instances where you have enough tokens from X or Y god to make a decision at all. It’s gradual, but the more you side with Power, the harder it is to side with anyone else in the future. All I’ll say is that I sided with Bliss and while I did not get the “good ending”, it felt like the lack of satisfaction in my ending was intentional. After all, I can see the true ending hovering right over there on the map but just can’t activate it.

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Babe, wake up, they said the thing!

I felt that as the story progressed, the Reverie and Brittle stories and characters had less and less to do with each other, until Chapter 5 when they had everything to do with each other. I guess this is sort of an “aha” moment from the writers, but it also meant I enjoyed about two hours of this six-hour adventure a lot less than the beginning and end.

The amazing artwork with dozens of distinct settings, all mapped out in 3D to give the world more presence, did a lot to carry me through parts where the story lulled. The character designs for the Aspirations are honestly pretty outstanding as well. I outright disliked both Nora’s character and her voice actor, but outside of that I was pleased and impressed with the characters and voice work. Polly is a relatable protagonist with hardcore mommy issues, and is just weird enough of a person to fall into a story like this one.

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I’m an urban planner as my day job, so this was a pleasant look forward at my future!

One other shout out for Harmony, since it’s Pride Month – almost everyone in this cast, both human and god, falls somewhere in the LGBTQ+ spectrum. In fact we have two, count ’em, two nonbinary main characters. One of the characters, Yana, is romanceable,  but no one’s gender or sexuality really plays a part in the narrative. They’re all just existing, and that’s dope as hell.

This is a very low-demand game graphically, so it’s no surprise it ran on high settings at 60 FPS on 1440p. With all the broken PC ports that have been launching in the last year, it was a relief to see a game just run perfectly. No frame stutters, no weird errors, no glitches or bugs, all the normal PC settings you’re accustomed to. My setup is an RTX 2060 Super and a Ryzen 5 3600, for reference.

I think that Harmony went a little too hard on adhering its gameplay to its themes in places, and that is likely why it becomes so over-complicated and confusing in the middle. While I was still enjoying the story, I didn’t feel like I had any control over what was happening for a long time. Nevertheless, the great character designs, gorgeous backgrounds, and fascinating deep lore that needs its own wiki are standouts in this extremely unique narrative-driven adventure. If unconventional story-telling is something you’re craving, or you maybe want to destroy capitalism by way of becoming an oracle, I heartily recommend trying out Harmony: The Fall of Reverie.

Nirav played Harmony: The Fall of Reverie on PC with a code provided by the publisher. Harmony is also available on Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.

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