A wise man once said, “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”
And as we learned from the fable of Wreck-It Ralph, badness and goodness is all a matter of perspective exacerbated by societal constructs. In other words, the residents of “Niceland” are a bunch of prejudiced dicks.
In this game you play as Cyrus, a Knight who is bound by the heroic quest trope to rescue the Princess held captive in a tower. Naturally a rampage is called for as you cut a path through monster town, but just as you reach the tower a magical explosion prevents any attempt at a rescue and you wake up to find yourself imprisoned and under the curse of community service.
So instead of being the hero you envisaged, you are now doing time in the Witch’s garden, growing and harvesting magical berries with a range of properties in order to sell them and pay off your debt to society. Village repairs range from the minor mending of roads to the extensive full-on renovation of the town square, but as it turns out you’re a significantly better gardener than a knight and you can rake in the profits of your labour pretty quickly.
In terms of gameplay, there isn’t really anything to speak of.
A Hero and a Garden is a visual novel so you don’t get to experience or play your initial rampage to try and reduce any damage and cut your sentence. The only thing you get to do in this game, apart from experience the story, is harvest berries. There’s no real skill to this as each berry plant is mapped to a button prompt which you press to collect your fruity bounty. You can collect each berry singularly and you can enlist the help of adorable chonky bat Sooty to pick the occasional fruit. However there is some pleasure to be had in letting each plant grow to its maximum crop of 3 berries and harvest them all at once in a button clicking frenzy.
The plants all grow at different speeds so you can get yourself into a nice pleasing rhythm of clicking buttons to gather your goodies. Requests for berries come in from various cutesy monster villagers including; the blunt but thoughtful Doctor Horns (Yen), an excitable food-loving turnip called Rutaboo, Nell a shy feline-looking child, and Era a massive shouty claw. Occasionally the Princess and the Witch will also make appearances and requests that drive the story onwards.
You could be forgiven for thinking that because of the cutesy cartoon graphics the story would be quite sugary and simplistic, but actually it can get pretty deep at times. As both protagonist and antagonist you experience the story through the eyes and interactions of stubborn Knight turned reluctant gardener Cyrus. All the characters you meet have some semblance of a story arc but none so much as Cyrus as he learns to not take things at face value, that just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone, and it’s often better to forge your own path instead of trying and failing to meet someone else’s expectations.
There are quite a few little life lessons to be learned from this game.
For both by adults and children alike, and if I did have kids I’d be more than happy for them to engage in this delightful and charming tale. It takes a gentle, but not trivial approach around themes such as LGBT relationships, toxic masculinity and domestic abuse which make the characters feel a little more realistic with relatable motivations instead of just standard fairy tale caricatures.
It’s not an epic by any means and you can complete the game in roughly 1–2 hours. There aren’t multiple endings in the typical sense of good/bad / “true” endings, but you can conclude the story in a few different ways based on who you choose to be BFFs with.
You can still download the game for free for Windows, macOS, and Linux from npckc’s website, but if you pay $3 or more, you can support them in their game-making adventures and also receive a digital art collection that includes all art from the game along with design sketches.
In all honesty for the small price of a PSL and a muffin, A Hero and a Garden is an inexpensive way to warm the cockles of your heart.
A Hero and a Garden is a cheap and charming morality tale that never gets overly preachy or saccharine. As a visual novel don’t expect too much in the way of gameplay, instead sit back let the tale unfold and occasionally nip out to your garden to build up a button-bashing berry collection rhythm.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, Mobile
Release Date: 28/08/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: RPG, Sim
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop