A virtual trip to the cold Scandinavia definitely can't hurt in the meanwhile very hot summers in Germany. That's what developer Polygon Treehouse, a small indie studio from Cambridge, thought when they released the adventure game Röki, influenced by Scandinavian folklore, on July 23, 2020. Despite the frosty setting, leaves the new indie title its players anything but cold.
A story that melts the fjord ice
Family bonds are strong, especially when a loved one is in need. Protagonist Tove experiences the boundlessness of this love firsthand when her little brother Lars is kidnapped by a monstrous forest creature into a parallel world in which the beings of Scandinavian mythology wander around visible to the human eye.
Between trolls, elves and guardian spirits, Tove tries to save her brother and is confronted with all kinds of tasks and puzzles in which she has to use previously collected objects in new contexts.
Source: PC Games
The story questions the classic concept of good and bad and has many moments to smile about, but also those that put pressure on the lacrimal gland. Authenticity is very important in this gloomy and heartwarming adventure set in contemporary Sweden. The figures, all with unmistakably Scandinavian names, are surprisingly taciturn. Here and there a name is mentioned or someone says thanks with a short "Tak", the Swedish word for thank you. Much more often, however, we hear an approving hum or a strained groan, which in every language wonderfully underlines the emotions of the characters speaking via text overlay. An ice cold winter, a rocking chair in front of the fireplace and the typical red lumberjack shirt of the heroine's father reinforce the fortunately not too exaggerated Scandinavian vibes of the setting.
The developer's attention to detail is also noticeable in the red thread of the story. Many small details that seem irrelevant to us at the beginning acquire meaning later in the game. This is how the indie game manages to build a well-rounded and believable story concept that takes its players on a fantastic journey.
Source: PC Games
Röki's well-rounded concept also runs through the gameplay. In the small world you can move freely between all the places you have already explored. A fast travel system wonderfully woven into the story saves us unnecessary trips, because for many tasks we have to return to previous locations. The tasks themselves consist of collecting, combining or misusing different objects that you throw in your backpack during the course of the game. The storage space of this wonder bag strongly reminded us of the famous magic bag from Hermione from Harry Potter, in which even an entire house tent fits. Equipping and using the items unfortunately doesn't work as smoothly and quickly as we would like, but thankfully this flaw is not too significant.
Source: PC Games
In solving the tasks there will be a certain Out-of-the-box thinking assumed. The level of difficulty of the quests and puzzles is well balanced. There are several little helpers available to you who ensure that the brooding factor is kept at a moderate level and that the leisurely flow of the game is not interrupted. The relatively opaque quest system is much more complex. Since you can move freely in the game world, you are not told when you travel to which location to solve a task. If you have overlooked just a little thing, it can happen that you have to look for lost objects again at each location, completely haphazardly. After all, this ambiguous concept also means that you can catch up on a lost side story at any time. In order to avoid losing game progress, you should also often save manually, because the automatic save points are set very sparingly.
Atmosphere with goosebumps guarantee
Source: PC Games
Despite quite simple means, Röki is incredibly lovingly and harmoniously designed. Cool pastel tones dominate the color image and at the same time give the mystical forest a peaceful calm and an almost melancholy atmosphere. The background noise of the gloomy forest adventure really gets under your skin. If a monster starts to roar, the screen shakes with the bass-heavy rumble. The voices of other powerful forest dwellers also have a powerful sound that drives us through our pith and legs and lets our arm hair rise up like small antennas.
The soundtrack also has an enormous goose bumps factor. Already on the start screen an almost meditative music plays, which immediately cast a spell on us. We listened to her with closed eyes for a full ten minutes until we finally managed to pull ourselves up to start the game. But there was no end to the ear gasm, because all other pieces on the soundtrack also know how to underline the harmonious, gloomy mood with their sounds.
With Röki, Polygon Treehouse has packed a dark story into a cute look and together with the sensual soundtrack created a wonderful overall package. This is of course not free from flaws, but does so many things right that it is not difficult to overlook them.
Röki is currently only available for the PC. A conversion for Nintendo Switch will follow at a later date.