Haven isn't quite the game you'd expect from The Game Bakers, developer of Furi. It trades the rhythmic pulse and tension of seemingly insurmountable bosses for something calming, atmospheric, and most of all, sentimental. It's not about one hero, but two lovers, far from home and on the run, trying to escape to any part of the universe where they can be together.
It's also a role-playing game, where you fight monsters in real-time in a sort-of Active Time Battle style system, only you control each character with either side of the controller, a la Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. And there's exploration, and cooking, and pseudo-flight traversal. Haven can, at times, feel like a mish-mash of ideas. But playing it at PAX West 2019, I found that the two main characters and their relationship wasn't just the narrative focal point, but the glue that made it all work.
Yu and Kay are the two in question, who have escaped from their original lives to forge a new one together on a distant, alien world. At first, it seems like the place is abandoned, with nothing but appledew and open air to pass the time. The two bicker and argue, but still stay together; when we interviewed the game's creative director Emeric Thoa a while ago, he emphasized that the story was about a couple who was past the "seduction phase." Many video game romances are about flirting or breaking up, but Haven aims to portray a long-term, committed relationship.
In that spirit, everything you do involves Yu and Kay together. You explore the world as a couple, eat as a couple, and even play both sides of the conversation in dialogue scenes. As you glide across the plains, searching for veins of Flow that you can soar over to build up energy, you do so as a pair. It feels like grinding a rail in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, only relaxed and soothing rather than stress-inducing.
While the demo starts with you mostly picking out food and gathering energy for your makeshift escape-pod dwelling, things take a turn. Just as Yu and Kay start to worry about whether they're truly out of the woods and away from danger, bad events start to happen. Their living quarters get smashed up, and they find bridges all over the island, leading to various other floating locales. But on those, they aren't alone; monsters and a strange, violently velvet substance dot the landscape.
In fighting the monsters, Haven starts to handle a lot like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. You control Yu and Kay at the same time, building up a move by holding in the direction that moves sits on their respective side of the controller or stick, then releasing to initiate the move. You can choose to attack using two different styles of strike, attempt to pacify the enemy, or use your shield, which coincidentally doesn't mitigate damage for the user, but their counterpart.
It quickly became a mind-fracturing exercise to time my shields and attacks to best combat increasing swarms of enemies. But while it took some time, I eventually started to find my groove, altering my mindset to get used to the dichotomy of actions. The system does feel a little barebones once you've figured that out, so I'm hoping there are some layers of depth being added on in the future, but it was enjoyable to solve every combat puzzle that came at my lovebird protagonists.
After toppling a big boss to end the demo, I walked away feeling a little more confident in Haven's prospects. While our interview in July gave me an inkling that The Game Bakers were trying for something fresh, as Thoa told me at the time, the team wasn't really interested in making a Furi 2.
Instead, Haven feels like a drastically different kind of foot forward for the studio. Yet it can't seem to do anything halfways; throughout Haven I felt that sense of warm joy in the vast, calm expanse of space that emanated from the dual protagonists. In interstitials and loading screens, you'd see slices of their life together, caring for each other while sick and playfully teasing.
At one point, they simply had a discussion while in bed. That's it. I had to stop and think when the last time was that I had seen that in a video game, and I'm still drawing a blank. It's a strikingly fresh take that's made me retroactively revisit all video game romances in general. The Game Bakers are clearly working on a labor of love, and I'm fascinated to see the end result.