Georgina Howlett documents her journey through Scandinavian folklore in this review of Röki.
I first heard of Röki through a friend, who had shared her excitement for the game on her Twitter feed. As someone deeply fascinated by fairy tales, folk stories and mythical creatures, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of an adventure game inspired by Scandinavian folklore and wondered how tales of trolls, faeries and other monsters could be adapted to host such an emotional-sounding journey. Having had the opportunity to play through the entire thing, I can only insist that you give it a try for yourself.
Röki is the tale of a small family who are torn apart by grief, guilt, and – yes – a giant, hairy monster. After a day of outdoor play and adventure, Tove and her younger brother Lars watch their house burn down around them. Lars is kidnapped and taken through a magical portal, leaving Tove with no option but to seek out the creatures of the forest and look for the once-mighty Jötnar – or Guardian animals – to aid her in rescuing her brother and bringing him back home. Her journey isn’t without challenges; powerful adversaries (including the most horrific tarantula) threaten her life, while riddles and puzzles prevent easy passage. Gruesome parasites cause buried memories to resurface, forcing her to revisit some of her darkest times and the player to come face to face with some quite complex emotional issues. Nevertheless, she struggles on, and in following her journey, the player will also discover a second, much sadder story as it unfolds.
Puzzle-solving and exploration form the bulk of Röki‘s gameplay, taking the player on an exciting journey through an ancient forest wilderness. From the depths of the woods to the highest mountain peaks, you’ll be constantly searching for clues, collectables and the items you need to progress the story. At any one time, there are multiple intertwined narratives and puzzles in need of your attention, so referring to Tove’s journal will become second nature. This journal contains helpful hints as to what to do next, documents the riddles and prompts you’ve been given, and also acts as a hub for the mementos you’ve collected and the achievements you’ve earned. If stuck, or just needing a reminder of your progress, revisiting Tove’s humorous, yet vulnerable account of her journey to finding Lars is sure to set you on the right path.
Röki‘s storytelling is one of its strongest features, conducted not only through Tove’s journal and the various collectables waiting to be found in every area but also its striking cutscenes and captivating score. With some passive cutscenes and some active, the player is forced to not only witness Tove’s position but also throw themselves into it, seeing the world from her perspective and coming to understand her motivations and drive. Later on, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the world from an additional character’s eyes, leaving you to interchangeably enjoy the limitations and perks of each. Though full voice acting is absent, what little there is, is so powerfully articulated that the player feels every emotion of Tove and the other characters as they communicate with one another, and this is pleasantly complemented by the game’s score. Each area of the map bears its own unique melody, with the Wolf Ruins’ haunting ethereal tune being the one that remains in my mind on a loop even after finishing the game.
The art and world of Röki is thoroughly beautiful, with pastel colours and simple outlines truly giving the game a mystical storybook feel. The characters are heavily stylised with each creature bearing its own charm, right from the smallest Tomtes to the largest trolls. Though at times you may find yourself wishing for things to be just a little more defined and certainly that the collectables were just a little bigger. You sometimes can’t help but miss them even after scanning the environment multiple times. You have to admire the attention to detail and the faithfulness to the folklore that influenced so much of what the game represents. Each new area will excite and enthral you, so be sure to explore every inch, and take the time to interact with as many items and characters as possible if you are seeking to complete the game to the fullest.
Sadly – at least in my eyes – Röki has one major flaw. Not its puzzles, which are challenging yet rewarding and not its gameplay, which is near-technically faultless – but its ending to Tove and Lars’ tale. After all Tove experienced, after everything all of the other characters went through to help her and after all of the build-up and story building – the ending feels flat and somewhat hollow. It is a happy ending but it is not as gratifying as the ending to such a tale should be and something just feels missing. The “villain” of the narrative seems to receive little justice, players have no insight into whether the character progression they were promised comes to fruition and ultimately, it seems like a sudden stop to the intricately-woven story that came before it. Don’t get me wrong, the ending as it stands ties up several fragments of the story but I can’t help but wish there had been more to it.
That all said and done, if you’re looking for a story-driven adventure with puzzles, collectables and a whole lot of folklore-inspired environments to explore and creatures to encounter, Röki is an immensely enjoyable indie title that deserves to make its way into your collection. Though challenging at times, the solution is always waiting for you and if you can take a few moments to think outside the box, then you’ll always get to them in the end. Take as much time as you can to explore the world of Röki and truly immerse yourself in everything it has to offer; it may be a short game but it is one that is sure to stay with you and warrant a replay or two.
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