PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
June 8, 2023
Smoke rises across the city, the usual buzzing of delivery drones drowned out by the roars of a long-overdue protest. Trembling, you raise a hand to shield your eyes from the glare of the Mediterranean sun and steal a glance through the fabric of reality. Endless possibilities shimmer across your vision. Your mind echoes with whispers of power, bliss, glory, chaos. Steeling yourself, you throw your willpower into the only voice that makes sense at this moment: the voice of truth. A calming presence nods serenely, at odds with the sharp clarity piercing through your very essence. Emboldened, and a little rattled, you set out into the streets with renewed purpose.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is the latest narrative adventure from French developers DON’T NOD, creators of the critically acclaimed Tell Me Why and the Life Is Strange series. A departure from their usual 3D experiences, Harmony adopts a surreal cartoon aesthetic that sits somewhere in between Steven Universe and the work of Studio Ghibli – whimsical, magical, and nostalgic. It presents choice and consequence as its primary gameplay mechanic and delivers a narrative experience that is immersive and powerful.
Harmony’s protagonist, Polly, has returned to the European island city of Atina after years abroad. Drawn home by the sudden disappearance of her estranged mother, Polly finds her hometown under the control of a megacorporation and her community in disarray. As she learns more about the state of Atina and searches for her mother, she gradually discovers the motives of giant company MK and witnesses firsthand the totalitarian grasp they have on the island, her friends, and her family. At the same time, Polly must tread the line between a parallel universe that extends its reach into her own. Soon after arriving in Atina, she finds an artifact that draws her into a world called Reverie and discovers that she is an Oracle, one destined to shape the future.
Reverie is home to the Aspirations, personified manifestations of humanity’s desires (such as Bliss, Power, and Bond), who each vie for control of Reverie and wish to be chosen by Polly as its next Heart. Their world’s fate is inextricably linked to hers, which they dub “Brittle” and exert their influence upon in order to extract a prized resource named “egregore” from the dreams of humanity. Polly, assuming the role of the Aspiration Harmony, is given the power to see into the future and bend outcomes to her will. She can use this ability to empower her chosen Aspirations, who in turn feed their energy back into the humans of Brittle.
This interweaving of worlds fuels the plot of Harmony, with one pillar of its narrative dealing with the Aspirations and their interactions with Brittle, and the other exploring Polly’s relationships with her family and the community of Atina and how these alter the landscape of Reverie. It’s a complex dynamic with clairvoyance at its centre. At each point in the story, Polly uses the power of the “Augural” to see potential choices and how they might impact future events. This is presented as a branching tree with paths leading to different outcomes that often don’t become apparent until much later. Certain decisions unlock future pathways, while choosing options that align with particular Aspirations will earn crystals for them that increase their influence and may eventually lead to their ascension as the Heart of Reverie. While there’s a strategic element to the Augural, it is directly tied to Polly’s relationships, which leads to many nail-biting decisions and a level of meta-narrative responsibility that brings a personal weight to each beat in the story.
Scenes in Harmony are presented in a visual novel format, with character portraits appearing on-screen above dialogue boxes. It’s a shift in gameplay direction for DON’T NOD. The tighter, more controlled focus of the visual novel format allows the choices you make to feel incredibly weighty, direct, and impactful. A real rhythm develops as you shift between scouting for future outcomes in the Augural, juggling your responsibilities in the real world, and contemplating the right Aspiration to listen to. I had expected the artificiality of the Augural interface to interrupt my immersion in the story, but found it really enhanced the link between Brittle and Reverie and made it easy to empathise with the incredibly tough decisions Polly needs to make.
You’re constantly balancing the needs of Polly’s friends and family with the advice and warnings of the Aspirations, which is reflected mechanically in which crystals you generate and which Augural pathways are made available. I was impressed with how intuitively this fed into the story and Polly’s character development. Initially, I really resented Polly’s estranged mother Ursula, and was selecting every conversation option that would let me express my frustration with her. Around the time when I mentally turned a corner and decided to forgive her, it felt like Polly’s dialogue and internal monologue shifted to reinforce this dynamic – we were, somehow, on the same page.
This sense of immersion is firmly reinforced by Harmony’s wicked combination of utterly sublime voice acting and sharp, insightful character writing. Polly’s voice actor frames her as down-to-earth, likeable, and incredibly relatable – they provide a nuanced take on Polly’s impossible situation, adding humour where they can and making her feel truly human. Other vocal performances are equally dynamic, bringing light and shade to each of the characters and helping the dialogue shine.
True to form for DON’T NOD, each character is crafted with depth and care. You genuinely care about each of them, celebrating their successes and feeling devastated when they disapprove. This includes the Aspirations, whose histories, motives, and relationships extend well beyond their namesake traits. There’s also a tonne of queer and gender-diverse representation, depictions of ethical non-monogamy, and an optional romance that ties in with the narrative without stealing the spotlight from Polly’s other relationships.
I’m not often drawn to visual novels from a gameplay perspective, but the tight-knit marriage between Harmony’s narrative and its choice-driven Augural interface had me hooked. It’s an emotional journey with outcomes that are directly tied to your own decisions, told with nuance and beauty. By design, you can’t see everything in a single playthrough – I would have appreciated some kind of chapter select or rewind mechanic to see previously locked outcomes, but as an interactive narrative, it’s hard to fault Harmony. Once again, DON’T NOD have provided an exceptional storytelling experience.
- Truthful, impactful character relationships informed by gameplay
- A fascinating pseudo-spiritual universe and compelling narrative
- Beautifully written dialogue and voice-acting
- No chapter select - seeing alternate paths requires restarting from the beginning
A compelling, nuanced story told beautifully and with many diverging paths, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is a stunning example of how powerful the visual novel format can be. It uses the desires, pains, and histories of its characters to paint a rich emotional landscape against the context of a changing world, with the player’s decisions shaping both the intricacies and the broad strokes of this world’s future. With striking art design, immersive writing, and massive variety of story possibilities, this is a must-play for narrative adventure fans.