Haven, by The Game Bakers, breaks the mould of romance-focused videogames. It’s out now for PC, Xbox and PlayStation 5 – with a PlayStation 4 version coming later.
When I think about games that feature romance as one of the key gameplay elements, the otome subgenre of visual novels comes to mind. Often very low on traditional gameplay, they let you explore your relationships with various characters through (usually) text and anime-inspired stills. Although some of Haven’s early story can feel like a visual novel at times, it’s a different kind of experience and it’s nice to see a developer take a different approach to the romance genre.
In Haven, there isn’t a cast of characters to explore and get to know better. Instead, the entire story focuses on Kay and Yu, two young people who are in love with each other and decide to leave for another planet so they can be together. There’s plenty of chemistry, and through some solid writing and voice acting we see them conversing, laughing, arguing and getting romantic with one another – and although Haven uses animation as well as art stills, things don’t get too explicit.
The story’s focus is firmly on Kay and Yu, and it’s a testament to the quality of the narrative that – despite the small cast – the game keeps your attention for the 10+ hours it takes to complete the story. Being on another planet, a big part of that story is exploring your surroundings, finding resources and (depending on your settings) regularly combating the local wildlife. You’ll use a pair of hover boots to get around, and the planet (dubbed Source) instills a sense of wonder as you traverse it.
The game could have used a mini-map or some objective markers though, because it’s not always clear which turn you need to take and backtracking because of this can be frustrating. You might stumble across some food because of this though, and you can use this to cook up meals that will restore your energy levels – which then helps in combat, which you’re safe from as long as you stick to your spaceship or the campsites that you’ll make/find here and there.
The amount of combat you engage in can be dialed down quite a lot in the game’s settings, but ultimately it’s inevitable that you’ll face off against the locals – which you’ll do as a couple in battles that can even be played in local co-op. In the game’s single player mode, the left side of your controller is for Kay while the face buttons control Yu, as you select which move to perform for each character simultaneously.
With offensive and defensive moves available to you, combat in Haven feels like a mix of turn-based strategy and real time tactics, especially when later enemies require you to coordinate, plan and adopt different strategies in the midst of battle. It’s not as deep as dedicated turn-based strategy titles, but the multitasking elements certainly make for a fun and interesting challenge – one that emphasized the notion of Kay and Yu being in this together.
The art style in the game feels like a mix of Ni No Kuni and No Man’s Sky, but it’s the soundtrack that makes this an audiovisual experience that really delivers. A fitting mix of electronic music supports the narrative and gameplay, and it’s a delight to listen to as it even makes those moments of aimless exploring easier to bear. Haven is a mature and adult approach to romance in videogames, and personally I found it far more enjoyable than the otome takes on that genre. It’s too bad the PS4 version is coming later though, as the limited availability of the PS5 means that there’s a limited audience for the game right now.