Friday, March 1, 2024
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Hokko Life offers a gender-neutral life-sim paradise

Ever missed your stop on a train ride? For most people, it can be a panic-inducing affair, but in developer Wonderscope’s Hokko Life, it’s the accidental first step to a tranquil new life in an idyllic rural town – one where everyone but you seems to be a talking animal…

With the game set to launch in Early Access on Steam on 2 June, Gayming Magazine took an advance look, and found this to be a town well worth visiting. We’ll rip the bandage straight off though – Hokko Life is not subtle about its influences. With your player avatar rolling into a town full of anthropomorphic inhabitants, and set to work improving the village to attract newcomers, it’s a fairly transparent blend of Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons. However, it has the potential to offer players an experience that could be greater than the sum of its parts.

(©Wonderscope/Team17)

If you’ve played either of those constituents, you’ll have a broad idea of what to expect – a cosy sim with no real challenge or risks, where life is about making your village prettier and improving facilities for your neighbours. It’s relaxing, calming even – especially with the gentle music lulling you into a state of serenity as you play.

Hokko Life has learned some lessons from its inspirations though. A lot of the gameplay is still, essentially, chore based – chop wood, mine ores, craft items and furniture, run errands for villagers – but there’s far less sense of grind. The in-game clock hews closer to that of Story of Seasons, having no bearing on real-world time, but doesn’t pass at quite so frenzied a rate, leaving you freer to harvest resources or chat to friends. There’s also some nice time management – at any point, you can take a nap in your bed for two or six hours, or until the next day. This is useful if you’re waiting to meet characters who only appear at certain times, but don’t want to skip a whole game day.

(©Wonderscope/Team17)

Where Wonderscope really hopes to set Hokko Life apart though is in its level of customisation. You’ll still have to unlock crafting recipes as you’d expect, but as you progress you’ll uncover more ways to personalise your creations. Once you’ve made something, you also have more freedom in how you utilise it – while the underlying tapestry of the world is grid based, determining where you can place objects, you can micro-arrange them, adjusting the rotation, angle, and precise placement.

The game also addresses one of the biggest frustrations players cite over Animal Crossing – that the style or decoration of neighbours’ homes can’t be changed. Here, you can rearrange the layout of your neighbours interiors, tidy them up (Hector, one of the randomised starting villagers in our run through, was living with literal piles of trash – gross, Hector!), and refurbish the exterior. There are still some limits on customisation – there’s no terraforming to change the literal lay of the land, for instance – but for players who want more control over their virtual villages, Hokko Life makes some very welcome additions.

(©Wonderscope/Team17)

What is likely to stand out most for LGBTQ+ players though will be Hokko Life’s openness when it comes to gender. Or rather, its near total rejection of gender – the character generator that you’ll encounter at the very start of the game has no gender locks. The base body doesn’t present as any particular gender, with hairstyle options doing the heavy lifting to present your avatar’s gender to your liking.

It’s also going to be affirming for many players that Wonderscope dodge pronouns entirely in the game’s dialogue. Instead, other characters refer to you by name, if anything at all. Better still, the developers have said they plan to default to gender neutral terms in future, if the need arises. In an FAQ discussing Hokko Life’s future, Wonderscope says “Dialogue currently in the game doesn’t refer to the player using pronouns, and as such there’s no need for [pronouns] yet. If there were to be dialogue added that needs personal pronouns, the default would be ‘they/them’. A system for customising your pronouns could be added in future though!”

(©Wonderscope/Team17)

Another nice touch for character customisation is that the hair options aren’t all stereotypically European styles either – there’s a mix of looks, from cornrows to ponytails, buzzcuts to waves. Along with considerable scope to modify skin tone, hair colour, and other attributes, the character designer provides plenty of diversity options, while staying true to the game’s cute, cartoony aesthetic.

It’s clear going into the Early Access launch that there’s still a lot of refining to be done on Hokko Life. There are no dating options in the game at this point, for instance, but with Wonderscope’s existing commitment to gender neutrality and free pronouns, we expect there would be no limits to who you could romance if the feature was added. Mechanically, it needs some tweaks too – there seems to be no way to switch between tools at the moment, making it a fiddly process of going into your inventory and manually swapping. Similarly, the opening hours are a bit too linear, with a lot of back and forth between villagers, completing objectives that essentially serve as tutorial – this could do with some better pacing.

There’s just something undeniably delightful about life in Hokko though, and as it continues to grow and evolve in Early Access, it could become to Animal Crossing what Stardew Valley is to Harvest Moon – a clear inspiration that could arguably overtake the original.

Matt Kamen

[He/Him] Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.