The first thing I noticed within minutes of stepping into Fairhaven – the mysterious, but cutesy island that now serves as my home – is the rainbow flag that sits just above the mayor’s office. It’s one of the first things you see during the opening of Wylde Flowers, and well, I liked where this game was going already.
I previously mentioned Fairhaven is the setting of ‘my’ home, but that’s actually inaccurate. In this farming simulator (with a witchy twist) from Studio Drydock, players take on the role of Tara Wylde. Tara’s a mid 20’s to early 30s young woman who moves to the island after her life in the city takes a turn for the worse and she loses both her job and her partner in the space of a week. Tara’s reason for moving to the island isn’t for mere selfish reasons though. Her estranged grandmother, Hazel Wylde, has fallen ill and needs help to look after the land that surrounds her home. So, as to be expected, the only answer is to get the hell out of dodge and find a change of scenery.
Lately it feels like everyone and their mother is cashing in on the farming life simulator genre, and for good reason. Everyone is looking for the success that’s been found with ConcernedApe’s Stardew Valley – a game heavily inspired by other farming sims such as Harvest Moon – and Wylde Flowers is no exception to that. There’s a lot of farming, the changing of seasons, festivals, cooking, crafting, and talking to the different residents of the island. Still it begs the question: what makes Wylde Flowers different from your average farming sim game?
The answer to that is mostly the magic and witch themes that run through the entirety of the game. Magic in itself isn’t a foreign concept for the farming life genre, but the way the game handles it makes it more of a personal journey – with Tara learning to embrace not just her identity, but the community that she’s been sorely lacking in her life. Magic also plays a key part in getting to further understand the residents of the island, as well as the island’s connection with nature and the magical creatures that you meet throughout. Not only is this done very well to incite curiosity, the fantastical and magical elements adds something to the gameplay that isn’t just making sure your farm is thriving.
More importantly, the balance of magic and farm life gives you plenty to do once the game starts to open up. At the beginning you can feel pretty limited; you’ve only got so much energy, and the tools you’re given are pretty bad too and because of so many places being off-limits, it does feel like you’re progressing at a snails pace. It can be frustrating for players who just want to get down to business and do whatever they want, but honestly? There’s no bigger joy than finally moving on from a crappy starter’s pickaxe to an iron one. Things take time, but once you reach the milestone you were gunning for? It feels pretty damn good.
As a queer woman who is down bad when it comes to romance and identity in video games, what stands out to me is the incredible amount of choice you get in deciding who Tara is as a person. Sure you’re unable to customize her looks or even her gender identity, but the game does give you plenty of choices to define your background. You can choose whether your ex is male, female, or even non-binary, and that choice is remembered and even referenced to in conversations. The same can be said for your job, which allowed me to create Tara as workaholic waitress who’s ex-partner Sam left them. It’s a small addition, but one I very much appreciated.
There’s also a wonderful selection of romance options for Tara to get close to, with both female, male and non-binary options. Overall there are 7 different options, with each resident having their own unique storyline that can be unlocked once Tara gets closer to them. A personal favourite of mine was getting to know more about Giva, a meteorologist, that tells Tara about growing up in Mumbai and how her sexuality caused strife for her but now, living in Fairhaven, she can finally be who she is.
Though, if romance isn’t your thing, you can choose to instead remain on your own and live the single farm girl life without missing out on anything from a character’s story – just the romantic bits. Regardless, there are plenty of residents that you can talk to that aren’t interested in romance either, so no matter how you play it, Wylde Flowers has something for everyone.
What I enjoyed the most about my time with Wylde Flowers is that it knows where the narrative heart lies: within the residents Tara meets. The Fairhaven you arrive to is broken by grief, anger and misunderstanding that’s barely concealed behind tired smiles. It’s a community that loves and cherishes dearly, but one that is fractured by forces that go beyond the every day. Some have lost loved ones, and others only see the island as shackles – leaving Tara and the player as the mediator to perhaps not solve these problems completely, but help ease the pain.
The characters you meet are all unique and equally brilliant in how they are designed and written, making each new day with them feel like a new adventure. Coupled with the incredible amount of stuff you can do, and the 30-60 hour playtime? You owe it to yourself to play Wylde Flowers, trust me.
A copy of Wylde Flowers for PC was provided to Gayming Magazine by the developer.