Röki is a charming adventure game with lovely visuals and challenging puzzles. The fairy tale facade hides a touching story that proves folklore still has its place in our modern world.
It’s not every day that you come across a modern fairy tale – a story that leans on familiar, universal themes but tells them in a new, lasting way. Röki, Polygon Treehouse’s debut title, is a rare example of one such a story.
The game tells a touching, somewhat dark story, masked behind whimsical visuals, fantastical creatures, and phenomenal puzzles that are sure to wrinkle your brain.
Modern Fairy Tale
Röki follows Tove, a brave young girl looking for her brother Lars in a magical forest. As these stories often go, this simple premise slowly becomes more and more fantastical, with magical beasts, trees with eyes, and slumbering forest gods.
The story does follow a predictable fairy tale formula, but never succumbs to clichés. You’ll find familiar moments here and there, sure, but Röki always manages to rise above them, and remain inventive and surprising.
A lot of it has to do with the game’s Scandinavian inspirations. Scandinavian folklore isn’t a particularly new source of inspiration for video games, but Röki sticks to its whimsical side. In Röki, a troll isn’t a monster to be feared, but a living being that might need your help. Frankly, it’s refreshing to meet and talk to these creatures instead of immediately dismembering them with a sword or an axe.
But the biggest reason why the story works so well is that it simply feels real. Tove’s journey may be one of magic and monsters, but it’s ultimately very human, like all timeless fairy tales. It’s about loss and confronting your fears even when you’re feeling vulnerable – themes that should and do resonate with kids and adults alike.
Puzzles Everyone Can Enjoy
But Röki is more than a fairy tale – it’s an adventure game with plenty of challenging, inventive puzzles.
When I say challenging, I do mean it. This isn’t a game you can breeze through. You’ll have to use logic, listen to what characters have to say, and really think if you want to get all the way to the end.
Veteran adventure gamers will immediately recognize how to approach the game’s puzzles. Most problems can be solved by picking up items, examining, combining, and using them at the right moment. And yet somehow, they keep staying fresh and challenging all the way through.
Even novice adventurers can have fun and see the story to its end. The puzzles never overwhelm you or feel unfair. In fact, Röki has a pretty balanced difficulty curve. It never hands you the solution, but it doesn’t try and trick you either – it’s all there if you look hard enough and just… think.
The best part is that you don’t often feel stuck. While the story is linear, the world you explore isn’t, and there are usually multiple problems to solve at any given time. It encourages you to keep exploring and find the next piece of loose thread you can tag on to unravel a riddle.
Röki is essentially a classic point-and-click game with modern controls – without the actual pointing and clicking. Not only are there no pointing and clicking, but the game doesn’t even support a mouse. You’ll have to use a controller if you want to get the best experience. I tried playing with only a keyboard, and while it is possible, it’s also very uncomfortable.
When you do use a controller, controls are approachable and intuitive. No one should have any issues with them, regardless of their gaming prowess and experience.
Straight Out of a Storybook
If the story and puzzles somehow don’t grab you, the visuals surely will. Röki is full of bright colors, adorable creature designs, inspirational locations, and remarkably detailed facial animations.
Polygon Treehouse made sure we can always tell what our heroine Tove feels, even when she’s not speaking. They did that by giving her, and her brother Lars, an expressive face that changes constantly. You can immediately tell when she’s scared, happy, or determined just by looking at her. The transition between facial expressions isn’t as smooth as I’d hoped, but this small feature enriches your experience immeasurably.
Tove and Lars are joined by trolls, tomtes, and other creatures – all elegantly designed to look like something straight out of a book. Not only because they are creatures of folklore, but because they are plucked right out of a kid’s imagination. They are either a bit goofy, with droopy noses and clumsy movements, or are downright terrifying, like giant spiders and huge tentacle monsters.
All of these beasts populate beautiful locations, from snowy hills and green forests to underground caverns and spooky castles. Some of these locations are pretty big, so you’ll wander around, soak in the atmosphere, and take your time with the puzzles. Why hurry when everything is just so lovely to look at?
The music does a lot of the heavy lifting here. Röki’s soundtrack is slow, quiet, and haunting. It’s pretty perfect for the vibe the game is going for (I’m even listening to it as I write this review). It reminds you that while this may look like a happy little game full of wonder and magic, there’s a subtle darkness beneath the surface, much like any good folk tale.
Röki is a beautiful, challenging adventure that’s enjoyable all the way through. There are one or two sections that stretch out too long and can get annoying (I’m looking at you, Widow Drau “boss fight”), but these are quite literally “one or two sections.”
I don’t know whether to recommend Röki for its touching story, creative riddles, or gorgeous art style – so I’ll just say this: play the game. It’s truly and simply a great game.
Developer: Polygon Treehouse
Publisher: United Label
Release Date: Jul. 23, 2020
Our Röki review copy was provided by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.