Review – The Good Life
It’s important to treat video games the same way that you would treat other forms of art and entertainment. When someone walks out of a David Lynch film, the reaction is usually very polarizing, either loving the insanity or disdaining the disjointed madness. Would be fans who listened to the likes of Fear, Tool, and GWAR, three very different bands, all had similar reactions. So why should gaming be any different?
Hidetaka Suehiro, more popularly known as Swery65, is such an artist. He is, inarguably, an interesting person and someone who is charismatic, funny, and genuinely a nice personality in a field where some creators can be quite, shall we say, fickle. And his works create the same kind of divide when it comes to enjoyment. The problem though, is that many musicians and filmmakers can enjoy a small, dedicated audience for life and still call it a success. But when Swery lashes his horse to the mainstream race and hopes to run alongside larger titles, we have to consider all angles.
The Good Life is the next title in the long, bizarre catalogue of Swery’s works, and it’s got all the quirks and hiccups that you would imagine. First and foremost, it’s got an engaging if offbeat plot. You play as Naomi Hayward, a photographer from New York who has landed in the charming village of Rainy Woods – dubbed “The Happiest Town in the World” once upon a time – for a dual purpose.
On the surface, you’re taking pictures because it’s a quaint little establishment and it could make a nice coffee table book. Secretly, though, you’re trying to unravel the mystery behind this town, which is being insisted upon by a shadowy benefactor, who is willing to forgive Naomi’s 30 million pound debt if she is successful. Things in Rainy Woods quickly take a turn for the insane as the initial discovery leads to what should be a very dark twist as a murder is perpetrated, and Naomi now is involved in both unmasking her patron, solving this crime, and answering the real question: will I be able to help the little girl in the bunny backpack resolve the fetchquest she sent me on in time?
The Good Life, as best as I can describe it, is the spiritual third Deadly Premonition title with a bountiful splash of Stardew Valley and the Atelier series of games. The clock never stops in Rainy Woods, and Naomi will be asked to do a variety of quests that break down into Main, Side, and Urgent. The first two categories are pretty straightforward: one advances the story, the other builds better relationships with the villagers and unlocks different items that can help you out for further world building (more seeds to plant, more things to have, etc.).
The Urgent quests are what bring the Atelier series to mind, as you’ll have a limited window to finish them before the quest simply fails. For the most part, the Urgent quests are often story related and, as such, aren’t too punishing on the clock. You just need to drop everything you’re doing and focus, which I suppose lends the Urgent clause to them very well. Naomi, to her credit, has plenty of options on how to get to the different items and locations in a timely manner. Her stamina refills quite quickly even if you let it run all the way down (though simply taking your foot off the gas at the 10% mark is a better strategy). The paths are often easy to follow and, in spite of the enormity of the map, you can travel to certain locations easily, not to mention the fast travel mechanic.
Oh, and you turn into a cat, so that’s nice.
The big twist of Rainy Woods, revealed in the first part of the prologue (so no worries on spoilers), is that almost everyone in the village turns into a dog or cat when the moon rises. You, on the other hand, get a potion from an exceptionally functional alcoholic witch doctor that lets you turn into a cat at will, because sure, why not? As a cat, you can run faster, jump, climb buildings, and generally be a cat. For quests where you need to get to hard-to-reach places, especially for photography challenges (a major component of gameplay), the cat ability is unendingly useful, and also just cute to behold. The animals throughout the game are a sight to behold, which is wonderful as the overall visual aspect of the game is exceedingly rough.
At this point we reach the rub that is Swery’s work and style, and this may be a departure point for many. The White Owls Inc. artists seem to keep this same thread going that we see in other titles that Swery has helmed. There’s always something off about it, and The Good Life is no exception. Everyone looks like they’re wearing an ill fitting wig. The town is delightful, but you swiftly see the tears, rough edges, and repetitive tiles and textures the more you romp through this surprisingly long game.
Thankfully, in comparison to the Deadly Premonition titles, The Good Life leans more into a vibrant, exciting palette, allowing players to enjoy the perceived nature of the English (?) countryside. Also, the graphics, as a result, are essentially the same across all platforms, so players don’t need to feel like they’re missing out on much if they’re using an underpowered rig.
The voice acting and script are precisely what you’d imagine for a Swery game, and, if this is your first time, here’s a spoiler: it’s terrible. There is something that Swery insists upon with his games that creates this utterly grating, almost Dadaist script that you can’t believe people follow. The narrator of The Good Life has probably the most comprehensive dialogue, and I firmly believe that’s because it’s expositional on purpose.
Everyone else talks in an odd mixture of cadences and styles that is utterly baffling and often just confusing. This is a small village, and you’d imagine everyone would have a similar accent, but the speech mannerisms and tone are all over the place. Naomi establishes herself as being a New Yorker by constantly dropping profanity, even when it doesn’t fit (she refers to Rainy Woods as a “goddamn hellhole” three times in less than an hour of gameplay). There are people who really and truly enjoy this, and it doesn’t fit as well in The Good Life as it does in the mysterious worlds of Swery’s other works. To be honest, it can really take you out of the moment unless you are all in.
Thankfully, the other aspects of this game do help pull it together and keep things going. The soundtrack, for one, is a brilliant mix of genres and moments, capturing everything from poppy to spooky to strangely apt silent ambience. The camera knows its role and keeps everything in good focus (something I couldn’t say about Deadly Premonition 2) and players rarely, if ever, will get lost thanks to the clear map and markings. It might take a bit to get your bearings, but, once you understand The Good Life, you’re set for the duration.
Though the writing for how people talk and act is iffy to to say the least (why is the Vicar always praying at the graveyard?), you get pulled into the quirkiness of it all and end up choosing certain characters you really enjoy. Also, the controls are shockingly intuitive: for a game with inventory, photography, running, polymorphing, farming, and so much more, I never felt lost in where my hands needed to be. The game lends itself to a forgiving atmosphere, particularly if you play on the lower difficulty to prevent the timers from running too fast.
At the end, one must look at The Good Life from two perspectives: someone who likes Swery’s work, and someone who doesn’t. If you’ve enjoyed Deadly Premonition 1 and 2, then good news, this hits a lot of the same notes without recycling them, and is light and airy compared to the dark and sometimes horrific moments in those games. If you didn’t enjoy other Swery titles, this really isn’t going to be the one to get you on board. It’s obtuse at times, it’s definitely not the prettiest gem in the display, and it’s weird in the same way that Aronofsky’s movies are weird.
Having said that, it’s quite expansive and filled with things to do, the plot twists are intriguing and engaging, and Naomi does smooth her edges down the further along you get, though she never totally hits for me. If you need a good dose of high strangeness coupled with a lot of things to do, there’s no better time to move to Rainy Woods and get a peek into The Good Life.
For all the available resources that can be done, White Owls Inc. made a poor choice in crafting NPCs and worlds that look best when immobile and go to seed when doing almost anything.
While some quests can be repetitive, there’s enough variety to enjoy throughout, and the photography element is fun and easily mastered.
Dialogue aside, the soundscape of The Good Life is really pleasant, and it’s clear the cast is giving their all, even if what they have to give is complete nonsense.
I stole all the potted plants from the village and put them in the town square and took a picture. If I can do absurd stuff like this, I’m sold.
Final Verdict: 7.5
The Good Life is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of The Good Life was provided by the publisher.