Review – Grow: Song of the Evertree
In spite of multiple attempts, I’ve never really gotten far into world-building games. I’ve dabbled in Little Dragon Cafe, Lego Worlds, Minecraft, all the standard affairs, and it just felt like it wasn’t for me. I don’t have patience or real interest in creation, and, in spite of being impressed with what others made, it didn’t spark the need to emulate that on my own end. Nor, have I found, do I care about simulations of the town building variety. Harvest Moon, My Time at Portia, even Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists, which specifically focused on my beloved Atelier series, never held my interest for more than a passing moment.
Which is why I decided I might be the best person to give Grow: Song of the Evertree a shot. People who love those other games might be polarized because this beautiful little game, created by Prideful Sloth and published by 505 Games, takes some elements from everything. It’s part building, part farming, part crafting and part exploration, and it does so all under the umbrella promise of being a relaxing game. Having no vested interest in the other titles I mentioned, I figured this was the perfect place to plop down and figure out where I really stood with this genre.
Good news: I hate it.
Grow: Song of the Evertree puts you in the shoes of an unnamed alchemist (I chose the name Earl) who has been tasked with helping to reflourish the important Evertree. The pivotal center of a magical world called Alaria, the Evertree was infected by a noxious growth called The Withering, and it drove off all the people, animals and foliage that was once found, abundantly, around its roots and in its boughs. The Alchemist Earl is aided by two entities: Book, a talking book, and Coppertop, some kind of sentient potion. Together, they help to coax you along your journey to slowly but surely repair and rekindle the Evertree and the world around it.
The Alchemist will eventually meet the Everkin, a group of mythical beings who will help you with construction and clearing (for a price), and your efforts will attract others to finally come back and live in the world that was once teaming with species and people from around the world. More efforts will net you more World Seeds, which help to grow additional areas to maintain, clean and harvest from, breeding a larger, ever-expanding utopia for you and a slew of NPCS to enjoy and thrive within.
Grow: Song of the Evertree is a 3D, third-person world builder that seeks to approach the player by being relaxing, soothing and undemanding. There’s no combat to speak of, though you will occasionally need to wack an insect with a hammer to get the Withering off of it. While you don’t technically have a necessity to do anything, the game gently encourages you to fall into a routine of chores and tasks that crop up every day. Initially, you’ll just be taking care of a small plot of land in a very traditional renovation approach: pulling weeds, cutting tall grass, and singing to the plants that you seed.
Turns out the Alchemist is a one-in-a-billion person who can still access the titular Song of the Evertree, and you sing this to any plant, animal or structure that needs it in order to make it flourish and grow. As the land turns tame again, you’ll pick up a whole bunch of drops that come from everything, and the drops range from a currency needed to pay the Everkin to do work to new hairstyles and wallpaper for your houses. Then, as land gets even tamer, you’ll need to start building establishments for visitors to move into, and then build places for them to work. Eventually, you start coordinating everything in a rapidly expanding town that’s full of people content to be homeless but who would really prefer a domicile.
You will be instantly taken in by Grow: Song of the Evertree due to its positively delightful visuals. Anyone who got a chance to see Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles knows that Prideful Sloth does a fantastic job of creating bubbly and colorful games, and Grow is certainly no exception. Though the character creator is a bit bare bones initially, you get a chance to add a lot more as you discover additional hairstyles and clothing through accomplishing missions and tasks (of which Book is never lacking), and your character is as cute or gruff as you’d like them to be.
The actual world of the Evertree is lush and vibrant, with a massive variety in terms of trees, plants, berries, wildlife and people, ranging from the sinister spiky Withering bushes to the adorable creatures that slowly come back as the sickness retreats. There’s a really good reason why Grow takes a moment to introduce the camera feature: they know that people want to take screenshots often of what they’re accomplishing because it seriously looks GREAT. Playing on the Xbox One X means seeing the beautiful world rendered in stunning 4K, and Prideful Sloth really plays to their audience, at least on the console.
The audio element is incredibly hit or miss within Grow: Song of the Evertree. On one hand, the ambient soundtrack is meant to be peppy with meditative elements, allowing you to dive into your tasks whole hog and not really care about the passage of time or how many rocks you’ve smashed in order to pick up more Myora and raw materials to melt down into Essence so you can make more stuff later. On the other hand, without any voices to speak of (definitely not a problem), it’s very apparent when there’s stuttering and sudden breaks and loops in the audio.
There’s always a bit of an imbalance when talking to Book or Coppertop that comes about when there’s almost a jarring stop and start of the audio whilst they’re talking, and it really threw me off. It felt like something that could have easily and simply been fixed during QA to ensure that the game was immersive, and yet it just kept getting back burnered as “this can be done later.” As a result, I don’t remember the music so much as I remember how much it kept screeching to a halt every time a talking book needed to jump in with helpful advice or a living potion needed to add some quip (though I unabashedly love the quote “Remember me this way: screaming and panicking.”).
To speak about my earlier blunt statement, Grow: Song of the Evertree has so many plates spinning even from the very beginning that it simply is not the game for me, and it took a game like this – one that is inoffensive, adorable, pleasant and encouraging – to finally realize that. You’re rewarded for every little thing you do, from doing a task for the first time (you walked through the front door! Nice work!) to basically doing what you need to do to progress the game (you slept ten times? Killer job, tiger!).
In the beginning, I saw the appeal of the game and almost fell in love with the concept. I would wake up, ride my flying dragon pony to a spot on the Evertree, and take about ten minutes to prune, pull, water and sing. It legitimately was soothing: I loved being able to get rewarded for catching bugs in a net or simply not allowing an evil plague to destroy nature. It feels like an over-the-plate pitch, but clearly some jackanapes decided it was too difficult to begin with, otherwise why would I need to be doing it now?
However, as folks began to come back to the land of Alaria, suddenly the tasks became much grander and longer. I had to weed out much bigger plots of land, and I also had to give tummy rubs to animals in need of affection (I know, what a goddamn hassle). People needed places to live and places to work. The Everkin wanted more cash to keep clearing out areas for my people to thrive, but I also was asked, ever so politely, to keep up my own interest in their area. The book and the potion want me to start combining things to make new things, but also keep destroying things to make new things.
What happens is that this is NOT a game for people who want to stay on task, because there’s no way to constantly stay on task unless you’re willing to sink a couple hours into the game each and every day. Initially, I was able to dump 15 minutes in, get some new stuff and generally enjoy my land as I lept about in madness and frockling (also, assigning the Y button as jump was a strange choice). Now, a few days in, it feels like failure to do at least four times that long means someone gets neglected, and they aren’t upset or angry, but I’m upset and angry. I want to look at a game and tick a box and call it a day. I can’t do that here, not easily!
But my own shortcomings as a human being aside, I finally see the appeal of games like Grow: Song of the Evertree. There is extreme satisfaction in making harmony and joy for the people of this simple, lovely, expanding world. I really felt a sense of accomplishment in being able to fix things, to make it better, to synthesize something that would make my life and the lives of the others easier. I didn’t really care about customizing my home or changing up the wallpapers or putting on the “Deal With It” sunglasses because I’m not a freaking Twitch zoomer, but I did care about making my land beautiful and keeping everyone content.
Yet the game is too far reaching, and asks too much out of the player without demanding it. It’s the same feeling as having a parent who is never angry, just gets quiet when you don’t live up to their expectations, and that feeling is almost worse. With Atelier titles, there’s a “do-or-die” approach that pushes you to finish tasks before the whole world ends. With Grow, I’m under the impression that everyone would just patiently get overrun by the Withering before I got to them, and I simply have no time for that.
If you are a huge fan of games that never seem to end – Animal Crossing springs to mind – Grow: Song of the Evertree is a exceedingly charming title that brings you on board, whole hog, and gives you endless reasons to stick around. If, like me, you want a game to give you play in bite sized pieces, the servings get too meaty very fast, and you’ll quickly fill up on Grow without having room for more. It’s an excellent experience, but it’s simply too much: I have to take a step back and imagine that Alaria flourishes without me.
Stunning designs put me at a loss for words when it comes to the beauty of a game such as this.
Clear cut instructions are sometimes muddled by a lack of map and an ever expanding world with so much to do.
A mediocre soundtrack is somehow done a bigger disservice by constantly being interrupted by the game itself.
If you love this sort of world building game, it’s amazing. If you’re not a fan, it’s a HUGE chore.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Grow: Song of the Evertree is available now on PC, XB1 X/S, PS4/5 and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of Grow: Song of the Evertree was provided by the publisher.