Harmony: The Fall of Reverie Is an Unfinished Symphony With Big Ambitions

Inverse Score: 6/10

Don't Nod

More than ten hours into Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, it feels like the narrative is coming to a close. You have your last moments of dialogue with the game’s large cast of characters and, while the central conflict hasn’t reached a full resolution, there is a hopeful future in sight. I was ready to say goodbye to the game before it overstayed its welcome.

Then Act 5 started.

I put down my controller and had to take a walk. What more was there to do? Apparently, enough that there were two entire hours of the game left before credits finally rolled.

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, the latest choice-centric game from Don’t Nod Entertainment, is in many ways the studio's most ambitious project. It leans into the developer’s obsession with player choice seen in past titles like Life is Strange and Vampyr. Yet despite gorgeous art and obvious potential in the game’s major themes and mechanics, the at-first impressive branching narrative becomes increasingly shallow the longer the game goes on.

“No stories end,” says the godlike character Chaos in the game’s fourth act. “They only peter out…” If only the makers of Harmony: The Fall of Reverie had the insight to see that that is precisely the problem.

I prophesy, I have sight, I see!

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is the most ambitious Don’t Nod game ever, but it falls short of its potential.

Don't Nod

Polly hasn’t been back to her hometown of Atina in years. But her mother’s disappearance brings her back, despite their rocky relationship that had spurred Polly to leave in the first place. Home has changed: the communal art center she loved is now empty, a massive corporation called MK seems to have its fingers in everything, and the world appears a little worse for wear.

This is when Polly stumbles upon a necklace in her mother’s bedroom that transports her to the world of Reverie. Inhabited by Aspirations, god-like beings that represent human emotions and desires, these beings are basically the Endless from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman – so much so that it feels a little bit more than just homage. Glory, Chaos, Bliss, Power, Truth, and Bond. They tell Polly, whom they call Harmony, that their worlds require saving. And she is the one to do it.

To do this she is given access to the Augural, which lets her see potential futures that spiral out from different decisions she makes. This is the main mechanic of Harmony, a branching Twine-looking decision tree that you plot your course through in hopes of the best outcome. Polly has the benefit of being able to look at events further down the branching paths in hopes of informing current decisions. But some choices will lock out others much further into the game, and occasionally you won’t get the benefit of being able to see what is coming next. Even with foresight, you may find yourself wondering how your choices led you to a sticky situation.

Two roads diverged

The central mechanic of player choice becomes bland due to the need to commit to an ending almost immediately.

Don't Nod

The Aspirations aren’t just observers of events, they have skin in the game. Each one wants to become the Heart of Reverie. This will mean they get to determine what emotion or drive defines the human world. Many decisions you make along the Augural are linked to an Aspiration. Side with Power and gain Power crystals, and so on with each Aspiration. More complex decisions will add crystals for one or more Aspirations and take away crystals from others. You need a certain number of crystals to unlock certain decisions, as well as outcomes that end each of the game’s five acts.

All of this is an attempt to make the decision-making in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie more complex than other games that center player choice. But in the end, it suffers from the Mass Effect problem. In the Mass Effect series, you can play as Renegade or Paragon, and gain points based on these ethical decisions. But the game’s best endings are locked behind extremely high checks on the morality system that require you to have gone full Paragon or full Renegade from the very start, never crossing over. It leaves choices feeling empty.

In Harmony Fall of Reverie, this problem is a result of the Aspirations’ mission to become the new Heart. You are told that the next Heart will be the Aspiration with the most crystals by the game’s end. So before you even make your first major choices you have to commit to a path that will take you through the whole game. The branching narrative no longer encourages you to make unique choices at each divergence, rather you need to constantly choose the optimal path to gain whatever crystal’s you want.

This erases the spontaneity of choices found in Don’t Nod’s previous games, making them feel mechanical and heartless. Which is a tragedy when Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is a compelling foil to Don’t Nod’s past games, especially Life is Strange. Both games center around the ability to get a glimpse into the future, and how that would impact the choices we make and the life we live. Life is Strange is more hopeful, taking place in high school and looking toward the potential of its main cast.

Conversely, Polly cannot escape her past. Even with access to the Augural, everything she does in life feels defined by the choices she can’t change. It is a more mature and wistful mediation on the same themes of how our choices impact our lives.

Time after time

An ambitious multi-faceted narrative fails to tie everything together.

Don't Nod

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie stretches itself across three main conflicts that all intertwine themselves in the later acts. Each conflict represents a central struggle in Polly’s life, defined by a larger-than-life adversarial force. The world of Reverie is ruled by the Aspirations, literal gods. Polly struggles to understand her place in a suddenly massive world, how is she supposed to stand her ground against these powerful beings?

On a more personal level, Polly has to face her broken family, specifically her mother. And the only thing scarier than a god is your parents. Even as an adult, Polly tends to shrink before her mother and struggles to find equal footing in the wake of so much emotional baggage.

Finally, there is the plight of her hometown, which is falling apart due to the omnipotence of the MK corporation, a monolithic entity that controls the town’s money, police, and even water supply. MK is literally more powerful than the Aspirations. Much like in the real world, Polly cannot conceive of how an individual can bring a corporation to justice.

The answer to all of these problems is community. Polly finds safety and solidarity in those around her that similarly suffer from the world's seemingly endless woes. Yet Harmony: The Fall of Reverie never manages to make these stories meaningfully come together in the end. What is left is a poorly paced story that continuously drags out its narrative to focus on the novelty of the Augural. But even in the end, this mechanic left me tired and confused.

In the final Act of Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, I worked to keep a balance of crystals between all of the Aspirations with the hope of showing the world a new path forward. Yet somehow Glory wound up as the winner, despite Having the second least total of crystals of any Aspiration. In some ways this feels like the most apt ending to my time with Harmony: The Fall of Reverie.

Just like life, you can make all the right decisions and still end up with the worst outcome, only able to wonder how it ended in such disappointment.


Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is available now for Nintendo Switch and PC. It is coming to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles on June 22nd. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
Related Tags