I recently began to question how interactive a video game needs to be. My original hypothesis was that, for the most part, the more you can interact with a video game and its systems, the better the game is. But over the years, and thanks to the countless hours I’ve sunk into less than stellar visual novels, I’ve started to doubt myself. I failed to take into consideration walking simulators and visual novels, and how, at times, sitting back and letting the game unfold before you can be just as enjoyable. It brings to mind watching my sister play Okami. She would set down the controller and let Amaterasu chill on the grass as the wind swept across the meadow. It was bliss. That sense of relaxation, I thought, can have just as much value. Unfortunately, after playing through Hokko Life I realised I was completely wrong.
“Hokko Life is severely lacking in content or at least content that is fun.”
Hokko Life has intrigued me since I first heard about it way back when. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of “cosy life-sims”. I even hold a select few of them in the highest of regard. Hokko Life seemed to offer unbridled creativity when it came to its customisation options. Coupled with the relaxing nature of social simulators, the game had me completely hooked. Unfortunately, none of this comes together in a cohesive or enjoyable way.
Firstly, Hokko Life is severely lacking in content or at least content that is fun. From the get-go, you’re thrust into a sleepy town with no idea of what’s going on. The only thing I could discern was that I was trapped there forever. Once you get your bearings and meet the few residents that still remain in Hokko, you’re entrusted with returning it to its former glory. However, once the initial bout of tutorials conclude, you’re left with little more to do than a series of fetch quests, a pointless fishing mini-game, and robbing everyone’s homes.
Once I’d exhausted all my options and was left with little recourse in how I should proceed, I opted to just run about and talk to the few villagers I had. They all offered me tiny snippets of dialogue save for one who gave me a fetch quest to complete. But by that point, I’d all but given up on Hokko Life.
Unfortunately, what there is to do isn’t terribly inspiring. For one, I found that the customisation, while certainly detailed, isn’t all that interesting. Designing my own furniture was enjoyable for the brief few moments I engaged with it. Nevertheless, beyond that, I never really felt the desire to play around with it.
“Sure, many people sunk hundreds of hours perfecting their Animal Crossing: New Horizon villages, but personally, I couldn’t see the appeal in doing it here.”
On the other hand, designing and organising your town is certainly more enjoyable. Amazingly, you can pretty much put what you want where you want it. Unfortunately, this isn’t all that refined. I had objects clip out of the town’s boundaries, fall into the ground, or stick into walls. On top of that, at least initially, there’s not a whole load of space to put your random assortment of objects. And even when the game opened up, I began to wonder how long this would be fun for. Sure, many people sunk hundreds of hours perfecting their Animal Crossing: New Horizon villages, but personally, I couldn’t see the appeal in doing it here.
There are also strange design decisions when it comes to the customisation of your town. For one, you can customise the homes of other residents. In reality, what this meant was that I just stole all of their stuff, leaving a pile of trash and worms in my wake. It’s as weird and discombobulating as it sounds and completely ruined my immersion. Trashing up Hector’s place felt like a no brainer, as he had sweet furniture, and I wanted it. His ruined, trash-heap of a house was just another excuse not to see him.
“There’s certainly an element of the uncanny valley with the villager’s designs.”
To make matters worse, Hokko Life feels entirely devoid of life. The villagers I had occasionally roamed about or sat on the benches I’d lovingly put out for them. But aside from that, they had very little personality, and talking to them netted me very little. They almost felt like an afterthought, like background NPCs you immediately forget exist. Sure, they help populate the world and make it look pretty, but they do very little to immerse you within that world. I just never felt a need to talk to them outside of looking for things to do. I didn’t build any bonds, nor did I really care about them. They certainly won’t haunt my sleep after I happily abandon them.
Unfortunately, their visual design is incredibly unappealing. They sport massive heads, which in theory could be cute. But their gangly, lanky bodies which appear far more humanoid than their Animal Crossing counterparts, feel ill-fitting in comparison. There’s certainly an element of the uncanny valley whenever I spoke with them or saw them strolling around town. There are also some characters with nightmare-fuel design, characters that wanted to live with me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an option to kick them out, as the only train that apparently comes once every one-hundred years had bolted out of there. I honestly can’t blame it.
“The simplicity of Hokko Life’s gameplay isn’t fun.”
My complaints may appear as complements to fans of the genre, and I can understand that. As someone who enjoys the genre quite a lot, I felt that the laid-back nature of Hokko Life’s featureless gameplay would be appealing. But frankly, upon reflection, doing absolutely nothing is not conducive to having a good time. Sure, you do very little in Animal Crossing, but the key difference here is that this isn’t tied to real-time.
In Animal Crossing, the in-game clock is tied to the real world’s time. What this encourages is slightly shorter play sessions, as once you’ve exhausted all there is to do, you have to wait to the literal next day to progress any further. Alternatively, you can follow the Stardew Valley method of handling the progression of time. Simply put, in that game time progresses at a much faster pace, with a day lasting no more than ten or so minutes. This is due to the fact that there are new things for you to do each day, and the gameplay loop revolves around longer play sessions.
Hokko Life adopts the Stardew Valley model while taking major inspiration from Animal Crossing’s gameplay. These are two diametrically opposed mechanics, as the faster passage of time doesn’t function when there’s nothing to do each day. Sure, you can fish, plant stuff and talk to residents, but none of this was gameplay I enjoyed doing. While spending hours building and managing your farm in Stardew Valley is fun, the simplicity of Hokko Life’s gameplay isn’t. As such, the way time functions simply doesn’t work.
“Right now, Hokko Life feels unplayable at times, and a joke in others.”
Of course, Hokko Life is in Early Access, and I expected bugs. Although, Hokko Life goes beyond the expected, and instead, feels entirely unfinished at times. I was able to clip through walls, trees and rocks. There were untextured rocks lining the entrance to the town, characters would fly off their seats whenever I spoke to them, and some icons had a white box surrounding them. All of this can be easily fixed with a few patches, and I imagine it’ll be sorted within a few months. However, right now, Hokko Life feels unplayable.
If you like cosy life-sims, then Hokko Life will be for you. But I cannot honestly recommend this to anyone at this stage. In its current stage, the game is unfinished and buggy. Even when it does function, it doesn’t feel as enjoyable as it should. This is a game with great ideas and, clearly, a lot of passion behind it. I am sincerely looking forward to the full release. But right now, Hokko Life is not worth your time, nor your money.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the developer.