Skip to main content

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie review - a narrative wonder with a view of the future


Don't Nod's latest adds a near-revolutionary twist to choice-based narrative games.

You can thank (or blame) Telltale Games for the mainstream rise of the choice-driven adventure game. That's not to say games like The Walking Dead brought some unseen revolution in video game storytelling. Story-driven games defined by user choice go back decades, the mechanics were present in many Western RPGs, and that's without starting a discussion on the history of visual novels. But it did cause a wider gaming population to embrace the idea, leading to a mainstream shift in storytelling to player agency that still continues to evolve today.

Players could now control their own destiny, with inevitable limitations. Understanding your role in these games as a puppet master, not storyteller, hovers above all these experiences, forcing you to come to terms with the reality of never truly defining a game's ending beyond the boundaries of the developer's intent. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie asks a simple question: why not face this reality head-on, choosing instead to lift the veil on player choice within the confines of its story to stunning, effortless effect.

As Polly returns to her hometown of Atina after news of her mother's disappearance rocks her family, she finds a necklace which reveals her destiny as an Oracle, a being with the ability to jump between her home and the celestial plain of Reverie, to talk to the spirits of human emotion: Bliss, Power, Bond, Truth, Chaos and Glory. In this land she is Harmony, with the power to save and shape the existence of these intertwined dimensions. Instability in the celestial world threatens their reality, which faces similar oppression at the hand of the faceless megacorp Mono Konzern (MK) whose reach spreads to every public and private service in the region. Who knows, maybe facing this company head-on could lead to answers regarding your mother's unusual disappearance and the unrest in Reverie.

A gameplay trailer for Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, to show it in action.Watch on YouTube

Even over a decade on from the then-fledgling French studio pioneering another influential, choice-driven adventure game in Life is Strange, this team continues to tool its craft in the field. Almost all of Don't Nod's games since Life is Strange have, intentionally or otherwise, pondered what it means to steer a story for characters you don't know - a circumstance of player agency where you inevitably become influenced by experiences and viewpoints the game can never consider.

Take the experiences of Tyler as a trans man, in Don't Nod's 2020 release Tell Me Why, as an example. These could inevitably cause a trans player or ally to seek to assist or shield themselves and the character from certain events due to their own experiences, even if such actions may appear antithetical to the story and inner world of Taylor if they were a real person. I was certainly guilty of this with my playthrough. To counter this possibility, Tyler's telepathic powers give him a greater understanding of the world around him, bridging a knowledge gap between character and player.

Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing The Augural, where choices are made
Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing The entities of Chaos and Power facing each other with anger

Despite the attempted bridge, though, there's still a gap between the player and pure immersion into Tyler's world. You can never truly embody the life of the protagonist, and there's still a limited path to a select few predetermined endings. Don't Nod's solution is to give you an ingenious peek behind the curtain, building Harmony: The Fall of Reverie around a character who can see the future (or rather: all of them), and within a story about controlling fate and crafting the world you desire for the people you care for. And all this without creating an overemphasis on optimising choices that might feel clinical or cold.

With that in mind, Harmony feels like an examination of the entire genre's limits - and the mechanics of game design within the narrative itself - lifting the veil to show us the ending from the very beginning, and challenging us to forge our own path to that goal.

As an Oracle, Polly must balance both the world of Atina and the fluctuating battle for power raging between the emotions on Reverie, each conflicted on how these worlds should survive and thrive. Influenced by her own thought and these emotional essences, she gains access to the Augural, a view into the future represented as a flowchart of choices laying out the influences of her actions on the power of the entities in Reverie, as well as her relationships with those she surrounds herself with.

Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing Truth standing stoically inside a blue void
Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing Nora speaking to Jade
Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing The city of Atina
Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing Bliss speaking in a frustrated tone

There are limits to your omniscience through the Augural - you see the immediate consequences for the rest of your chapter, but as you use this information to change your fate, these decisions might have consequences only visible much later in the story. Still, the Augural lays out the reality and all its permutations for Polly, equalising the knowledge gap between player and persona. You may live among the people, but your foresight allows you to bend this world to its will as you so choose.

The conflict this causes as your own experiences clash with both your foresight and worldly experiences is a fascinating one. When decisions between worlds interlink and fates are intertwined, knowing the influence one entity in Reverie could gain versus your desired worldview leaves even minor decisions as complex conundrums. Even mindless and minor decisions become conflicts of morality and logic. You can choose to press a potential ally on what they know for your mother's disappearance, but would you want to, with the knowledge that it could cause another friend to snap in frustration and give power in the Reverie arms race to an entity you're unwilling to support?

Never mind how all the foresight in existence is nothing for the wisdom of hindsight. With those potential consequences often arriving further than you can see, the words of friends remain a painful reminder of the consequences of your path to the future.

Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing Bliss is concerned about the future of Reverie to Polly/Harmony
Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing Bliss appears shocked at the presence of Polly/Harmony in Reverie

Yana, for instance, is an old school friend of Polly, a person with ambiguous unresolved romantic feelings that have been left dormant for a decade. In the hope that they understand your reasons for doing so, I leant into the persuasions of Power to use these feelings for information on your mother's disappearance. Our past connection, and Polly's role as a potential saviour in this situation, meant doing so felt, if not right, at least necessary. Anything to get closer to the truth, right? And surely they'll understand. You were in love, once.

Seeing a future and living it are two different things. Yana's disappointment shot pain like daggers, and no amount of praise from Power of Polly's actions could get rid of the pit in my stomach. It was manipulative, cold, cruel, however this momentary lapse in judgement could only happen when foresight appeared to predict a perfect solution. My doubts were soothed by recognition of a necessary evil, something they could understand and move on from, guilt-free.

But the regret haunted me for the rest of the game. For all this betrayal may have passed unnoticed in other games, or at least not lingered in the forefront of mind, in Harmony: The Fall of Reverie this breach of trust was reinforced by the very flowchart of foresight that convinced me to make this decision in the first place. Impenetrable walls were raised between me and options that could allow Polly's bond with Yana to grow stronger, based on their once-mutual trust and admiration. Instead, my experience strode forwards, now haunted by a future I could see but never follow. All due to a belief that witnessing the future gave me some blueprint for human connection.

Regret, joy, contemplation, foresight, hindsight. These moments allow Harmony to shine, an experiment with narrative design played out in broad daylight to spectacular effect. It's not an idea that always works, mostly in early moments as you adjust to these new systems. And it's a game whose initial splendour - from lush animated cutscenes, beautiful ambient sound from Lena Raine, and strong voice acting - seeps away in repetitive visuals, as the constraints of the visual novel structure and asset reuse betrays the ever-changing world around you as you play it.

Harmony The Fall of Reverie review - screenshot showing Polly reacts to the glowing of a blue necklace

Yet to complain of something like this feels minor - and almost unfair in the context of what we get. Harmony: The Fall of Reverie may be an experimental first attempt at Don't Nod peeling back the facade of player choice to lay bare the consequences and designs of interactive fiction, but what a first attempt this is. One where the complexities of its characters are not flattened by the deliberate gamification and blueprinting of its story, but enhanced by it, adding layers of depth never normally considered via reading between the inter-dimensional lines.

Reverie brings life to the emotions of humanity that weave the story of our day-to-day, turning them into entities with personalities that compliment the people who embody them. You may never be a part of this family, this world, the resistance force fighting back against Mono Konzern. But that's because your existence out in the "real" world, with all the complex entities and emotions of your own life, are what make you human and influence your worldview.

The result of it all is Harmony: The Fall of Reverie becoming more than a mere story to be told. It's a canvas to express your experience and your emotions, in a cognitive dance through the innovative systems that make it all possible. There's nothing else I've played quite like that.

Read this next