Just another French sci-fi distant-future psychic air-skating love story.
The basic concept behind Haven is simple enough to explain: at some point in a spacefaring future time, two people from very different backgrounds fall in love, escape from their society, and end up crash-landing on an unknown, eventually hostile new planet.
Also, they’re both psychics. And the planet’s unstable. Plus it’s seething with strange energies. And both the lovers don’t ‘walk’ so much as ‘glide around on contrails of glimmering energy,’ which is powered by harvesting resources from their environment. The combat’s turn-based with rhythm elements because, incidentally, this is basically a co-op JRPG. Plus, there’s a whole thing with a cooking simulator minigame. The more details you relate, the stranger Haven sounds.
Haven is a new project by The Game Bakers, who are perhaps best known for their 2016 hit Furi. This, however, is about as far away as anything could possibly get from being Furi 2. Mylène Lourdel, the game’s PR rep, told me at PAX West that it was made because the team “needed a break.”
When I first saw it, in fact, I thought Haven would turn out to be a visual novel with art that occupies an odd middle ground between manga and European comics. The start of its demo, shown at both PAX West and the Tokyo Game Show in the last couple of months, catches us up in medias res. Its protagonistic couple, Kay and Yu, live in the central compartment of their trashed spaceship, on a planet outside of their respective societies’ spheres of influence.
Kay and Yu are deeply in love – Haven’s loading screens are all scenes from an adorably domestic partnership, featuring them caring for one another when they’re sick, cooking, and drunkenly singing karaoke – but from opposite sides of an unnamed conflict. They arrived on their new homeworld by mistake, but are nervously sure that at least nobody will think to look for them here.
While exploring the planet one day for new power sources and edible flora, Kay and Yu find that the planet has a lot more going on than they originally thought. It’s possible their new home isn’t actually undiscovered, but instead, was deemed to be too dangerous for settlement. Soon, strange energies and rock formations are boiling up from below the surface, maddening the local wildlife and causing destructive earthquakes.
Once you leave Kay and Yu’s spaceship, Haven’s world opens up for your exploration. You can speed up your travel times by gliding around on ribbons of energy, but this uses power. Harvest more energy to fuel your travels by collecting it from ambient parts of the landscape, following trails from one end to the other.
It feels a bit like getting around in a skateboarding game, full of effortless speed and momentum. While you’re out, you can also collect plants and other resources to take back to the ship and cook new meals for Kay and Yu.
When a fight breaks out, you can control both Kay and Yu yourself, or have a friend pick up a second controller to take over a character. Kay and Yu can act independently, using their powers to fire blasts or conjure shields, but their powers are much more effective when they work in concert. By timing your paired defenses or attacks to coincide with enemies’ weaknesses, you can streamline fights with far more efficiency. Notably, many of those fights end with an enemy being driven away or cured of a temporary affliction rather than killed.
The gameplay, however, feels secondary in a lot of ways to Haven’s story of a new relationship. It’s rare how few works in any medium are actually set in this relatively undramatic period in a couple’s lives – they’re together, they’re committed, it’s happening, and they’re figuring out how things will work going forward. Kay and Yu have a lot of science-fiction concerns, naturally, but there’s an engaging core of recognizable humanity underneath it.
They have fights, make up, and clash over their different perspectives. Yu is a safety-minded optimist while Kay likes to complain and to jump into things head-first. It’s a romance story set a few weeks after the point where a lot of romance stories end, in the rough early days of a happily-ever-after, and that arguably does more to make Haven unique than its bizarre grab-bag of play mechanics.
Haven is scheduled for release on the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam store at some point in 2020.