Röki is the debut game from developer Polygon Treehouse, a two-person powerhouse based in the UK. Currently if you visit their website you’ll find the following statement: “Polygon Treehouse will create adventures to feed your soul.”, and if Röki is anything to go by, I think they’re definitely on the right track.
Inspired by Nordic folklore, the Scandinavian ambience of the game is set from the title screen. The name “ROKI” glows gently over a cool-toned landscape shot, complete with snow-covered houses nestled in the jagged shadow of a mountain and wispy clouds floating across the sky. Out-of-focus snowflakes flutter in the frame, at various sizes, cleverly creating a sense of depth to the scenery, pulling you in. The simple piano melody is drenched in an echoing reverb and placed over the top of the sound of the ever-constant wind, which does an incredible job of making you feel a sense of seclusion and cold.
It’s no surprise that a team of two Art Directors with multiple years of experience in the gaming industry would craft a visually stunning game. Looking at screenshots of Röki, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was built in 2D, but it isn’t. Polygon Treehouse have used simple, flat colours, with colour changes used to create shadows and highlights. It almost looks like intricate scenes created with layered paper: minimalistic, but impactful. As the camera follows our protagonist, there are often trees or other environmental features that sit in shadow in the foreground, creating another beautiful sense of depth to the visuals. Subtle movement is added to the surroundings, with animals running across the foreground, or ravens pecking away at the trees and tiny mushrooms hiding themselves in the snow when you get too close. It makes the world feel alive, and a bit (or a lot in some places) magical.
Our initial protagonist is Tove, who we meet playing with her younger brother Lars in the snow. As they communicate with each other we are shown the interesting way that the dialogue in Röki takes place. All dialogue is presented in subtitles, but not spoken aloud. Instead, names are the only real distinguishable words we hear uttered. Everything else is represented by abstract vocal noises; a groan to show annoyance, a whimper to express the fear, or a joyful chirp when something successful happens. It’s fantastic really, because it stays true to the minimalism that is at the heart of Röki whilst still conveying the many emotions being experienced by the characters.
Despite there being multiple different locations in the game, the main bulk of Röki takes place in two places: a forest and a fortress. The team has done a great job of making these environments reusable with mechanics that create additional layers to scenes you might think had already been fully explored. I often found myself at a halt in the story, only to remember a place I’d already written off as “used up”, and revisiting revealed the next step. I often feel like a well-crafted adventure game is a bit like a good escape room; everything is there from the start, you just need to work out the order in which to use it all.
If you do get stuck, Röki utilises a journal system, which updates when you discover new information. Checking it regularly might remind you of things you’d forgotten, or give you subtle clues on where you might look next. My only complaint about this feature is that every time you open the journal, it starts at page one, and you’ll need to tab through every page to get to the one you need. A few accidental closes mid-read, and it can end up feeling like a bit of a slog to get back to the page you need. It’s more of a nuisance than anything else, but it did put me off using the feature in favour of just “winging it” in the game a few times.
The game doesn’t use a traditional on-screen cursor like a lot of point-and-click adventures. Instead a button can be pressed to highlight anything in sight that is interactable. You can then approach them with your character in order to touch or look at them. You can also use items in your inventory by tabbing through them and dragging them onto other highlighted objects, to hopefully cause a reaction. Without the cursor, this does feel a little clunky and I definitely misclicked more time than I would like.
The pacing of the story is excellent, and the puzzles throughout the game are largely well-structured with just the right amount of complexity. During my playthrough, whilst I came across several occasions that I definitely needed to have a long think, there was only one time that I found the solution was almost impossible to solve. I did have to resort to google on that occasion, and I can state without doubt that I would have never solved it of my own accord (blue mushroom, if you too get stuck). Aside from that, there was only one other time where, although I knew what I had to do, the running back and forth and an action I had to repeat a LOT made the puzzle solving unenjoyable. These two times were the only ones in the entire 19 hours I spent playing Röki that I didn’t enjoy though, the rest was well, just brilliant.
In terms of story, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, because I feel like it’s a game you should experience for yourself. Polygon Treehouse tells a beautiful tale using Scandinavian folklore to explore themes of loss, grief and acceptance. Röki is not necessarily a light-hearted game, but it’s deliciously creepy, heartwarming, and truly a game that will feed your soul. Good work.
Röki (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A debut game that sets a high standard moving forward for Polygon Treehouse. Truly fitting their mission statement of creating "adventures to feed your soul", Röki is excellent.