Note: Some spoilers lie ahead.
By Makeda Byfield
My siblings were not pleased with me when I told them I wanted to re-download the Sims mobile game last month. According to them, I “rEtUrN tO tHe SaMe tWo “boring” gAmEs anD bEcomE aBsOluTelY cOnsUmEd wITh tHem.” Ready to ignore their hater-ism, I was about to throw myself back into the Sims universe. But then I heard of Wylde Flowers on the Apple Arcade. Marketed as a “farming simulation game with a mystical twist,” I decided that I’d give it a try. After 32 hours of gameplay, this game is probably one of the best I’ve played in a long time!
Studio Drydock’s Wylde Flowers follows the story of twenty-something Tara Wylde, a city girl who just moved back to her Grandma Hazel’s farm in the small town of Fairhaven. Being the good granddaughter she is, Tara expects to take care of her sick grandmother and help out with maintaining the farm. However, life gets a lot more interesting when she finds out that her grandmother is a witch. In fact, Tara is the next member of Fairhaven’s secret witch coven! If tending to the farm wasn’t enough, members of the small town are actively seeking out the witches, who they distastefully refer to as “Malcontents.” Supplying the town’s agricultural needs by day and tending to witch duties at night is no easy task, but Tara finds a way to get it done. Along the way, she also makes friends and has several opportunities for romance as well. On paper, it seems like the game would be overwhelming. Yet Wylde Flowers was highly successful in giving players the freedom to immerse themselves in several rich, detailed and entertaining stories.
Off the bat, I was pleased with how diverse the characters were. I noticed a dark skinned black man and a pride flag waving in front of the mayor’s office in the opening sequence alone! One of the first tasks that players will be given is to meet all thirty residents of Fairhaven. In doing so, we are introduced to town members who all have large personalities. Players can choose how far they’d like to progress their friendships with most characters (characters with four hearts on their profile can be progressed up to the “best friend” status, while seven-hearted characters have options for romance.)
What warmed my heart the most was how authentic each experience seemed to be. Following the events in social justice movements this year, there finally seems to be some discussion about diversity and inclusion in games. Unfortunately, I fear that we are given the bare minimum. In my opinion, we are given more illusions of diversity, when companies should really just include non-white, non-heteronormative voices and narratives that don’t only center around trauma. I don’t think that’s a big ask – but then again, a lot of companies and corporations still seem to have a problem doing this – along with hiring people of color.
Wylde Flowers gets it right in the sense that we get to see these characters live a life that isn’t reduced to just one struggle. Grandma Hazel is sick, but she’s also a well-liked town member and part-time witch. Sophia Moretti is a grieving widow, an excellent baker and a business owner, and one of Tara’s best friends. The game also features several gay characters, a non-binary butcher, and … get ready for this – they say the word “lesbian!” My excitement for this should not go overlooked; the word “lesbian” is still stigmatized and viewed as “dirty” to a lot of people today. So seeing and hearing it in a video game brought a smile of happiness to my face.
The game makers also did a wonderful job creating storylines. In the span of four seasons, Tara was initiated into a secret coven, watched (and helped stop) two witch trials, expanded the farm, helped to rebuild a bridge that led to Fairhaven’s mountainous terrains, gained access to the abandoned mine near her grandma’s farm, voted in a mayoral election, learned of two mystical portals that led to dimensions outside of this world, welcomed a new farmer and geologist into town, and more. I didn’t focus on the romance aspect of the game until I neared the end. This may be the reason why I reached the end-credits fairly quickly, but my choice to focus on other things did not harm me because there was almost always something else for me to enjoy. There was a good balance of giving players the freedom to choose their adventure while keeping them on track with the major storylines.
As if that wasn’t a lot, Wylde Flowers is fully voice acted! I think I remember reading that there were over eighteen hours of lines that needed to be recorded. Accents aside, I think the entire cast did an excellent job of bringing these characters to life. I want to give a special shout out to Tara’s voice actor, Valerie Rose Lohmann (who did awesome work in What Remains of Edith Finch) and Violet’s voice actor, Tajinae Turner. Without giving away too much, both characters had some emotional scenes that would’ve brought me to tears from reading the touching on-screen text alone. Their performance is what made me bawl. I think their voices also fit each character well, to the point that I was wondering if the characters were created to fit the voice! The actors also seem so nice outside of the game. Valerie, for example, is very interactive with fans on TikTok (yes, I did look up the cast of a mobile video game; that’s how much I love it!).
Another facet that really moved me is this game’s approach to grief. In general, our society expects us to get up and move on immediately after we’ve experienced something as life-changing as a loved one’s death. This game seemed to challenge that toxic belief directly. Violet, for example, is still grieving the loss of her parents years later. Sophia makes sure to remember her dead husband, Giacamo, and even asks for help carrying out holiday traditions that he used to follow.
What stirred me the most, however, was how far the creators went with Grandma Hazel’s storyline. I didn’t believe she was very sick until she was bedridden and everybody came to say their goodbyes. I’ll admit I did start to panic when I realized what path we were about to go down. When (spoiler alert!!!) she did die at the end of the Spring, the entire town planned a funeral that had me crying with the characters from behind the screen. And even after that, the citizens of Fairhaven included Hazel’s memory in so much of what they did. Tara is also invited to a grief support group with Violet, her little brother Sebastian, Sophia’s daughter Juliet, and the mayor’s wife. The game has a clear message that sorrow and love can co-exist. Players get to witness life: its beauty, its pain, and the mundane in between. Messages like this, combined with the lovable characters and a general comforting vibe are what make me so wild for Wylde Flowers.
I don’t have many criticisms. While some users on the game’s subreddit have expressed the desire to change clothes, I think Tara’s red dress and fashionable shoes are fine. She might be cold without a jacket or pants on during the colder months, but the game is not lacking because of that. I will say, I do agree with the requests to re-marry or date multiple people at once. I like to re-evaluate my options and there’s so many characters to choose from! It’d be nice to explore them all. I won’t sweat it too much, though, because I think the game makers could choose to do so much more if they decide to continue in a sequel to this game. Yes, the last few tasks and cutscenes shown before the end-credits after the Winter season gave an end-of-movie feeling. However, the way this game was tied up seems like there could be a possibility for part two. Maybe that would include a trip on the ferry to the other town that was mentioned throughout this game, or we could stay in Fairhaven and see how the town holds up now that everybody knows who the witches are. I’m eager to see if the story evolves or stays the same when the game is released on PC and Console later this year. In the meantime, I think that Wylde Flowers has easily become my new comfort game. I can’t wait to play again.
Makeda Byfield is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern, part of our ongoing partnership with Bronxworks.