If you could peer into the future and visualize the most immediate outcomes of your actions, would you be able to make the best decisions, or would the weight of your past choices still hold you back? Harmony: The Fall of Reverie artfully takes a microscope to this idea by giving you the power of foresight to make conscious choices about which direction the story flows between its otherwise linear conversations. It took a few hours to get past all the necessary exposition before Harmony really got its hooks in me, but the story it eventually unravels into is a must-play visual novel. It does an eloquent job of mixing its classic choose-your-own-adventure style of decision-making with modern stakes that effectively hold a mirror up to the events of our own world.
Developer Don’t Nod’s deft first swing into proper visual novel territory is told from the perspective of Polly and her alter-ego, Harmony, who dons the title of “Oracle” in a place called Reverie. Reverie is an alternate dimension that exists on top of the in-game equivalent of our real world, where the spirit-like Aspirations of humanity use their essence to silently shape the growth of human history. You’ll switch between text-heavy story passages and visits to the time-bending Augural, where you’re faced with the next decision that guides the path of the story. That’s all you get to work off of, but this simplicity makes for a relaxed cadence, and aside from some rough early exposition, there’s only one main issue: Polly comes with baggage.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie Gameplay Screenshots
When she enters the spirit world and dons her identity as Harmony, Polly is given the ability to see into the future using the power of the Augural. A literal map shows the outcome of certain choices and is powered by Egregore, a dreamy blue essence generated by the interdimensional manifestations of humanity’s ambitions (which is used as a significant metaphor throughout Harmony’s campaign). However, Polly is almost constantly dogged by a past that not only hems her future potential but which took a little while for me to unravel and finally begin to understand enough to fully empathize with.
Don’t let the name fool you: Harmony is all about its conflicts
This story is split up into five major acts plus a prologue and an intermission, which take roughly five to ten hours to complete – though you can breeze through it if you’re a fast reader. This pacing makes things pretty simplistic on paper, but not in a bad way; you’ll effortlessly bounce between story segments and return trips to the Augural menu, where you can plan your next move on the board. A few opening cutscenes do a great job of quickly setting the stakes, though the density of its exposition in terms of character backstories and pre-existing interpersonal politics made my eyes roll during my first playthrough. But once I’d gotten a handle on all the jargon-heavy drama – which is made easier thanks to a built-in codex and the ability to read summaries of earlier conversations – I was eventually able to sit back and appreciate the deeply human story that I found myself embedded in.
Harmony is a visual treat, too. Aside from a few masterful cutscenes connecting major story branches – which left me yearning for an animated TV series set in Reverie – most of this story is depicted through text and basic visuals. Illustrious voice-acting and thorough character writing still do a lot of heavy lifting between bigger moments, giving ample space for my imagination to fill in the details.
Life is Elysium
Polly’s hometown of Atina – like Polly herself – is defined by its contrasts. As we walk into the bustling Southern European city for the first time, clearly inspired by Athens, the miasma of apathy around us is palpable as bystanders hardly look up from their devices. And yet, the warmth of the community center which serves as Polly’s mother’s home is equally tangible, despite the fact that Polly’s feelings toward her mom are rightfully mixed. Don’t let the name fool you: Harmony is all about its conflicts, which are appropriately subtle at first, but ultimately bubble up to the surface in clever ways – such as in the wake of a pivotal character’s death, when another character’s personal ambitions become clearest as the supporting cast grapples with one of the better depictions of collective grief I’ve witnessed in a video game.
Much like in real life, nothing’s ever as simple as it seems in Atina or in Reverie, where parallel stories ripple back and forth, and yet there’s always a piece of the bigger picture that gets missed when you commit to one path. But commit you must, and being able to see into the future only adds tension when the path you think you’re taking leads you to an outcome you neither expected nor intended. In a later act, a choice I’d thought would bring the community of Atina together only seemingly worked at first before unforeseen consequences set in, and there was no way to divert away from those consequences because of a decision I chose not to make earlier on. It may seem like shoehorning in retrospect, but I liked that this is actually more true-to-life than I was expecting from a video game where the central mechanic is being able to see the potential outcomes of my actions. In this sense, Harmony provides a smart commentary on the non-linear nature of our actual lives and the shortsightedness of only valuing a single perspective.
Simply knowing other endings exist adds a bit of replayability.
Granted, it took a few hours before I truly started to feel the impact of my choices on the mother-daughter relationship I fundamentally could not change, one which everything in this journey would continue boomeranging back to – regardless of the consequences of my own actions unfolding in the world around me. Ursula is played off the cuff, as though she is detached from the emotional impact she has on those around her. This makes sense given her – literally romantic – relationship with Chaos. Still, I couldn’t help but be frustrated on Polly’s behalf as Ursula yanked control of the story away from her, and this happened more than once.
Face This World
The Augural menu itself is easy to navigate, and it clearly communicates the effects your decisions will have in the short term. It also lets you zoom further out to the Heart display, which shows you how much progress you’ve made in collecting crystals corresponding with each of the six Aspirations. These personifications also represent the six major endings – though it does seem like there was a secret ending that I disqualified myself from getting to watch, and simply knowing it exists adds a bit of extra replayability. The end goal is to slowly earn enough crystals through your decisions to “purchase” the ending you want, but this isn’t actually as binary in practice as it might sound. In reality, many of the story sequences making up the critical path either qualified or disqualified me from other paths in unexpected intervals, often forcing me to exchange crystals of one type for crystals of another to make concessions with the Aspirations themselves, or dip into adjacent paths as politics between the Aspirations grew tense in relation to the events taking place in Atina.
There’s an unpredictability here that isn’t always comfortable, especially because I had my heart set on a certain outcome from early on when I grew attached to Bond, the Aspiration who seemingly offered the most peaceful route – at least, in theory. More than once, I had to sit down and weigh two lose-lose options in the short term, often knowing how the direct outcome of each option would help or hinder my goals in a vacuum, but rarely being able to visualize those outcomes in lockstep with other decisions I’d already made or had yet to make. That could be frustrating, but it also kept Harmony exciting. Even as the Oracle of Reverie, Polly is still capable of causing serious destruction through poor foresight, and this is treated with appropriate weight throughout.
Each of the five acts has its own theme, which changes both the tone of the soundtrack and the writing. You’ll want to keep your volume turned up for the elated synthetic notes that mask the dark underbelly of Atina in the first few acts, before the music later becomes appropriately solemn with a bluesier, piano-driven score as the cast faces the inevitable uncertainty of their own existence. Luckily, things wrap up satisfyingly well – at least in the ending I got – and this soundtrack did a great job of keeping me grounded in Polly’s shoes throughout.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie is a powerful visual novel that mixes a world-bending story with deeply personal stakes. Helpful quality-of-life features like the ability to go back and re-read earlier messages are also as approachable as they are omnipresent. It takes a while to get going, though it also makes familiarizing yourself with its somewhat dense lore easy thanks to a built-in codex that explains most of the in-world jargon required to understand what’s going on. But hidden between Reverie’s magic and metaphors is a story firmly rooted in the power of community, reflecting the resilience of the human spirit itself.