Yu and Kay are two people stuck together on an isolated planet. The good news is that they’re in love and are already enjoying each other. The bad news is that parts of the planet are covered in an unstable substance they call rust, which makes the environment (and the animals that inhabit it) dangerous. Haven hops back and forth between these two driving concepts, emphasizing Yu and Kay’s relationship back home in their spaceship, then follows them as they explore the planet’s mysterious limits. The result is a low-impact fusion of visual novel and role-playing game that does not fully utilize the best of both worlds. Even so, Haven gets the basic elements right.
The connection between Yu and Kay is the most important part of the story, and I appreciate how developer The Game Bakers is committed to getting players to see their interactions through the lens of worldly activity. During their time at home, they cook and eat together, chat on the couch, and argue over hair in the shower drain. After all, most relationships are not forged in the fires of global threats and high-stakes adventures. They are built in casual and comfortable spaces, and Haven feels largely authentic in portraying an established (but still young) love. Physical intimacy is part of this, of course, but Haven often uses it as a crutch rather than developing the characters in other ways. At the end of the game, the number of harmless situations that ended in implicit sex made me roll my eyes.
The story of Source (the planet Yu and Kay have settled) is less convincing than the romantic arc of the characters. They learn why they fled their homes and uncover some sinister facts about Source, but the threads never come together in a satisfactory way. The developers clearly have a sophisticated vision for this fictional science fiction universe and its story, but the parts that find their way into the narrative of the haven are peripheral and incomplete. I didn’t feel like I was getting an enticing look at a larger picture. I felt that there was once a much bigger and clearer story, but important parts were gradually cut away until only those abbreviated pieces were left. Yu and Kay are still the center of attention in the end, but my lack of investment in the events around them let the grand finale fall flat.
When they’re not spending time in their ship (which is broken and unable to fly), Yu and Kay strap on hover boots and fly over the colorful floating islands of Source. This is another core component that Haven gets right. Just moving around the planet is exhilarating. You’ll glide across open plains, riding currents of energy through rocky terrain to clean the rust off the ground as you drive over it. This is satisfactory whether you’re playing solo or co-op, but even with a partner, the two characters need to stay close together. With the stylish graphics and relaxed soundtrack, exploration can have a pleasant and meditative quality – provided you don’t try anything in particular. Any precise navigation is incredibly difficult, even if you can drift for sharper turns. This makes it easy to get caught up in the environment and accidentally fall from high places, but aside from occasional encounters with enemies, getting where you need to go isn’t too much of a hassle.
In addition to the vast expanses to explore, the most RPG-like part of Haven is combat. It’s all about charging and releasing attacks in real time and coordinating the actions of Yu and Kay to clear the field. The focus on timing and collaboration is interesting, but after a few basic tweaks, the combat system doesn’t develop in a meaningful way. As you progress, you don’t learn many skills that will open up new tactics. The challenge consists mainly of different enemy types, narrowing your available strategies from an already limited selection, so your combat options tend to shrink rather than expand over time. However, Haven isn’t a demanding game either, so the blunt repetition of these fights is a bigger disappointment than their difficulty.
Even when I was frustrated, I was impressed by the touching and exciting moments that Haven creates. I enjoyed the real connection between Yu and Kay and flying into the unknown with a pair of hover boots is a great thing. But this otherworldly adventure goes too far beyond its strengths. Sometimes the rough spots are worth working through, but like in any relationship, sometimes you just give more than you get.