Review: Röki is a gorgeous modern fairy tale about familial love

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Röki is something beautiful. It’s a tale of grand adventure through a stunning Scandinavian wilderness home to trolls and giants, but also an intimate, personal story of coping with grief. It’s an enchanting original fairy tale that wouldn’t feel at all out of place alongside the works of Hans Christian Andersen, and a heartfelt look at the lengths people will go to to protect those they care about—for better and for worse.

Röki is the story of sister and brother Tove and Lars. When their home is destroyed by a strange, giant monster and Lars mysteriously dragged through a portal to another realm, it’s left to Tove to find a way to bring him home. But to do so, she needs to call on the help of all manner of forest spirits, from cute little tomte, to the terrifying yule cat, to the god-like Forest Guardians who watch over the land. She’ll learn to magically command water and befriend trolls who’d normally be more interested in brewing tea with her ground bones. She’ll flee from giant spiders and the cold tentacles of a water spirit that wants to drag her down to the murky depths. She’ll find a way to stop a strange fungal blight that’s spreading across the forest, poisoning everything it touches.

She’ll do all this because protecting her little brother is the most important thing in the world, and she made a promise that she can’t ever break.

A screenshot from Röki, showing Tove climbing a long mountain staircase to reach a giant wolf at the top.

But the raven guardian Rörka will also do whatever she must to protect the person most precious to her—her half-human son, Röki, whose monstrous form caused them both to be banished to the nether realm. In Rörka’s eyes, the only way for her son to live a happy life is for him to take on a human form and live in the realm of people, and she’ll wield whatever dark magic and sacrifice as many lives as she has to to make that happen.

You can probably guess where this is going. Lars is the latest victim of Rörka’s ambitions, and his particularly powerful spirit might mean Röki’s transformation finally succeeds. But Lars can see beyond Röki’s monstrous appearance, and even starts to form a bond with him beyond that of Rörka’s magic. 

In that, Röki tells a familiar, timeless story about acceptance. Being different doesn’t make someone a monster, but prejudicial attitudes certainly can.

A screenshot from Röki, showing Tove inside a cave talking to a troll called Trollhilde, who says "Kind human. Hilde right not to make you into tea."

Röki is also a story of coming to terms with grief. Tove lives with Lars and her father Henrik; her mother isn’t around for reasons that don’t become apparent until much later in the game, but it’s clear from the outset that Tove is still struggling to come to terms with it. Tove’s journey to save Lars also forces her to confront her own memories, distorted as they are by grief, and find the truth within them. As heartwarming as the story of Lars and Röki’s budding friendship is, and as inspiring as the lengths Tove will go to to save her brother are, it’s the way she deals with her own internal struggles that end up forming the emotional core of Röki.

This story plays out through a classic point-and-click setup. Playing as Tove, you’ll explore the forest, collecting and combining a wide variety of items to help the resident spirits and make your way forward. Classic adventure game puzzles are plenty in Röki, and they mostly follow an internal logic that avoids the need for trial and error or randomly smashing items together until something sticks. 

One nice touch is a degree of nonlinearity during the second act (which makes up a large portion of the game). There are two main puzzle sequences running through this act that both have to be completed eventually, but can progress parallel to one another and be completed in any order. That means that, if you do get stuck, there’s often something else you can go off and do while you wait for a spark of inspiration, instead of just bashing your head against a brick wall until you finally crack through (or give up). Progress in one path often inadvertently helps with the other, too, by helping to flesh out the world and provide a bit more context for the other puzzles.

A screenshot from Röki, showing Rorka standing at the edge of a tower with a giant raven behind her.

Tying it all together is a gorgeous art style that perfectly fits Röki‘s fairy tale approach. The wintry landscape takes on a character of its own, brought to life through models whose lo-fi nature makes every little detail pop, and through the selective use of bright colours against a backdrop of omnipresent snow. The characters are vibrant and full of life, especially the various monsters you encounter. There’s so much expressiveness in the animations, especially when it comes to Röki and Lars—characters with only a handful of lines of dialogue, but who deliver so much of the storytelling through their interactions with one another.

Röki is a beautiful, heartfelt adventure that’s sometimes funny, occasionally confronting, but always comes from a place of love.

Score: 4.5 stars

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Röki is developed by Polygon Treehouse and published by United Label . It’s available now for PC (reviewed).

A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.

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About Author

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.