Blue Oak Bridge (Sneak-Peek)
Blue Oak Bridge is a delightful action RPG and farming sim game that is heavily reminiscent of the old Rune Factory games due to its similar story setup (protagonist having lost their memories) and game design that blends the classic farming mechanics, building up social relations and dungeon crawling into a single product.
The story is certainly not the focus point of the game – if I dare say, it’s rather weak and to some extent quite invisible. You wake up on the shores of the island Eloria, without any memory about how you ended up there. A kind-hearted pirate finds you lying in the sand and offers you a place to live – an abandoned piece of land full of trees, stones, weeds – but at least it has a modest cabin that will serve as a roof over your head from now on. As you begin clearing up the region and meet the townsfolk, you’ll gather enough materials to help them with their errands, but also establish the infrastructure for developing your own business in town: a furnace that can smelt mined minerals into ore bars (later used to craft items and upgrade your tools), an oven that you’ll use to cook various recipes using the plants you grow on your farm, a coop and barn to shelter livestock, a beehive that can provide a daily jar of honey etc. From there on you can slowly start building your own production chain and ultimately sell your produce in town. Additionally, by filling the town’s library compendium with all the items you find or pick up in your journeys, new areas will be opened for exploration.
Blue Oak Bridge has a slow-based progression, yet an engaging loop of harvesting – crafting – building up relationships with the townsfolk / completing quests. On a daily basis, there are a lot of activities to choose from, and you are completely free to experience the game at your own pace. Besides that, Blue Oak Bridge is one of the most balanced farming sims I’ve had the chance to experience in regards to how much effort the player has to invest towards a certain objective. It never feels like strenuous labor, and even if your days will be very busy, they will always be relaxing.
- great aesthetics: beautiful and unique hand-drawn art style, charming animations
- areas rich in resources (resources are very easy to come by and there’s usually a very decent amount of grinding required to reach a certain goal)
- lots to explore, including a 100 level dungeon with floors randomly generated each day, with the ability to resume your exploration from the last milestone reached (levels 5,10, 15… etc.)
- harvestable items are clearly distinguishable from the background items, but at the same time fit well with the environment
- amazing water reflection of the main character
- easy and enjoyable fishing minigame; the fish react fast when you cast your rod and have a wide range; a new batch of fish respawns automatically when the current one is depleted, allowing you to fish without interruptions or without having to move to a new spot
- good character build-up; the NPCs have distinctive (and interesting) personalities, making them fun to interact with
- a hotbar that is separated from the actual bag inventory and which is visible all the time on the screen
- plenty of crafting recipes unlocked from the start
- crafting doesn’t require a specific location (you can craft wherever you are, as long as you have the necessary materials)
- ability to sell / buy items in bulk (incrementing / decrementing the quantity not by 1 only, but also by 10)
- the watering can has unlimited charges – yay, no need to go back to the river / pond every few tiles
- the default controls scheme is pretty unintuitive, but the buttons can be remapped
- dialogues with the NPCs have voice-overs, but in an unintelligible language; what’s astonishing though is that different characters sound very different, as if they even speak this fictional language with an accent.
- fast-flowing time (1 second = 1 minute in game); some might like it, others not so much
Cons – some of these are already in the works
- no tutorial or rather little guidance
- no teleport between areas
- the health points, as well as the energy points are limited during one full game day
- area transitions not clearly marked (entrances and exists quite unclear at first, although you get to learn them with time)
- overall quite some clunky controls, especially when using the mouse and keyboard; playing the game with a controller is a much better experience
- the map doesn’t show your character’s location; the portraits of the townsfolk (also visible on the map) are not very clearly distinguishable and they don’t reflect their current location on the map, but their store’s location
- can’t zoom in on the map (especially necessary in town, since this area is quite large)
- bridge and crossroads signs are blank (they don’t display any information about the possible paths)
- no manual saving (the game automatically saves at the beginning of a new day)
- low stack limit in the inventory (stacks go only up to 99)
- multiple value tiers for an item; different tiers for an item do not stack together, and this takes up a lot of inventory space which is quite limited as it is
- no scrollbar in lists taking up more than one screen (character creation, NPC list etc)
- there’s only one vendor that you can sell your items to
- you can’t see the value of items unless you go all way to the general store and sell them; similarly, you can’t see how much profit you can get by buying a certain seed / crafting a certain food
- the objects being picked up have a visual clue, but not a text description too and sometimes it’s difficult to identify the item based on the image only (for example the stone / coal / iron have the same image and rather close shades); you can see its name by browsing through your inventory, but not at the moment of picking it up
- there’s no indication whether an item was already registered in the library’s compendium or not, apart from going all way to the library and checking your unlocks; this information is essential in deciding what you should sell or not, since in order to complete your compendium you will need to donate one of each discovered items
- no one click option to transfer inventory items into chests; each of them have to be moved and stacked individually
- various display bugs in regards to the quest progression (completing one quest step sometimes does not properly update in the list of quests visible on the side of your screen)
- wrong placeholder texts in the main menu
- missing filter texts in the crafting menu (the recipes are split in different tabs, but these do not have a name at the moment)
- various collision issues with certain elements (sometimes you can go through trees)
- constantly crashing when quitting to desktop
- whenever you access a chest, the first item contained is automatically selected
- noticeable framerate drop in the town area
The game was recently released in early access (Nov 2022) and although it’s fully playable, there is still a lot of room for improving the main mechanics and ironing out the several bugs that the players commonly encounter in their gameplay (none of them being game-breaking though). The developers are not only extremely active and helpful in the forums, but they’re also amazing at taking in any kind of feedback and quickly implementing changes according to the community’s suggestions. The game improves considerably with every patch and judging by the team’s engagement, I can imagine that the end product will be pretty great. Even in its current state, the game is lovely and provides a very cozy experience. Despite its rough edges, I still enjoyed my time in it.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a press preview copy of the game, kindly provided by Bedtime Digital Games via The Indie Game Collective.