A good story is hard to put down. But what if that story was in desperate need of an ending? One only you, the reader could provide? What if that story was as full of childish whimsy as it was of ghastly secrets and deeds? What if that story was full of charming animal people? Well, that’s Beacon Pines. This is a story within a game where the reader must navigate their way to the true path, but all sorts of obstacles and veering branches await along the way. Thankfully, they’re nearly as fun to explore as the truth.
Welcome to Beacon Pines
Beacon Pines is a sleepy little town in a mountainous woods region going through some very big changes. It was once a booming town on the back of a family business: Valentine Fertilizer. However, when its leader, Sharper Valentine, mysteriously died, Beacon Pines immediately experienced a disastrous farming season where the plants didn’t grow. It killed the Valentine business and almost killed the town built up around it until the mysterious Perennial Harvest corporation moved in, claiming it could bring the spark of life back to Beacon Pines.
But that’s not what our story is about… not primarily anyways. Our story is about Luka VanHorn: a little deer boy living in Beacon Pines. Luka’s father passed away six years prior to the events of the game, and his mother disappeared just months before, leaving him by his lonesome with his grandmother and cat person friend, Rolo. Luka holds out hope that his mom isn’t deceased, but in the meantime, he and Rolo go on adventures and get up to hijinks wherever they can find it. That leads them to some very strange events regarding sudden lights and activity at an old Valentine factory that’s supposed to be out of commission…
Grow the tree in all directions
And it leads us to the point of the game. Beacon Pines is a narrative-heavy adventure told through a very self-aware book and its narrator, known as The Chronicle. Moreover, as The Chronicle explains, not every plot point in the game is how the story is supposed to go. At certain points, players will run into crucial Turning Points where they make decisions. These decisions will alter the course of the story, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the drastically worse.
The Turning Points can only be changed by Charms the player finds by exploring the setting of Beacon Pines with Luka, discovering things like “Struggle”, “Tickle”, “Change”, and so much more. Thankfully, these Turning Points also mark anchor points the player can return to at any time, whether you just want to see the story play out from certain angles or whether you discover a new Charm that can be used at that Turning Point. Being a little “Chill” with Rolo’s sister Roxy to keep him from being dragged off for chores might not get you the outcome you’re looking for… But being a little “Sh*t” might… (I’m not joking, that’s a Charm word)
I really liked this design. It’s not skill-intensive by any stretch, but the world of Beacon Pines is a fun and mysterious setting that begs to be explored. I was also surprised to see just how much range the game had. At times, I was surprisingly creeped out by its events. There were also plenty of points I giggled out loud at how cheeky they were. At other times, I openly cried because of something beautiful in the game or how events played out that really struck me right in the emotions.
This is all aided by wonderfully designed setting and lore, and a large cast of charming characters for which I couldn’t stop wanting to learn more. There’s even a bully kid who I thought I’d just plain hate all the way through… but you’ll just have to see how it goes. Each character has an in-world sprite and many of the main ones have well-drawn story art for their dialogue, and I really liked their overall expressiveness on both fronts. It’s also aided by a beautifully varied soundtrack that ranges from calm piano to riveting and moody electronica, all of which are more than enough to push every mood throughout the game to great effect.
The true answer lays in the right words
Beacon Pines reminds me of another series I’m quite fond of in terms of narrative-heavy games: the Zero Escape franchise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means as gratuitously grisly or violent as those games (although it does get very melancholy and stark at times). It’s more that you really need to see the untrue paths in order to find the answers you need for the correct one. Poor choices may lead to bad endings, but they also often lead to crucial “Charms” you need to reshape an otherwise dead-end branch of the story. And ultimately, the only way to see the truest true ending is to see them all. It also lets you see different facets of the characters at both their best and worst.
This might be considered both a good and bad thing. Beacon Pines’ false paths have some very good narrative to them, but you do end up backtracking a lot. Even so, You can often skip past things you’ve seen before to get to crucial moments or where you left off on a branch, which is much appreciated. It’s also not an incredibly long game even with all of the branching paths explored. By the time I reached the true ending, I clocked around 8 hours in the game, leisurely taking my time.
While you can explore Beacon Pines to your heart's extent, learning the stories of its residents and maybe even capturing sneaky Charms, that exploration doesn’t really stay consistent throughout the game either. By the end, it was more bottlenecked into seeing events play out, gaining a crucial Charm from that branch, and taking it to another Turning Point where that Charm could properly come into play. I’m not upset that Beacon Pines’ third act ultimately let its end story play out more linearly, but I really liked the exploration and finding of Charms in the beginning and middle of the game.
Truth, tragedy, and treachery abound
I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a softy when it comes to good stories, but I’ve still played quite a few games and seen enough narratives of all kinds to think it’s hard to floor me these days. Or so I thought, anyway. I’m not sure if I was caught off guard or if Beacon Pines really is just that good. It’s pretty easy to see that its art and music are both top notch. Ultimately, this is also a story good enough that I’d love more people to see it so I can talk to them about it. It might not be the longest game, and the thrill of the exploration may bottleneck a bit at the end, but the changing course, different routes, and ultimate ending of Beacon Pines are still more than worth exploring for any fan of narrative adventure.
This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Beacon Pines is set to release on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on September 22, 2022.
- Both the true end and branches have beautiful stories
- Setting, lore, and characters are well-crafted
- Exploration for Charms is fun
- Plenty of branching story paths to explore
- Art style is beautiful
- Soundtrack is excellent throughout
- You can skip parts you've seen before
- Very coherent for so many paths
- A bit on the short end
- Less to explore by the end
- A lot of backtracking