At the heart of Mutazione lies a community that ends up feeling like a family, not just to the main character – a 15-year old girl called Kai – but to you, the player. Friendly banter, hidden romances, genuine real world problems, all told within this small group of tight-knit outcasts that makes you care deeply for each person. Tung is a heavy-set mutant with a big heart, Miu is a sweet girl with a troubled past, Yoke is a wise man with a profound knowledge of the town, and Spike is a fun-loving bar owner that is secretly in love with another resident.
As the game progresses, you start to learn a lot about all the villagers and what happened to the town of Mutazione. 100 years ago, a meteor called ‘Moon Dragon’ crashed into the tropical holiday resort, and as a result certain mutations began to occur. This caused humans to mutate and new flora to grow unlike anything anyone had seen before. In the present day, Kai travels to Mutazione to care for her dying grandfather. As she learns more about the impact his poor health has on the community, she also learns about the history of the resort, how the balance of life and death is constantly swayed by certain incidents, and what she can do to help.
It’s an exploration of myriad human emotions and actions in Mutazione. Why love is both tragic and essential, how death isn’t the end of life, and what’s really important when it comes to families and friendship. The story is told via speech bubbles and conversations where Kai will often join in and you’ll have to choose her responses, but there’re also times when you’ll be allowed to listen. As you make friends and fit in, you become familiar with Mutazione and all its nooks and crannys. There’s Allin’s bathhouse, Mori’s little restaurant, Spike’s bar, and Tung’s shipyard, as well as a mysterious temple and the wilderness.
You’ll visit and re-visit, go searching for different characters and plants that’ll help you get through the story. There’s a journal which you’ll constantly check to find out who you need to talk to next or where you’ll need to go, but most of the time you’ll find what you need to do just by exploring. Throughout Mutazione you’ll learn of the importance of nature, and how growing certain plants will provide properties to help out the wide range of mutants, humans, and creatures that live there.
Early on, your grandfather shows you how to grow your own garden using his drum, a specific melody, and a range of seeds that’ll only grow when exposed to certain songs. There’re seven gardens in total, and as you play through the story different characters will share new songs with you, and collecting seeds from every plant you see will mean these gardens will grow faster. Sometimes you’re given seeds, but most of the time you have to find them for yourself. These cathartic moments where you’re sat in your garden, listening to the melody and watching it grow make Mutazione an entirely different game to the one you expect at first, and it’s refreshing if a little dull the more you make.
Occasionally, the clues in your journal are ambiguous so listening to every conversation carefully is hugely important. At one stage I had to find Miu, but after spending about 20 minutes searching every area of the map I was stumped. I thought the game was broken (mainly because earlier I had to restart due to a garden’s logo remaining in the centre of the screen long after it should’ve disappeared), but I finally remembered that she told me her house was next to my garden, as earlier I had asked her if the new plants obstructed her view of the town.
The familiarity of Mutazione and the challenges all the characters face reminded me of Night in the Woods, and how everyone is struggling in one way or another, and the mysterious creature that followed me around and threaded the main story together wasn’t quite as important as the friends I was making. It’s a beautiful game that allows you to enjoy the main plot whilst building genuine relationships with the well-written characters.
During a BBQ, I was sat around with everyone, talking about life and friends, and in that moment I felt accepted by them all. As Spike was preparing the food, Miu asked me if I had anyone back home who I loved. Casually, I mentioned that their was a girl on the swim team who I wrote letters to, and in turn she wrote them back. There was no judgment passed – no prejudice – and it was simply accepted as fact. Mutazione is filled with outsiders, but nobody is left to feel alone, regardless of who they love or who they are.
Mutazione is a game that builds up relationships within a community you instantly feel a part of. The main story is secondary to the real drama and the heart of the town, but it’s necessary. It’s extremely well-written, and the hand-drawn environments are beautifully designed. Die Gute Fabrik has crafted a sweet, powerful fairy tale that delves into the human psyche and allows you to reside there for five hours or so.
Well-written and lovable characters
Lovely hand-drawn art style
Some ambiguous clues
Growing gardens becomes repetitive