RPGs are usually high end fantasy or sci-fi affairs for good reason – if you’re going to invest hours and hours in playing as a character and engaging with their story, you’ll probably want to do it as the saviour of the universe or long lost heir to the throne. What you don’t expect to be doing is jogging around the Lake District taking photos. That is what SWERY and White Owls latest game is though. Quoting directly from the Kickstarter campaign: The Good Life is a Daily Life Simulator x SWERISM, and that sums it up perfectly. Swery is known for his polarizing productions in the past, and no doubt this will also split the audience too, but is it possible to make a full and absorbing RPG built on the premise of exploring a quaint English village whilst being heavily in debt? At least enough time has gone past that very few people are going to confuse this with the 70’s BBC sitcom.
In The Good Life you’re put in the sarcastic shoes of Naomi, a brash New York journalist who’s been sent to the tiny village of Rainy Woods to investigate why they’re the happiest place on Earth. Morning Bell News want to know exactly what their secret is, and given that Naomi owes her employer $30m for some undescribed reason, she’s the one that has to do it. Clearly not happy with the assignment, Naomi reluctantly ingratiates herself with the locals and starts to discover that more than just happiness is afoot, there’s some really weird stuff happening in and around the area. With a bit of perseverance and some luck she should be able to clear that debt in no time, but she’ll be changed emotionally and physically forever. It’s a magical place in more ways than one, yet deceit and intrigue lurk behind each beautifully maintained dry stone wall. Then she stumbles on the murder…
The main part of The Good Life’s story is working out who’s killed Elizabeth, sister of the local writer, who’s been stabbed through the chest with an antique sword. Despite being the only one around the body to discover it, Naomi isn’t prime suspect number one, and sets out to solve the murder in the absence of a local police force. Splitting the investigation into three parts has you encountering different facets of Rainy Woods lore and encompasses everything from UFO stories to sheep racing, and figuring out the truth will take some doing. Adding to the mysteries is the fact that around each full moon the population turn into cats and dogs, and the residents have decided to bless Naomi with that ability too. At will you can switch between human, feline and canine to use the individual skills of each and solve the puzzles. In and around this you’ll also have to figure out how to run a daily routine and keep Naomi fed, clean and healthy.
As with most RPGs, there’s stamina and health to consider, but layered on top for The Good Life are more survival mechanics. Hunger, tiredness and sickness all present symptoms and you must keep on top of them otherwise it can be slow going. Buying food is easy enough if you’ve the cash, making it is better though, and with a home to call your base there’s always opportunity to sleep and grab a shower. The gauges don’t run out drastically quickly and there’s plenty of warning if you’re about to get hit with a penalty for being too hungry, though illness can just crop up. It’s usually linked to something you’re doing, like being out in the rain can cause a cold, or eating can damage your teeth, and it’s quickly fixed with a visit to the vet. There’s no NHS outpost in Rainy Woods sadly so you’ll need to stump up to get ailments fixed, and the prices aren’t cheap. In fact, everything seems to have a charge with some quite high, and the game isn’t quick to give you money.
As Naomi is a photographer she can make most of her money by posting pictures on the Flamingo app. It’s clearly inspired by Instagram and posting pics that hit the key words will net more likes, which in turn will give more money for the views. Unique pictures will also generate income and there’s a nice subplot of side quests that target your photography skills in particular. It’s also with the camera that you can upgrade the kit and swap out lenses as long as you’ve the money to offer the local dealer, and in the main quests you’ll usually be forced into certain upgrades to complete objectives. Selling found items is also a good way of bringing in extra income, and whilst nearly everything can be used to build home and garden upgrades as well as food and potions, there’s an abundance of pickups so flogging them to a trader isn’t a bad move, especially if you’re in dire need of some dough.
Each of the townsfolk are distinct and well characterised, and getting involved with their issues can net some benefits during your stay. A major plus point is when you meet the owner of the sheep farm and learn to ride the animals, it certainly makes world traversal a lot easier. The Good Life doesn’t have a massive map by any standards, but it’s not small, and Naomi’s pace isn’t quick enough to get around as you’d like. Being a dog makes it quicker and gives more stamina and attack power, whilst being a cat burns through reserves though lets you hunt and eat small creatures to stave off hunger; yet all three forms can’t beat riding the sheep to get from A to B. There are fast travel shrines, though they cost money (as does unlocking gates on the roads to create shortcuts), so you get used to bounding around the countryside on a woolly mount quite quickly. It’s also a good way to avoid any combat that might lurk in the hedgerows.
Being fair, there’s very little fighting in The Good Life, and what there is can be avoided barring a couple of exceptions. Badgers seem to the main foe and only crop up in certain areas, and they’re easy to run away from. It’s a bit like combat was an afterthought because the story doesn’t really need it. Having you control the daily life of Naomi and make sure she’s in tiptop shape for investigating is enough to keep you busy without worrying about fighting for your life. The controls don’t really lend themselves to real-time combat either, so the less there is the better. Graphically it’s a bit glitchy and not that sharp looking on the PS4, mainly with softer textures in the buildings that flicker in and out too often, but I can’t deny that White Owls haven’t managed to capture the vibe of a British countryside hamlet. It’s like any number of villages dotted around the north of England, and they manage to use a good spread of the accents for the inhabitants correctly in most cases too.
Voice acting is decently done in the sections where there’s a reasonable amount of dialogue. Naomi is suitably dislikeable in her attitude towards the village people at first, though you warm to her as she develops through her character arc. Outside cutscene conversation, the noises used to punctuate the text can be amusing, though do get repetitive. I’d also level the same criticism at the quest structure – it’s mostly based around similar types of fetch quests, and with markers pointing the way nearly all the time, they’re not that difficult to complete. Being a cat or dog feels a bit underused too, especially the cat, though I suppose leaning more into the favour cat vs. dog meter more can drive some bias. Each character has a favourite animal type and performing certain actions moves your meter towards one or the other, so you can pick which you like best and see what perks they offer. Though fundamentally is the quest lines that drive the use of the character types, and the dog is the one that kept coming up to track scents or fight boss creatures.
Sometimes you do want a game that entertains rather than challenges, and The Good Life falls in that camp. Managing attributes isn’t overly complicated, and rarely will hunger or tiredness get in the way of completing a story mission, so you can choose to overindulge in those aspects, or just attend to them when needed. Finishing the storyline is straightforward, and leaves a lot of other side missions and activities available, so you can spend hours running Naomi’s life for her in Rainy Woods after the main game is complete. There’s something unique at play here that makes the mundane engaging and captures what it’s like to holiday in a small Northern England village (minus the folklore and transmogrification of course), and that’s something that I never thought I’d come across in an RPG.
A PS4 copy of The Good Life was provided for this review, and the game is out now on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch for around £30, depending on platform.