The Sunday Scaries predicted Monday would be a bad one, and it is. You woke up before your alarm and can’t fall back asleep. The mental fencing match between ‘should I call out today?’ and ‘no, you can’t reschedule that meeting’ leads to you forgetting your coffee thermos on the counter. Just as your Apple Watch is about to register your anxious heart rate as exercise, traffic shudders to a stop. The car next to you signals they wish to squeeze into the clogged lane you’re stuck in. There lie two choices before you: let the car in once the lane moves or press down on the accelerator.
Dr. Michael J. Poulin at University at Buffalo would argue that letting the car in is not only an act of kindness but can improve one’s health. Dr. Poulin and his team reviewed data from participants across five years to find a correlation between helping behavior and reduction of stress. In the field of education, I often experience high levels of stress and work follows me home despite my best efforts to close the door behind me. When you’re feeling frayed, it’s difficult to muster the will to practice self-care. Thankfully, a spontaneous train ride to the town of Hokko would give me a chance to catch my breath.
Welcome to Hokko
Developed by Wonderscope Games and published by Team 17, Hokko Life is “a cozy, cute life-sim game” where its very foundations are molded with the concept of lending a helping hand and unburdening yourself. The game begins with you stepping off a train and onto the drizzling doorstep of Hokko. The reason your character left their past life behind is ambiguous, but your arrival in this quiet corner of the world brings both literal and figurative sunshine to the world
What should be a nerve-wracking introduction—you just uprooted your life to travel to an unknown village with only a backpack!—becomes a warm celebration. This cast of adorable animals is absolutely thrilled to have you here.
The game begins slowly, with different cast members coming in to introduce different concepts and features of the game through mini-quests. Oma, the pinkish elephant running the inn, provides you with a roof over your head and takes the role of the host, introducing you to others, and later nudges you into a leadership role. Moss, the giraffe shopkeeper who laughs constantly, is the one to go to for new seeds and items to decorate your household. New characters arrive throughout to add more skills to your tool belt at a leisurely pace. I found it to be a clever way of introducing and fleshing out the different facets of the game without overwhelming players. After all, we just moved in!
"This is a stress-free town, my dear, and what could be more stress-relieving than a good nap, eh?" - Oma
There is a recurring message seen throughout Hokko: altruism is key in creating a stress-free environment.
While some requests from my neighbors can be time-consuming and require patience (such as collecting a large amount of wood), in no way did I find it a bother. I always felt as if my acts of kindness were reciprocated and appreciated, which feels oh so nice after a grueling day at work.
I felt my stress and exhaustion validated by the different villagers who are finding solace in peaceful Hokko after leaving the workplace. I found myself – and still do – living vicariously through them, helping to decorate their own homes (yes, you can decorate your neighbor’s homes) and cheering them on as they thrive after such a drastic change. While I don’t have the financial means to drop it all, I’m reminded that I can set healthy boundaries between work and life. Unfortunately, I can’t customize said “boundaries” to make them aesthetically pleasing like I can in Hokko.
Adding to the game’s message that it wishes only for your enjoyment is the game’s charming, light-hearted soundtrack. When outside, you’ll hear the soft strum of an acoustic guitar or a piano accompanied by the sound of nature. Often I’ve aimlessly wandered about, watching the wind roll across my screen, and listening to the chatter of insects. Here I feel miles and miles away from all my worries and woes.
Innovation and Creativity
As you settle into Hokko, you come to be seen more and more as a leader within this community, ready to grow with it. Progressing further through the game, searching out different collectibles in the game (such as insects and fish), and working on improving and strengthening the Hokko community leads to awards, known here as Merits.
The game provides different opportunities and pathways players can take throughout the Hokko universe through Mayor Merits. Developer Wonderscope Games divided merits into colorful categories: villager interactions, resource collection, insects and fish collection, crafting, and home building. While it may seem intimidating at first, I found the list on the right that breaks down different icons and their separation into tabs to be easy to navigate.
After completing the tutorial, I often reference the Merit page to determine what achievement I wish to work on next.
While it takes inspiration from familiar games such as Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, what makes Hokko Life stand out is the ability to customize to your heart's content.
Hokko Life features a crafting table (which is used to process raw materials) and a design table where you create specific items. Hokko Life allows players the ability to design through a 3D design tool, giving you the chance to craft, resize, paint, and endlessly innovate. You can even travel beyond the nature-filled Hokko and go to the city via train to check out new designs, unique furniture, and clothing.
A trip to the city centre will return you to the hustle and bustle of city life, but not back to office life! Here you can interact with new lively characters and go shopping at a variety of stores. However, the store I’ve been having my eye on is the Community Store. Here, players can purchase items that other players have created. The Community Store stems from Creator Challenges, where players can submit designs and potentially have theirs selected! Winners will have their designs featured in the game so other players can purchase them. It's a unique way of incorporating and showcasing other Hokko players.
Just like how the town of Hokko has been growing, so too has the game. Developer Wonderscope (specifically Robert Tatnell) has been nurturing and expanding the game with features, designs, and adorable characters for a few years now! It's catching the train out of Early Access on Steam this September 27th and also comes to PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox consoles.
Already a new update has been announced where players will sail away to a deserted island and "uncover its secrets." Here players can speak to Hurley at the Inn and travel via boat. Players will uncover hidden artifacts, interact with tropical fish and butterflies, and dabble with new design materials.
With the ability to let players customize the world around them and new areas opening up, I predict the world of Hokko will continue to expand with its creator’s and community’s creativity!
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