Courage In The Face of Despair

Havenwood’s unique feeling centers around tragic loss. Kierra is summoned back to her childhood home only to find that her family has been killed, her childhood home is in ruins, and the magic of Havenwood has been almost completely depleted.

The theme is “courage in the face of despair”. Where her mother’s courage wavered, Kierra must continue forward.

To support the theme of needing courage, I’m going the experience has to be difficult, hopeless, and something you’re unlikely to do. As Kierra suffers, the player should suffer, but continue on anyway. They should routinely suffer annoying resets, controller malfunctions, screen blackouts, and anything I can to make them feel like they have no way of winning this game but must continue to press on anyway!

Wait, no. That’s not the experience I want. Okay, instead of focusing on Kierra’ fear and despair, I’m going to focus on her quest to restore her home. The game should have features that focus on replenishment, restoration, and the building of things that last. As they do well, they should see the world get more populated (perhaps with plants and forest critters?).
So my player’s “advancement” will also center around restoring the land, and some side quests may center around this.

My character is a self-reliant woodsman. (Woodswoman?) She’s an athletic hunter with magical powers from her druidic ancestry. So right off the bat, I’d say the magic system must be the focus. Also, if she’s going to “restore the land” as a game feature, then certain abilities to interact with the environment and environmental interactables are going to be important. Maybe she plants seeds, I don’t know. Maybe she gets benefits when next to restored areas? If so, then deciding on tactical use of terrain may be important. It could be as simple as “Kierra gets combat benefits while standing on green areas.” If so, then I should focus on what obstacles may keep her off (or knock her off) desired terrain.
She should be athletic rather than tough, so she should run fast, jump high, do acrobatic flips, etc. This might not work so well with the terrain idea. ​

Maybe have some alternate movement modes like stealth or dash? Specialty arrows would be cool. She’s an archer, so why not give her some magic arrows?

Okay, those are my key areas: terrain interactables, trick arrows, mobility. Pretty much in that order. These are more important than magic or combat options.

"The most tragic RPG you’ve ever…" No, that doesn’t sound right.

How about… “Welcome home.”
"Home is where the heart is?"
I might need help here.

I like the format some of you are using to describe your themes. After reading many of your posts and re-reading what I’ve written above, I’ve come up with this new revised theme:

Sorrow: Kierra is summoned to her homeland only to find it desolated by dark powers. All around her are the memories of people and places she once knew, and she must re-visit these areas to rescue survivors and restore the land. When entering new areas or finding something interesting, she may comment on how she remembers them.

Renewal: Kierra must defeat monsters and collect magic so that she can restore the ancient druid’s groves and return life to the forest. Each time she restores an area, she gains some power-up or special benefit. The player can choose any order to restore these locations, as long as they can get there on the overland map. Kierra cleanes unhallowed land, performs quests for aggravated spirits, and plants magical seeds.

Guardianship: Kierra can turn away from her quest at any time, and runs into survivors and spirits that encourage her to. But she has a sense of guadianship, that certain things are worth protecting and taking care of. She encourages others to do so, as well, and through her actions, a small community is encouraged to settle and care for this new land.

Wonder: Magic and nature are intrinsically linked. Havenwood is an enchanted forest, and once restored, is a beautiful and wonderous place. Things should not be mundane is Havenwood. Mythical creatures once lived here. Spirits wander the woods at night, dancing in fairy light. This is a fairy-tale land, where the nature of a landscape is changed by the vices and virtues of those that watch over it. Plants have exaggerated and magical qualities and are very often sentient. As the player goes through restored areas, the environment should feel more wondrous and light-hearted. Magic shouldn’t be mundane or simple, either – but should have spectacular, over-the-top effects. Kierra herself has “mundane” abilities that would be considered superhuman by our standards but are quite common in this fairy-tale land.

I like your keywords of sorrow, renewal, guardianship and wonder. I’d suggest that you pick one of these to be your primary player experience and the others to be secondary / supporting / flavour aspects. Giving the player the experience of sorrow, for example, I think would compelling and unusual. You can punctuate sorrow with renewal so that the game gives the player feeling of up as well as down. Sorrow doesn’t have to mean constantly being sad, just that its weaved throughout the core moments in the game.

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