Mutazione: A Game About Growth and Healing
Video transcription below:
A tough breakup, the loss of a loved one, regrets and guilt about past events. We’ve all felt these things before, some more than others. In the moment, it can be difficult to see the good things we still have, as the world can seem so much darker when you’re in emotional pain. Some people never climb out of this hole. Others get out, only to later fall back in, sometimes deeper. Letting ourselves heal is an important part of moving on, but that is always easier said than done. Mutazione, by Die Gute Fabrik, explores this idea, as it uses gardening to tell a story of creating new joy through growth.
Mutazione was once a normal island city, filled with many human inhabitants. Things were the same as any other city until a meteorite, later named the Moon Dragon, crashed down on the island. Most of the city was levelled, and many of the inhabitants were killed. The few survivors remaining began to be changed by mutations brought on them by the Moon Dragon. Over the course of 100 years, the whole island was changed by these mutations, which led to the city being overrun by many otherworldly plants and animals. The surviving inhabitants that continued to live on the island founded a small town there, which they named Mutazione.
Kai’s story begins on a boat ride to Mutazione, on her way to visit her dying grandfather, Nonno, who is a long-time resident of the island. Kai is reluctant to visit, as she had never had much of a relationship with Nonno due to a falling out her grandmother had with him, leading to her side of the family leaving the island before Kai was born. Since then, neither Kai nor her mother, Gaia, had visited the island. Upon her arrival to Mutazione, Kai learns that her grandfather is indeed in pretty poor shape. It seems that he will die quite soon. Curiously, conversations that Kai has with the locals reveal that the island’s unique ecosystem is also worse for the wear, and has been on the decline for a while.
After her introductions with the islanders, Kai turns her attention to providing her grandfather some comfort. Nonno asks for Kai to use his old garden to grow a certain plant for him, as the fruit can be used to help ease his pain. After Kai gathers some seeds, Nonno gives Kai a special ceremonial drum and teaches her a song to play in the garden to encourage growth. At first, Kai dismisses the song, wondering how music could possibly influence a plant’s growth. However, after humoring Nonno and playing the song in the garden, something magical happens. The plants grow quickly and a sort of calming air occupies the garden. Kai feels that something is different, but can’t quite nail down what it is. Either way, she is able to gather the fruit and return to Nonno.
After using the fruit to ease his pain, Nonno actually begins to feel better. He even recovers enough to get out of the house and visit with the rest of the town. Because he is feeling better, Nonno encourages Kai to go around the island and get to know the locals. It is here that the game really starts to open up and show what it’s all about.
While talking to the locals, you discover that everyone is caught up in their own personal dramas. Some are struggling with heartbreak, looking for a sense of purpose, or dealing with the recent loss of a loved one. I’ll refrain from mentioning specifics here, as I do think that the experience of seeing these stories play out is an essential part of connecting with this game. Regardless, the islanders will eventually ask Kai for her help with their problems, and her solution usually involves growing a specific plant in one of the many gardens around the island and using that plant for something such as making a special food, ointment, or other remedy. Other times, simply starting a new garden and making it flourish is the solution. As you progress through the game, you will discover new gardens and new plants to grow, along with different songs to play that encourage different types of plants to grow. Eventually, your efforts have an effect on the island itself, as it slowly heals over time to return to its former glory.
While Mutazione is a text-based story game, it also features a fairly complex gardening system. The game provides you with a plethora of seeds for many different categories of plants. These all have their own requirements for soil type, light levels, and moisture. Some plants are even incompatible with certain others when grown too close in proximity to one another. Additionally, to actually get your plants to grow, you need to play the correct song that corresponds to the seeds you just planted.
While this may all seem complicated, the actual experience of starting and tending to a garden is very simple and Zen-like. Most of this amounts to going through the menus and choosing seeds that are compatible with one another, and playing the right song to match until the plants mature. To plant a seed, you look through the menu to find the plant that you want to grow. After placing a few seeds, you need to play the correct song to get the plants to grow. The songs you play last a few seconds, and are all sort of calming, each with its own feel. As you play the songs, the plants begin to grow, and as they do, they add other instruments and effects to the music. Each plant has its own unique sound it adds to the soundscape of your garden. Eventually, this results in your garden composing a song of its own, which can vary depending on which plants you grow, as well as how many. When you are satisfied with your work, you can then choose an option in the menu that lets you simply listen to your garden’s sounds. You’re allowed to sit here and listen as long as you want, which I found to be quite a pleasant experience.
After your plants have matured and provided a harvest a couple of times, they eventually start to grow old. At this point, the plants won’t be able to provide any more useful materials, so you need to salvage them. When you salvage a plant, you usually gain back a seed or two, so it’s not a total loss. This will in turn allow you to re-plant a new seed, or grow a different plant in its place.
Growing a plant is a fascinating phenomenon. The act of planting a simple seed can seem like such a small event, but if tended to properly, the seed can grow into something beautiful like how a single acorn can mature into a colossal oak tree. A plant can bring joy and even provide sustenance to sustain other life. However, while growing plants seems like a simple thing in theory, it can take a load of work to properly maintain your plants, let alone manage an entire garden. It takes patience, and trial-and-error to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Mistakes are inevitable, but what’s important is that you learn from them, and use this knowledge to make your garden more resilient.
The plants you grow on the island of Mutazione are useful for a time and then need to be salvaged as they age. However, through salvaging these plants, you gain materials to grow more, as well as free up space in the garden for new plants to thrive. While the game doesn’t touch on it, refreshing your soil in real-life gardening by cycling in new plants or using fertilizer is also an important part of ensuring that your soil and future plants grown in it remain healthy. Part of the cycle of life is the decomposition of older plants to provide the nutrients for new growth. Without this, life cannot continue.
The same can sort of be said for the healing process. Difficult times obviously hurt in the moment, but it is also tough to move on. The guilt of past decisions or experience of losing a loved one can haunt a person for years to come. Moving on is of course difficult, but there are lessons to be learned from past mistakes. We can learn how to avoid the circumstances that led to these poor choices, or we can use lessons learned to make better choices in the future. We can dwell on the pain of losing a loved one, or we can try to cherish the memories we made with them. While we still have our loved ones, we can remind ourselves of the importance of creating memories that will still be with us when they are gone. Mutazione encourages the player to take painful things and try to grow them into something that can bring joy, just as old, decaying plants can fertilize new ones.
It is in these ways that tending to one’s emotional health can be similar to tending to a garden. It takes time and effort to grow, both literally and figuratively. There will be trials and tribulations in life, and we may not always succeed in them. No matter what happens though, we need to tend to our emotional gardens if we want to move on and grow.
I really enjoyed how chill this short and sweet game is. If you’re looking for something a little different, check out Mutazione, available on PC, PS4, and Apple Arcade. Feel free to let me know what you think of this game too. I really enjoy checking out smaller, more meaningful games, and sharing what makes them great. Also, thanks for checking out my video. This is my first attempt, so I’m sure there’s things I could improve that I’m just not seeing. Let me know if you have any tips or advice, and if you liked this video, I guess do the YouTube thing. Thanks again for sticking around to the end!
Developer: Die Gute Fabrik
Publisher: Akupara Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Apple Arcade
Release date: September 19, 2019