REVIEW: Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories delivers a delectable slice of life
You ever play a game about working for a factory making a substance that isn't legalized across the country yet... and having to investigate shady shenanigans where someone's smuggling goods out of the factory... and ending up joining a criminal gang and investigating something bigger than you expected? Oh, and the illegal substance is melons, the smuggled goods are melon seeds, the criminal gang is made up of a snake, mouse, mole, and former popstar dog named Pupstar? And the conspiracy you uncover maybe goes all the way to the top, including the Kitten King and the hedgehog nepotism mayor?
You haven't? Well, let me tell you, the experience is one in a melon... uh, million.
Interested? Then let me plant the seeds for your next quirky, Game Boy era-inspired, story-driven game.
Just the Facts
Developer: Froach Club, Poppy Works
Publisher: XSEED Games, Poppy Works
Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series S and X, Nintendo Switch *denotes platform reviewed on
Release Date: April 6, 2023
Review key provided by publisher.
Born of a small one-hour project built using RPG Maker, Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories is technically a sequel. Froach Club got their start making Melon Journey in 2012 — a one-week RPG Maker project that, to this day, shares a ton of DNA with this eventual revival and sequel.
Having the chance to revisit their roots and bring all they've learned since then to it is the kind of thing I love to see in the indie scene, and Froach Club has certainly grown in the 11 years since their original rendition.
Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories calls itself a story-exploration game, which essentially turns out to be a visual novel with legs. Like taking a Zelda-esque adventure game and ripping out everything but the fetch quest systems and quirky characters, a narrative adventure in every sense of the word.
In Melon Journey, you step into the Eglantine Industries-mandated bunny ears of our hero: Honeydew. Honeydew works at the Eglantine Melon Factory's marketing department, helping to sell melons, melon soda, and a variety of other melon-based products.
When her dear friend and coworker, Cantaloupe, invites her to a midday luncheon in Hog Town and then doesn't show up... it's up to Honeydew to track down her missing friend and find out how to help the assorted personalities of Hog Town — an outlandish town where melons are illegal and an eccentric mystery is afoot.
With the help of old friends like power couple Kitten Princess and Strong Pup, the aquatic expert Ocean Pup, actual paranormal hamster Ham Ghost Jr., and the aforementioned gang known as the Cavity Crew, Honeydew will navigate all of the hustle and bustle happening in a town like Hog Town.
There's the upcoming mayoral election between Mayor Hogsworth IV and the Kitten King, a concert being put on by Ham Star, and the up-and-down relationship between Antony and Oscar, a boy and his pet ant. By the end of the journey, Honeydew will have her hands on everything.
"Playing Melon Journey brought me back to one of those lightly sweaty summer days, perched up on a computer chair in an uncomfortable way as we youths used to do, all while waiting on the download of some hot new RPG Maker game your friends on Gaia Online were all buzzing about."
It all plays out like the gaming equivalent of a slice-of-life anime in the best ways, with tons of goofy little asides to uncover and an extraordinarily large cast of characters to meet. It's mostly light fare, but there's the occasional whiff of deeper storylines. Sprinklings of anti-capitalist notions, a dash of corruption in the police force, a tiny glance at poor working conditions. Melon Journey is mostly charming and chill — but like a scroll through my Twitter feed will show, you can't ignore what's right in front of you, and Hog Town has a seedy underbelly.
By the end, this collection of small, charming stories you end up a part of all weave together in a way that is so enjoyable that it actually adds up to a genuinely thrilling finale, even when most of the in-between is just walkin' and talkin'.
Anyone familiar with the indie RPG Maker scene and indies, in general, may see a game like this and instantly ask themselves: "Okay, so how does this game turn into existential horror or eventually lead to a gruesome murder scene?" If your brain's been configured that way — like mine has — you spend the entire game waiting for the other shoe to drop. There's a genuinely interesting mystery that slowly unfolds as you wander the streets looking for your pal Cantaloupe, but the stakes are mostly pretty low.
Without saying too much, I'll say it subverts expectations a few different ways. Melon Journey's mostly just good vibes and silly shenanigans with some pals.
The actual nitty-gritty of what's happening amounts to... just existing? You walk around, examine everything you possibly can (and we mean it, click on everything you can for some silly writing here and there), talk to the inhabitants of Hog Town, and do what you can to solve their problems. That mainly means finding and retrieving items they need. There are no minigames, there is no action, and you only really unlock the ability to move faster than a walk a third of the way through the game. It's a return to simpler times, wandering through a town on one of those cool summer days, just taking in the world as you go. That nostalgic feeling permeates through every aspect of Melon Journey's design. There's the immediate nostalgia with the game's obvious Game Boy-inspired aesthetic. The green hues of the handheld era color everything. Simple pixel art with dithered shadows and simple animation cycles make up this world of talking animals.
The chiptune soundtrack by composer markeryjane employs groovy synths and Mario Paint-like animal sounds. Soundboard-esque sound effects pop up now and again, like a goofy laugh track when interacting with a smarmy guy or a bit-crushed outburst of sobbing when talking to a depressed apple.
It all harkens back to an era of technological limitations provoking true creativity. In its own way, the laid-back gameplay of talking to folks, poking at lightly animated background elements, and interacting with characters and being amazed they reacted to you all reminded me of classic Humongous Games point and clicks (like Pajama Sam and Putt Putt) and the narrative-focused Hamtaro Game Boy games.
Playing Melon Journey brought me back to one of those lightly sweaty summer days, perched up on a computer chair in an uncomfortable way as we youths used to do, all while waiting on the download of some hot new RPG Maker game your friends on Gaia Online were all buzzing about. It was... cozy. And sometimes that's all you need.
Of course, a game like Melon Journey is meant for a particular gamer. One who is happy to read silly flavor text about artificial melons in a convenience store, happy to shuttle themselves back and forth across town to bring goodies to characters. There's no difficulty in what you're doing, no real thinking is needed.
It's so hands-off that at times I even wondered what the point was. But then I stumbled upon a chorus of frogs singing on a bridge and it didn't matter anymore.
"It's mostly light fare, but there's the occasional whiff of deeper storylines... By the end, this collection of small, charming stories you end up a part of all weave together in a way that is so enjoyable that it actually adds up to a genuinely thrilling finale."
Outside of the generally hands-off gameplay experience, Melon Journey didn't really do much that let me down. Across my five hours of playing through most of the game's content, I had one crash and a few bugs (text boxes overlapping when talking to someone just as I examined an object) but nothing that felt like it detracted from the overall experience.
I had a constant fear that I'd miss out on some of the side content, which I chalk up to the game's hands-off approach not making it clear when new dialogue and events could be found throughout the city. That fear leads to lots of backtracking and poking at everything over and over, just to be sure you've exhausted everything the game has in store for you. It paid off in a few rare cases but ultimately led to a lot of mashing through dialogue boxes mindlessly. I'm willing to attribute that to my own irrational need to see everything, more than a true issue in game design, but be warned if you think your mind might function like mine.
We've talked about it in a few reviews this year, like Tchia — this idea that 2023 is the year of taking a step back and breathing. Of taking it easy in gaming and enjoying the ride, no matter what the ride looks and feels like. Melon Journey might be the truest representation of that idea thus far, and while it might not be for everyone, it definitely worked for me.
Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories is a nostalgic trip to simpler times, quieter days, and a different era of gaming. It reminds me of a time when the idea of walking in a digital space, meeting eccentric characters, and becoming part of a lived-in world felt revolutionary. Froach Club's 3-5 hour story is ripe with good vibes, and while it may not ask you to parry frame-perfect attacks or min-max your character's stats to reach glory, its appeal is undeniable.
Go drink a melon soda, let the breeze roll in, and wander through Hog Town.
Video Games Are Good and Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories is . . . GOOD-GREAT. (7.5/10)
+ a relaxingly simple story of friendship and surprising mystery, a calming audiovisual experience that brings you back to a simpler time, all wrapped in a low-stakes little adventure
- a few nagging crashes and a generally hands-off experience make it a "not for everyone" experience, the green may get to be a bit much by the end...
Thanks for reading this Video Games Are Good review. If you're interested in learning more about our review rubric, click here! Wanna join our Discord, where you can discuss reviews and get early views at upcoming articles? Click here! Thank you for supporting our coverage!