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Night in the Woods Review: Returning Home - Two Left Sticks
Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods Review: Returning Home

  • Developer: Infinite Fall
  • Publisher: Finji
  • Release Date: February 21, 2017
  • Platform: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Mac, Linux
  • Playtime: 20 hours
  • Acquisition: Purchased by reviewer

Focusing on college drop-out Mae, Night in the Woods is an adventure game reliant on dialog and character development.  Exploring Mae’s hometown of Possum Springs after a year-and-a-half long absence, Mae, and the player needs to come to grips in a town that feels familiar, yet foreign.

Home Again

A large bulk of the gameplay consists of Mae exploring Possum Springs. Helping Mae reconnect with her old friends and family is an emphasis on dialog and character interaction. Talking to the many characters residing all over town is an important part of understanding the game’s world and the secrets it has.

Variety in Adventure

Character interaction isn’t the sole gameplay mechanic of Night into the Woods.  After interacting with other characters, Mae and her friends will embark on adventures in otherwise inaccessible areas. Most of the main story arc is set within these sections, during which players can expect plenty of variety.

While dialog remains prominent, these sections add more traditional gameplay. From knife fights with best friends, dancing at a party, and hunting ghosts, players will have their hands full with a bevy of experiences as Mae. One of the most entertaining parts is a Guitar Hero style mini-game with original songs.

Choosing Development

Taking up slightly less than half of the game, these gameplay segments are incredibly fun and unique. A big issue about this aspect though is that it’s impossible to do all the segments in one playthrough.  At points throughout the game, Mae has to choose between who she wants to hang out with.  After selecting a friend, the other character event can’t be accessed until a new playthrough.

This is bothersome simply because these segments are so much fun.  It’s also annoying because the player has to choose which character they want to develop.  This results in players learning less about certain characters, and not being able to resolve their problems and narrative arcs.  The only way to do everything the game offers is to play through it two or three times. This requirement may be inconvenient for those with limited time.

Simply allowing multiple events to happen in the same day would solve this issue. A day select feature would also go a long way to alleviate the problems with not experiencing certain gameplay segments. This not only would fix the core problem but allow players to relive memorable moments such as the band jam session.

Night Into Dreams

At the end of the day, Mae will hang out at home.  Venturing home, Mae can talk with her parents, watch TV, or chat on the computer.  There is more to the home setting as Mae’s dreams occasionally become elements the player can interact with. These are important to the story, and the mystical aspect of them is exciting at first.

However, these dream sequences become monotonous as they usually ask the player to do the same thing. Nothing is revealed to keep the player intrigued or invested until the last dream. They become series of repetitious tasks which are unnecessary. Ultimately, the dreams are annoying as they interrupt the gameplay and aren’t very fun.

Realism In Character Development

Upon waking up at home, Mae’s day starts again. This allows the player to once again explore the town, and chat with the characters – all of whom have different dialog each day. This is a terrific tool for creating the illusion the characters are real. The dialog is easily the greatest strength of the game, and it’s also very funny at times. Countless sarcastic lines are interloped with tense moments, creating a happy, but serious mood.

One can’t overstate how incredibly well Night in the Woods develops its characters. Nearly every character goes through their own story arc told powerfully through dialog. This depth helps to provide insight as to what life is like in Possum Springs.

Talking with characters often offers up insight into what’s transpiring in their personal lives. Often, it’s impossible not to feel sad, happy, or scared for characters based on what’s going on in their life. For example, the budding poet Selmers will often ask Mae if she wants to hear a poem.

If the player agrees and comes back to hear more every day, Selmers will later appear at a poetry club to read her masterpiece.  However, if the player doesn’t interact with her then Selmers doesn’t have the courage to express herself or join the poetry club.  It’s these dynamic character arrangements which make Night in the Woods stand out so much.

Characters are fleshed out and feel relatable. This is primarily done in how they feel like real people, complete with complex lives. Mae is the most relatable character. Quirky and rebellious, Mae is a perfect conduit for the player to experience the story and uncover the mystery at hand.

Non-Physical Emotions

While Night in the Woods’ emotions are powerful, more animations would help make the interactions seem even more real. Characters never physically interact with each other, so displays of emotion such as hugging are entirely absent. This makes certain moments such as the initial reunion between Mae and her parents fall flat. Interactions such as what appears at 0:34 in the original Kickstarter trailer are not present in the slightest.

Issues In Navigation

Unfortunately, while talking to characters is a blast, issues arise when it comes to getting to them. Every single day, the player will have to travel across the same streets, hopping along the same telephone wires, and climb up to the same rooftops in order to talk to everyone.

Moving around is one of the game’s biggest issues, considering how repetitive it becomes, and how often the player has to do it. It also hurts that the running speed isn’t super fast. While succeeding in making the game realistic as an adventure title, it hurts it as a convenience. Exploring the town is fun at first, but after a few days, it’s pretty much the same thing every time.

A Thematic Approach

Night in the Woods takes on many different themes and does an excellent job doing so. It’s main focus is the slow death of rural America, which it exhibits expertly. Local mines and factories that prospered in the past are now desolate and empty. This has left people without jobs to provide for their families, and many characters are down on their luck.

As one character perfectly describes it, they’re simply surviving, not living.  This theme is an issue in real life, and Night in the Woods does a great job at widening perspective, explaining political realities, and sharing a collective experience of a group of people.

Night in the Woods’ other main theme is whether life has any meaning. A question many still ponder today, the game doesn’t handle this theme as good as it could’ve.  However, the game’s ambition is noble and its take on the matter is interesting.

Infinite Fall also had the courage to tackle other things as well such as mental illness, which Mae suffers from, depression, parental abuse, the role of religion, and more.

Strange Things Are Happening

The “main” story takes a backseat during first half of the game. Instead, character development and theme presentation take priority. This isn’t a big issue since character interactions and their experiences serve as the bulk of the game.

Explaining the story, which picks up in the second half, is hard while best-avoiding spoilers. To describe it in vague terms, it involves disembodied arms and ghosts and it picks up from there. These incidents lead to characters teaming up to find out what’s going on.

The climax proves to be confusing due to how things progress. The game struggles due to a lack of physical interactions between the characters which prevent emotional elements from reaching their peak. The craziness of the story also escalates too quickly from its once normal proceedings.

An epilogue also fails to further explain certain narrative elements, which is disappointing. This is slightly odd as it leaves players up to deciphering certain things. Since the epilogue spans a day, it would’ve been great if there was more optional dialog so things weren’t entirely ambiguous.

Atmosphere

Like the other elements, the soundtrack of Night in the Woods is great and has a style of its own. The music does a great job of amplifying what’s going on, whether it’s a reunion among friends, a gloomy day, or a terrifying encounter.

While not graphically demanding, the art direction of the game is great and creates a cohesive atmosphere.  From a technical standpoint, there is an issue of rampant aliasing in the environment which dampens the mood.

Demontower – Gaming Inside a Game

One more thing that’s absolutely worth noting is Demontower. On Mae’s laptop, in addition to chatting with various characters, she can boot up Demontower, a game within a game. Presented as a top-down roguelike reminiscent of The Binding of Isaac, Demontower contains ten levels and multiple endings.

Night in the Woods

Demontower suffers from a few poor design choices, but its mere existence is kind of crazy. It is a separate hour long game all on its own, serving as a fun side activity. It’s also a cool way to expand Night in the Woods’ world and make it feel real.

At the End of Everything, Hold on to Anything

To put it simply, Night in the Woods is a really fun game. Like many in the adventure genre, there’s a large focus on dialog and not much on traditional gameplay. The characters and world developed by Infinite Fall are fantastic as are the themes and powerful emotions.

Despite some flaws, Night in the Woods is a game that’s worth a purchase. If you can look pass repetitive gameplay and a narrative that’s ambiguous, the game is an absolute thrill with brilliant characters.

 

All screenshots in this review were captured by the reviewer

Conor Egan
Conor Egan is just a guy who loves video games and expressing his opinions about them. He claims he's a completionist, but in reality, he has one of the biggest backlogs known to man. He's also a huge fool for Nintendo, and Pokemon is his favorite franchise of all time. You can find him on Youtube as Youngster Skaymore.

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