Every so often I switch things up and play a game that isn’t an otome game, sometimes I need a break from the rose colored world of bishies and romance—what can I say, variety is the spice of life. Since picking up my Switch I’ve been branching out more and the eShop has been pretty accommodating, it’s a treasure trove of indie titles. On one of my eShop browsing expeditions, I picked up Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods. This wasn’t completely a blind buy, I’d heard a bit about the game before, generally positive feedback, so, I figured it was a safe bet.
In Night in the Woods, you play as Mae, a 20-year old college sophomore, returning to her hometown of Possum Springs after deciding to drop out of school. But, nothing is as she left it—the town is on the brink of collapse after the closure of the coal mines and her old friends have changed in the two years they’ve been apart. While Mae struggles to reconnect with her friends and family, she is plagued by strange dreams that may be linked to a series of mysterious disappearances and sinister secrets some in the town would rather stay buried.
- Slice-of-Life, Exploration Adventure, Story-Based
- Available on Windows, Mac, & Linux | Steam | Nintendo Switch
- Price: $19.99
- 5+ hours of gameplay
Night in the Woods has been out for three years, but I managed to remain largely spoiler free, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the game. I knew that it dealt with the topic of mental health and that it was more of an exploration adventure game than an outright visual novel, but Night in the Woods was never really on my radar. So, I really didn’t know what to expect from the game and I think that made the experience for me, because I was learning things alongside Mae.
She has been removed from her home, her friends, and her family for two years and in that time a lot has changed. This isn’t the same town she left all those years ago and she has to get reacquainted with the places and people she once knew and we go through the entire process with her. Which can be a bit daunting given the sheer amount of leg work it entails. Mae runs (and jumps) around town, exploring every corner of Possum Springs—walking on powerlines, jumping along rooftops and fences, chatting with neighbors, friends, family—and with each new interaction you learn more about the town and the individual stories of each of the residents of Possum Springs.
In any other game exploring the town, interacting with the various citizens of Possum Springs would seem like an absolute chore. There were even moments early on in my playthrough when I wondered when the actual story would get going, because surely running around town, jumping on mailboxes and talking to people wasn’t all there was to such a highly praised game like Night in the Woods.
Don’t get me wrong, the story does eventually “pick up”, even delving into nightmare fuel territory in the game’s second half, but the bulk of the game is about helping Mae reconnect with her life and those people closest to her, like her friends—Bea, a intelligent young woman whose talents are wasted managing her family’s store (one of the few businesses in town still up and running) or Gregg, a hyperactive anarchist who is always down for a little destructive fun, and his more reserved boyfriend, Angus who loves him regardless. Not to mention her parents, who patiently support Mae as she figures out what she wants to do with her life.
Like it’s small town setting, Night in the Woods is very unhurried in it’s execution, encouraging players to take their time and interact with every facet of life in Possum Springs. I found myself chatting up random side characters like Mae’s neighbor, Selmers who as it turns out is quite the accomplished poet or even the group of teens that hang out in the abandoned tunnels under the town. Each new interaction gives us an intimate look at the town, it’s people—which is important because this is the place that Mae calls home—Possum Springs is the place that shaped who she is as a person and in learning about the town we are inadvertently learning more about Mae.
I’m going to be pretty honest here, but Mae is perhaps one of the most flawed protagonists I have ever experienced in a game—she is selfish and self-absorbed to the point that I wonder why any of her friends or family put up with her antics. Everyone around her has had to deal with the harsh realities of a changing world, while Mae, who up until the start of the game was away at school, has been removed from everything going on in the lives of her friends and family. So when she returns home she expects things to remain the same, because for her things haven’t changed. But in reality, everything has changed, her friends have moved on from the people they were 2 years ago, they’ve had to make sacrifices and grow up, while Mae who has been in a sort of bubble at school is very much the same person she was when she left Possum Springs.
This disconnect is what fuels most of the conflict in Night in the Woods as Mae attempts to figure out where she now fits in this new, changed version of the town—because the spaces she once occupied are now gone and the first time in a long time, Mae is forced to really reflect on her life and her choices. And I think this is where Night in the Woods really shines, it’s not overly sympathetic towards the characters or their flaws nor is it overly judgmental—rather the game is honest in its portrayal of the characters. Night in the Woods doesn’t shy away from awkward moments or harsh truths, in fact it celebrates the various growing pains we experience in our lives as we transition into adulthood.
I could talk about the weird dreams and the supernatural Cthulhu-esque abomination deep beneath the town, but that’s not the main focus of Night in the Woods—it’s growing up. The game’s biggest strength is it’s ability to create imperfect characters who we can easily see a bit of ourselves in, their stories are our stories so their journey resonates with us.
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