Every once in a while, I play a video game that delights me beyond words, while also gripping my heart so hard, that I can’t help but feel teary-eyed. It’s not that I don’t always enjoy the video games that I play, but not all of the ones I play give me an emotional experience that leaves such a lasting impression. Games like those are what really inspire me as a storyteller, so they often mean more to me than just an entertaining story that tugs at all of my emotions.
Recently, I played Night in the Woods, and it did just that, to me.
Don’t let the cute art and quirky characters fool you; this game has some intense moments that kick you right in the gut with no warning. The themes in the game were described by Paste, an entertainment magazine, as covering “mental illness, depression, the stagnancy of the middle and lower classes, and the slow death of small town America.” For those who don’t know what the game’s story entails, it follows the story of four friends in a town called Possum Springs, and how their lives have changed in the meantime after the protagonist, Mae Borowski, returns home after suddenly dropping out of college. Hoping to return to the days before Mae left for college, she shortly learns that her friends’ lives have little time to accommodate her, her parents are more distant and stressed due to financial strain, and the town just isn’t as thrilling as she remembered it to be. It’s a story full of hardship, learning about yourself, and trying to move past moments in our lives that keep us from growing. I want to say something like “thank goodness the art is adorable,” but I don’t really know if that helped lighten the mood, or made me feel worse for these cute critters getting their hearts crushed by reality.
Also, two of the central characters (Gregg and Angus, the fox and the bear) are in a same-sex relationship! And it isn’t made out to be something out of the ordinary! You better believe my bleeding gay heart was ecstatic about that.
The high moments in this game were high, in the sense that I couldn’t help but let out a laugh at so many of the the things these ridiculous characters do and say. Every time Gregg wiggled his arms, I I felt my soul inflate with joy. Every time Mae’s dad made a dumb pun, I rolled my eyes, but in the most loving way. There were also several low moments, and those low points gave a conscious effort at ripping your heart out. With each back-story that we learn about, I feel my heart hurt for the experiences of these characters, wishing I could somehow jump into Possum Springs and tell them that everything’s going to be okay, and give them the biggest hug.
The game focuses on exploring the town and interacting with the friends Mae had in Possum Springs, and it works in a way that lets you choose which character you would like to spend time with on each day. This allows you to choose the character’s story that you may be more interested in, or try to balance the time between both, but balancing the two would mean missing scenes from the other character’s story (the developers sure knew how to get that replay value in). The game prioritizes narrative, spending most of its time observing dialogue between characters, but also offering some fun mini games on occasion. It caters to many different gaming styles, but those who are looking for a rich story with complex, dynamic characters will be the ones who enjoy this game the most.
This is easily one of my favorite games that I’ve played in such a long time, because of how well this story is told, how relatable these characters are, and the range of emotions it captures. You find yourself thinking you feel one way about a character, only to realize that that character is more than what they’ve been letting on, and your feelings go from sky-rocketing to taking a nose-dive with very little warning. The situations in it are raw, not glorifying or dramatizing any of the real hardships faced by these characters. The dialogue is so smooth, so individual to each character, and the banter will easily be the thing that makes you fall in love with everyone in the game. The story is one of a kind, and no matter what kind of stories you enjoy, I think you’ll find yourself enjoying this one from start to finish.
If you just can’t wait to play this game, it’s currently available for download on Steam or the Playstation store! For those with neither of those, it will be available for the Nintendo Switch on February 1st.
If you’ve already experienced this delightfully emotional creation, let me know how you felt about it in the comments! I could talk about this game for hours and hours. For real.