A new trend in gaming has been a very narrative-driven approach; people either absolutely adore it, or they find the lack of substantive gameplay rather boring. While some video games tell their story with a palatable amount of action, some flourish with limited action. “Night in the Woods” was released in February, and was developed by the new gaming company Infinite Fall.
The main character, a cat named Mae Borowski, inexplicably drops out of college, residing once more with her parents in her slowly, but surely, dying hometown of Possum Springs. The entire town is comprised of different types of animals, reminiscent of the Netflix original TV series, “Bojack Horseman”. When Mae arrived back in Possum Springs, she waited at the train station for hours before just deciding to walk home. Upon entering her house, she sees her dad sitting on the couch, bewildered to see his child. He nonchalantly brushes it off, stating that he thought her arrival was going to be a day later. They agree to start over tomorrow.
Instantly, she tries to connect with her friends: Bea, an alligator with a penchant for cigarettes and a standoffish attitude; Gregg, an enthusiastic, charming fox with an overwhelming desire to commit crimes and his boyfriend Angus, a dapper-looking bear who carries himself in a non-threatening, but serious, manner. Mae has been gone for two years, yet is somehow surprised when she finds out that her friends from high school have gone on to do new things. Her attempts at seeming relevant, interjecting herself at awkward moments and giving sass to anyone who will take it, makes her almost heartbreakingly human.
This video game ends up feeling like more of a personal commitment to the characters rather than an actual video game. But the way in which it is carried is unlike most video games out there now, and the impacts of your decisions stick with you the entire game. Less in a ‘butterfly effect’ manner, as it just feels as though Mae is progressing throughout her life in a somewhat normal way. While it likely won’t fulfill the video game trope of being a distraction on the hard days, this game has a way of bringing up thoughts related to the game, despite not playing it for a few weeks.
As the game progresses, the player gets to know Mae on a personal level. Perhaps too personal. One quickly learns that she’s about as flawed of a protagonist as can be, but she still has a sincere way about her that makes for an interesting story. Her relationship with her parents is probably one that is all too real for many people; media typically displays family in a set of given tropes, but Mae’s family seems like an actual loving, albeit dysfunctional family.
Night in the Woods is very much so a ‘this is what you make of it,’ type of game. The player chooses who they want to interact with on a daily basis. As the player is going through Mae’s story line, they could also be immersed in the storylines of over 10 people, which may come across as a little overwhelming.
The delicate intricacy of the character interactions allows the player to really feel as though they’re playing as Mae, however. It’s easy to feel very in control of Mae’s destiny, and perhaps the destiny of Possum Springs.
Addressing Mental Health
For those who have never gone through any kind of mental health issues, this may be an easy thing to gloss over. However, for those who have, this game can feel very organic, and can hit entirely too close to home. Mae suffers with a lot of things: disassociation, a warped self image, possible depression, etc. But she’s very wrapped up in herself, and likely has no idea that the other characters are going through their own strifes as well. Angus and Gregg have a relationship that works for the both of them; Angus is more level-headed and rational, while Gregg is a bit more wild and adventurous.
They both have a lot of things going on in their home life that leads them to act or feel a certain way, and the specific scenarios given feel real and honest.
And it’s amazing to be able to go on that journey with them despite the fact that the player is not playing as either of them; they’re playing as Mae. The side characters have their own situations as well, which makes them act the way they are. This game throws a lot at the player in a mental sense, but it’s not for those who are craving something with more movement. The stagnancy in the game feels very intentional, but some may feel uncomfortable with this and decide the game isn’t for them.
Regardless, the game tells a story, and the story a player gets depends on who they talk to and hang out with. Very rarely will two people have the same gameplay with this game; it feels individualized, and it’s as immersive as the player wants it to be. This game was obviously made with so much love and attention by the developers, and that’s felt nearly all throughout it. The dialogue is relatable and doesn’t feel forced, and the relationships feel organic, even if they’re a bit strained.