I’ve been talking about Night in the Woods for a while now, starting with my coverage of the supplemental games back in January, and I’ve been dying to talk about it even more. Since its release on February 21, I’ve been completely enthralled by the world the game takes place in, its characters, and a story which seems to so closely mimic the stories of myself, my friends, and even my family. It’s a game that not just “gets me”, but represents me, and the way many people I know feel- and does so in glorious fashion.

Night in the Woods is a game with a colorful cast of 20-something year old characters who all face different struggles with adulthood. Mae, the main character, struggles with a mental illness that caused her to drop out of college and now haunts her dreams, making every moment of her life a fight on its own. Bea has been forced to take over her family’s business upon her mother’s passing, unallowed to live the typical life of a college teen and burdened with financial troubles, instead of which boy she should date. Gregg and Angus are a gay couple who feel ostracized in the small town they grew up in, and work themselves to the bone in an attempt to move to a town with a more openly queer atmosphere- even if that means moving to a less than safe, but affordable, neighborhood to do so.

These are just the four main characters, and so long as you take the right opportunities in game, you can interact with even more characters in the town who face entirely unique problems of their own. Characters openly confront concepts like dealing with death, the inability to find stable work, getting screwed over on your mortgage, and what it’s like having to leave pieces of yourself behind once you have to start “growing up”. Every character interaction in this game felt so real, and spoke to something either I’ve directly dealt with, or my friends or family have dealt with, and that’s not a path I’ve really seen many games venture down.

Games don’t tend to do that primarily because it’s an incredibly bleak path to tread down. We tend to play games to get away from our bogus mortgages, our lost loved ones, or missing pieces of ourselves, not embrace them- but that’s what I loved about Night in the Woods. It’s that same feeling of being understood that I mentioned in my piece on anxiety that made this game feel so welcoming. The characters may not be real, but every word they spoke lifted off the screen and hit me in the chest. Watching these characters struggle to be understood and fight through their issues is something I, and many others, are all too familiar with, and seeing that so well represented in a game was absolutely refreshing.

Navigating the perfectly crafted, quaint atmosphere of Possum Springs was an excellent additive to that as well, quickly becoming daily ritual once gameplay begins. You map out your own route across the town as you venture out each day, visiting seemingly minor characters with a wide breadth of stories to share about their own unique, contemporary struggles. One group of townspeople bickers over their hatred of the job they share, but how it’s better than working at the supermarket- the only other job they could get in town considering the state of it’s economy.

You watch stores go out of business, learn the deep history of a small rural community that feels left behind in a world dominated by technology and big business, and see it change right in front of you over the course of playing the game. Having the setting not just be a background for the story to take place in, but part of the story itself does wonders for just how immersive the game can be.

Mae’s journal also adds an interesting element to the experience, serving as an ongoing running commentary on the events in game. As a character struggling with mental illness, Mae has been told by her counselor to keep a journal of her everyday interactions, constantly keeping track of how she feels. This gives the player a window of insight into the Mae’s feelings, adding the context of old inside jokes and personal conflictions as opposed to providing these feelings as yet another running monologue. It’s one of the many ways this game kept things interesting; trying to fill the notebook with Mae’s doodles became a collecting game for me, and having kept similar notebooks throughout my life I was able to draw constant parallels alongside what she had drawn or written as well, continuing the already intimate experience.

As stated previously, Mae has frequent nightmares, typically on a nightly basis. At the beginning of the game I found the nightmares to be extremely interesting; Mae explores a somber landscape, platforming about floating buildings and fixtures until she navigates to a certain point in the dream which she is to interact with. It’s exciting to explore, and the way the dream will turn out becomes a point of intrigue for the player. As you go on in the game, however, the nightmares become more streamlined and more repetitive. They lose their uniqueness, every dream is now the same puzzle, explore the area to find four people playing musical instruments, then return to a central point, and a large celestial beast swallows you whole. These, too, are interesting at first; The way the music builds upon finding each musician is satisfying and clever, and the dream beasts are sights to see, but after the third or fourth time it loses its charm.

This is no doubt intentional, you are having a nightmare afterall, and I can appreciate intentionally making things unpleasant to get a point across- but for me this still missed the mark. I can’t help but feel the first few dreams got the point across in a more interesting and engaging way, and all the repetitive dreams did for me was sour one of Mae’s overarching struggle with religion, often reflected in these nightmares. Due to my disinterest in the gameplay of these portions, I felt disinterested in that part of the story, which I doubt was what the developers intent. As someone who struggles with her own mental health issues I’ve had my own share of recurring nightmares, and despite their repetitive nature I can assure their lasting impact and unfortunate intrigue.

Minor issues aside, Night in the Woods is a game that speaks to the issues that I and many people I know have that often go untouched. A family unable to keep up on house payments may not make for a good movie, but it’s real life. We’ve all either been there, or know someone who has been, and seeing that play out on screen with characters you engage with over time creates an incredibly intimate bond. You either know Mae, Bea, Angus, or Gregg- or you are them. A story that reaches out to you on such a deep level is one hard to not feel personally attached to, and Night in the Woods is a game that will hold a lasting impact on me for a long time.

Review: Night in the Woods
Positives
  • Incredible writing
  • Wonderful Atmosphere
  • Great Music
Negatives
  • Nightmares feel awkward and disjointed
  • Platforming sometimes frustrating
9Overall Score

About The Author

Social Media Editor

Carolyn is a bit multifaceted as not just a games journalist but also as a video editor, streamer, and artist. She's been gaming since she was a toddler, starting with classics like the Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis titles and Chrono Trigger. Carolyn is a big supporter of games with vibrant aesthetics, diverse casts, and unique storytelling, and doesn't shy away from an opportunity to scream about how much she loves video games.

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