Thursday, 11 March 2021

IMHO - Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest

Next up in our quest to play all of last month's Humble Choice bundle, we have the visual novel that you can tell is going to be a visual novel because the name has a colon AND a dash, Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest.

Ah, the visual novel, the 21st century answer to the Choose Your Own Adventure story, where instead of 30 Different Endings! you have an unspecified number, but they're probably all pretty much the same. It's hard to quantify exactly how many of these there's been in the Humble Choice lately, as what counts as an adventure game and what is just a straight up VN is a bit of a grey area, but having a game in the same series, Vampire: The Masquerade - Shadows of New York just last month after also having Vampire: The Masquerade - Coteries of New York back in September is honestly just a little on the nose. Truly the Paradox Interactive promotional department is earning their paycheques.

As you might have guessed from the glowing introduction, I'm not much for the visual novel as a genre, which might seem a little odd as I grew up devouring CYOAs, and have played my fair share of MUDs and text adventures. I don't think I want that much, my criteria for what makes a decent visual novel is pretty basic: it has to tell an engaging story, it has to be enhanced by the medium, and the player needs to be able to make choices that matter.  Maybe it's a symptom of being a basic format with a low barrier to entry, making them essentially the fanfiction of the gaming world, but for my money most VNs just seem to fall short of these goals. Or maybe I'm just an old man, not ready to deal with all these new-fangled computermagadjets. Could go either way.


Anyways, how does W:TA-HotF measure up against the aforementioned criteria? I gotta say that the mystery of the protagonist finding out about their family history is kinda spoiled with the word Werewolf in big letters in the title. In the storyline I clicked through the characters felt like they made sense and most of the pieces hung together okay, but I didn't feel like there was a enough narrative drive other than the whole werewolf thing to properly hook me. The pacing was weird too, even more than the usual that you might expect to be brought about by branching storylines, and for a game allegedly about being a werewolf, the whole actually being a werewolf thing was...pretty much irrelevant. By the time I reached an ending I felt like I'd used a character creator, wikied an environmental protest in regional Poland, and read the lore page in the guidebook for an role-playing game rather than actually enjoyed a story, which given that Werewolf: The Apocalypse is mostly a tabletop RPG and that this is a spin-off more geared at building enthusiasm for the main game, actually makes a lot of sense. I'd wonder if this was intended as the first part of an episodic release game, but the whole business model of squeezing these titles out every few months seems to suggest that's not the case.

I also have a small nitpick about how a game that is all about the text probably needs some better copyediting. It wasn't plagued by the google translate problem that so much of the cheap end of Steam is, but it do things like use 'draught' instead of 'drought' throughout, which makes me crazy. I was unsurprised to see the usual suspects in the steam reviews complaining that the protagonist is a woman and the game won't let you play as a proper fascist werewolf, so it at least gets points for that, I guess.

Extremely memeworthy names for varieties of wolf people

The soundscape is unobtrusive but suitably moody, and the distinctive sketch/photo hybrid art style works well to enhance the story without detracting or distracting from it and isn't quite as reliant on various shades of blood red as the screenshots I've grabbed here might indicate, so the sensory elements of this one work well. The RPG-style character sheet functions well enough to help you track things and give hints about what routes you might want to explore, too. I kind of wish there was a way to keep that info on the screen all the time instead of having to click into it, but I don't know it's worth sacrificing the space devoted to artwork to get there. All in all, the VN format suits the story well, and is well executed, so it gets marks in that category.

Having only played through this once, it's hard to judge how much the player choices really matter. Certainly in the storyline I played through I made some pretty suboptimal choices and there didn't really seem to be any consequences in meandering towards a vaguely positive ending. I got my character 'killed' twice, once on purpose to see what would happen, which I would have thought would have some kind of bad outcome, but that didn't seem to put the brakes on either. You are given a couple of status bars to maintain and are told when you're given choices that are due to your character status or relationship with particular groups, which is a good feature that helps helps to make the choices feel less arbitrary, but I can't help the feeling that the game would have ended up pretty much where it ended up if regardless of most of my decisions, and that's a frustrating feeling. 

The art grows on you. The story...

Story: nope. Format: sure. Choices: not so much. I guess one out three ain't bad? Like in The Wild Eight, I'm sure there's more good stuff to discover here, but what I've met so far doesn't encourage me to look any further and I've already spent a bunch more time on this post than I did playing the game.

Some quick numbers 

  • Time played: 1.75 hours
  • Named characters met that didn't turn out to be werewolves all along: 2
  • Times I was told I was the chosen one: 3
  • Friends murdered and dismembered: 1
  • Rating: 4 trippy dream sequences out of 10

The rankings so far

I can imagine that folks that love the Werewolf: The Apocalypse RPG could be super into this in the way of fans the world over, and it doesn't do all that much wrong; it's a perfectly serviceable visual novel. I guess I still don't like visual novels that much, though.

And then I woke up and found it was all a dream... Or was it?

  1. Trine 4
  2. The Wild Eight
  3. Valfaris
  4. Werewolf: The Apocalyse - Heart of the Forest
  5. Train Station Renovation
We have played five games and it does not bode well that Valfaris is still number 3 on this list. Next up, the dice have decreed that we will play game number 1...Boomerang Fu.

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