Whispering Willows ReviewPC
key review info
- Game: Whispering Willows
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: No
- Reviewed on:
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Whispering Willows is an independent adventure game, the debut title of Night Light Interactive, following the story of a young girl on a quest to find her missing father.
Adventure games are almost always an enjoyable and worthwhile endeavor, because they usually allow you to experience something that is unique to them, an original story set in an original setting or some other such thing that you don’t get to see during your everyday routine.
Whispering Willows delivers on this aspect, offering a story that blends mystery with horror, as well as a healthy dose of supernatural, attempting to enthrall us with its secrets, and to explore the harsh reality that often lies beyond what history remembers as actual fact.
The game kicks off when protagonist Elena Elkhorn wakes up from a nightmarish vision of her father being held captive by an evil presence. Her father has been missing for quite some time, so she rushes to the ancient mansion where he used to serve as groundskeeper, employing her preternatural ability to commune with the dead in order to unravel the mystery of his disappearance.
She then meets the ghost of one of her ancestors and discovers a dreary story that completely alters the perspective she had on her birthplace and unveils the unjust deeds of the past, and the suffering and darkness that resulted from them, which are still plaguing the decrepit mansion and its surroundings.
The game’s principal mechanic is the use of the young girl’s heritage, which the spirit of her ancestor reveals to her, being able to leave her body and interact with the astral world, to talk to the ghosts of those who have not found their eternal rest.
As always in adventure titles, a good story with solid writing along the way is what carries the game, and in this particular case, the unfortunate truth is that neither of them is good enough to stand toe-to-toe with the genre’s classics.
They’re also not bad, merely a tad generic, and they make you feel as if it’s simply not enough, and there should be a bit more depth to the narrative. Instead, many times, the curt interactions you have with the dead characters feel functional rather than a heartfelt attempt to deliver authentic drama and to convey the genuine grief felt by the restless souls.
The brusque nature of the title is also felt when it comes to gameplay, Whispering Willows feeling more like an interactive short story than an actual game, which is not necessarily bad, just weird, when taking into account that the control scheme and perspective are that of a platforming game.
What I mean when saying that the game has a rather brusque nature is that there are a lot of repetitive interactions. For instance, most of the time, you will speak to the dead and then have to retrieve certain items that are of importance to them, and most of the puzzles boil down to reaching a locked door, shifting to ghost form, finding a crack in the wall, going to the other side, and possessing a switch that opens the door.
This is a shame, as it puts a real dent in the overall feeling and engagement of the title, and together with the generic and often plain dialogue, it makes the game a less fulfilling experience than it could have been.
The lack of diversity hinders the gameplay, and the overly simplistic puzzle design is in tune with the game’s linear design, making the game easy to complete but not very rewarding.
In addition to this, Whispering Willows is also quite short, not requiring more than a couple of hours to complete.
What the game does do well is the journal entries, which paint a broader picture of the past and delve into each of the characters’ tribulations, but unfortunately in a pretty disjointed manner that starkly contrasts the actual interactions with the ghosts.
The fact that you just find the journal entries conveniently scattered about the environment, being fed to you at regular intervals, is yet another instance of the contrived design that offers you the cracks you need to slip through while in spirit form in the vicinity of the locked doors that you come across.
Nonetheless, the diary entries offer a powerful infusion of both flavor and depth to Whispering Willows, and repair some of the damage done by the unsatisfying dialogue with the actual ghosts, by providing you with some much-needed context and making you more invested in playing the game to completion and uncovering all the secrets.
In the visuals department, the game does a pretty good job of lining up well-drawn environment for your adventures to take place in, even though its characters do come off a little bit cartoonish.
The backgrounds look very good, they have sufficient detail and feel atmospheric, and even though they don’t always reflect the appropriate tension level they ought to, they’re definitely one of the game’s assets
Another nice touch is in the way the ghosts are drawn, with each of them having a visual cue referring to the way they left this world, as well as having adequately horrific facial expressions and even some traces of vegetation growing out from within them.
The music is also alright, atmospheric and fitting, and it does a pretty good job of blending in a touch of eerie to the experience, not to intrusive but enough to make a difference.
- Beautiful hand-drawn environments
- Good for a Kickstarter debut title
- Interesting story complemented by diary entries
- Unsatisfying and repetitive gameplay
- The writing is sometimes too plain and generic
- The horror parts feel disconnected
Whispering Willows is an enjoyable experience, even though it’s a bit disappointing that it doesn’t live up to neither the gameplay nor the writing of old adventure games.
Given its small scope as a Kickstarter-funded project and the fact that it’s developer Night Light Interactive’s debut title, it’s an okay game. Its mechanics are simple and straightforward, and its story is interesting but is lacking the necessary depth to impress anyone.
Its artistic direction points heavily toward the project’s orientation as an interactive graphic novel rather than traditional video game, and it’s also the title’s greatest asset, as the hand-drawn environments and characters all look pretty good.
Unfortunately, the slow and unnerving pace at which you walk will leave you with ample time to wonder what could have been if the writing were more meaty, leaving one with an overall taste of unrealized potential. In any case, not bad for a first effort.