Night in the Woods (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)

  • This post contains unflagged light spoilers for Life is Strange, and Oxenfree, and pretty heavy spoilers for Night in the Woods

    I finally got around to finishing Night in the Woods a couple days ago and I have a lot of thoughts and feelings stirring around in my head. I don't think I'm capable of putting most of them into words, but I'll do my best because this game deserves to be talked about.

    I am in love with Night in the Woods.

    I have never had another piece of media make me feel the things that NitW made me feel. It's the coming-of-age story for my generation that I never knew I was missing. I don't want to speak too highly because I understand that my infatuation is highly personal, and this game is absolutely not for everyone, but man do I love it.

    When I think of other would-be coming-of-age stories - or really young-adult stories in general - in games from the past few years I think of games like Life is Strange and Oxenfree and I wonder what sets Night in the Woods apart from those stories. All three have a supernatural element. In Life is Strange the time manipulation is the major gameplay element and the impending cataclysmic event is the main driving story element. In Oxenfree your group gets separated by a supernatural force and the general goal of the game is to reunite and find a way off of the island, perhaps figuring out what is causing these occurrences along the way. Night in the Woods' supernatural element comes in pretty late and really only motivates a small amount of the actions you take. For the most part Mae is just living her life, looking for something to do and somewhere to belong with only hints of something more substantial going on. Night in the Woods' themes serve as the form and function for the story; they don't just serve as accessories to add drama to some independent supernatural mystery.

    Each of these three games share the almost universal coming-of-age them of not feeling like you belong anywhere, but in Life is Strange and Oxenfree the main characters are needed within the terms of the story if not entirely central in the case of Max. At the beginning of Night in the Woods, Mae really doesn't have a place in any story larger than herself and it's unclear whether she truly belongs with her friends who have grown so much without her. I don't really remember the details of Oxenfree's story so I won't discuss any more of it's themes, but I do want to compare and contrast NitW's with Life is Strange's. Life is Strange in general feels phony. Just like the writers forced in slang to make the characters seem young, it feels like the writers forced in themes they thought would be provocative and relatable without really trying to relate, themselves. Slut shaming, teen suicide, rape culture, corrupt and malicious authority figures, and other big themes I'm forgetting are grand, important topics, ripe for discussion, but it feels like many of these were added to the story later instead of being an intrinsic part from the start, and in the end the game ends up dealing with a bunch of ideas adequately instead of a couple well. The whole scale of Night in the Woods is smaller, and the topics tackled in it feel smaller too, if no less important. The themes feel intimate to the writers, as though they have personal experience with these struggles and emotions, and maybe even used this game to work through them. Instead of writing what they thought would be interesting, I believe they chose to write what they know. Other than searching for belonging, the first theme that pops in my mind when I reflect on NitW is seeing the world grow and change around you while you've stayed stagnant. It starts out small - the Food Donkey has been replaced with a Ham Panther and Snack Falcon - but soon grows much larger when you learn that Bea's mother has passed and she's essentially running the Ol' Pickaxe and that Gregg and Angus have been saving up to move away. This progression from trivial, superficial change to significant changes in your friends that you don't notice at first glance makes very impactful revelation. The next topic I want to mention is smaller, but I've never seen it in a game before, and that's body image. Mae looking in the mirror before the woods party is so simple and relatable, and I just can't believe it's something that isn't talked about more. There's also a whole thing about dissociation, where Mae describes seeing people as shapes, but the more I try to talk about themes the more I'm feeling like I'm completely missing what I love about this game, and I don't really know how to discuss that last topic any way so we'll just leave that there. I guess in general, NitW tackles smaller, more focused topics, and due to this manages to reach greater depth in these discussions than some contemporaries.

    I've already written far too much but there are still a few things that absolutely must be said. I love that there are queer characters, but that queer is not treated like a personality trait. I love that the characters can be grumpy and fight sometimes. I love that your friends clearly have other things going on in their lives and those things effect the mood they're in on any given day. I love that Mae has been to some seedy websites and the game doesn't try to shame her for it. I love I can't tell whether the writer is religious because both atheism and theism are treated so fairly.

    Night in the Woods doesn't have any brand new mechanics or anything shiny like that, but it does some unique things that I really like. I love how they let you fill-in some blanks in the story. You get to feel like you're creating the world and the game just runs along with it. It feels like you're doing improv and the game will always "yes, and" whatever you say. It's such a small thing, but it's just another way to make the player feel an ownership for the world. I love the way there will be awkward pauses between dialogue boxes where only glances are being exchanged. Silence is such an important part of conversation and this is such a simple, effective what to add meaningful space to text-based conversations. And I love how NitW makes you interact with the world. Grabbing a can of Fisacola from the machine or a slice of pizza off the tray may not seem like exciting video game actions, but those things really do add variety and give you a sort of presence in the world that a lot of story-driven games don't. Jumping around the world, band practice, and [don't even get me started on] knife fighting are all little touches that add levity to this otherwise quite heavy game.

    Just a few closing notes. The writing is so real and natural and funny and sad. NitW has mastery over it's tone. It's not often something can make me genuinely laugh and cry at the same time. I legitimately love every single character and feel attached to Possum Springs. The art style is whimsical and expressive, but can still pull of grungy abandoned buildings and accommodate serious existential conversations. The music has an incredible range and somehow always feels familiar. Definitely a soundtrack I'll be thinking about for a while. Oh yeah, and Demontower is a seriously good game that reminds me a lot of Hyper Light Drifter. Like, wow I spent a lot of time playing that and had a blast. What I wild game to have such a good whole other game in it.

    I feel like I said a whole lot of junk and really got no close to communicating what this game means to me and why. I love this weirdo game. I want few things more than to talk about Night in the Woods, so seriously, hit me up. L&R

  • @DeweyDecibel Yes to all of that!

    I played NitW, Life is Strange, and Oxenfree all within a few months and NitW hands down is the best of the three. The only one of those I haven't done multiple play throughs on, and have no intention of replaying, is Life is Strange.

    I've played through NitW three times now and the big thing that stood out to me is that I always feel like I've found something new each time. The little details in this game are really what make it so special, they crafted a game that gives you a real sense of discovery. The little details felt significant and characters seemed incredibly real despite being anthropomorphic animals. An example of a moment that stood out to me is that in the pizza parlor I had a different experience in each run. In the first, I ate pizza with my buds like normal and laughed when Angus couldn't reach the last slice. In the second, I just ate Gregg's pizza crusts and again laughed when everyone unintentionally made it so Angus couldn't reach the remaining pieces, but the third time I had a thought and I grabbed that last piece and was able to hand it to Angus. I teared up over it. Just something cute, sweet, and small that from my perspective made Mae a different, kinder, person. I felt bad that I hadn't thought to do it before. Just something simple and easy to not do that made me feel a connection to these characters, like a part of that world, like it had an impact. I think that is the real strength in this game that is lacking in many others. The little details, which don't have any impact on the way the game plays out but did impact how I viewed the relationships. It is what makes this game, with less player choice compared to Life is Strange and Oxenfree, feel like I had an effect on the characters. All these games have relatively linear stories, your choices don't really change much in the end, but of the three Night in the Woods made me feel the most strongly about its characters.

    I did a story only run on my second play through and I felt bad about all the things I didn't do. I felt bad that I didn't talk to Lori and slowly learn about her passion for horror movies, that I didn't stop to listen to Selmers' poetry every day, that I didn't discover the rat babies and feed them until they took over the town, didn't hang out with Mae's mom and take the trip to Jenny's Field, never found the tooth that would make work easier for Mae's dad. I didn't feel any of those things with Oxenfree or Life is Strange. The most recent game that I can think of where I had a similar investment in the world and characters is Undertale.

    Even playing through three times, and the only missing achievements for beating Demontower and completely filling out the journal, I still feel like I would find something new with another run.

  • @logic__error Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I took 16 hours on my first play through of NitW, and managed to pick up 55% of the achievements, so I'm going to take some time for other games, but I think I'll come back next year after getting some space. I also only played Oxenfree and Life is Strange one time and definitely want to give Oxenfree another play or two.

    I think one of the things that makes the relationships in NitW so meaningful is that you have to choose who you're going to spend time with. And that also means that you're choosing not to spend time with other friends. This situation (and Persona V is another recent example which does this as well) forces you to evaluate your relationships with these characters, and who you think is going to be the most interesting to hang out with on a given day, so you're actually doing a lot of the work for the writers in growing attached to the characters.

    I'm actually surprised you say there's less player choice in NitW than in Life is Strange and Oxenfree, because I always felt like I had a role in what happened. I don't remember a game ever letting me participate in the narrative exposition like NitW does (other than perhaps the beginning of Firewatch). I guess ultimately your choices lead you to (essentially) the same end regardless of what they are, but I prefer choices that result in "I will remember this" over choices that result in "Chloe will remember that", and NitW certainly delivered those to me. So upon reflection you're definitely correct, but Night in the Woods is an interesting case study on how little, inconsequential choices are extremely significant.

    Demontower definitely gets a little brutal towards the end. I found it's design how you can't just stand in place and slash repeatedly is an extremely smart and interesting way to encourage dashing and prevent the exploitation of the fairly simple AI. That sort of game is a home to me since falling in love with Hyper Light Drifter last year, so discovering that game was a wild surprise and an absolute treat.

    I'm very happy knowing that I had my own little adventure through this game and that others took very different paths. I think that's a huge part of this games magic - it's not afraid of you missing things. I'm going to be very very happy returning to Possum Springs next year!

  • @DeweyDecibel I had to play it twice just to see the different stories for Bea and Gregg! I definitely took my time on my first run! I think I covered about the same amount for the achievements, but some were still glitched at that point.

    Yeah, I worded that weirdly. I think Life is Strange and Oxenfree give you a greater illusion of choice. They make it seem like your decisions will change the way the game ends but ultimately you reach pretty much the same place regardless of what you do (and your choices don't matter because -time travel-) The story is always the same in NitW but the dialogue options are plentiful, who you spend time with is limited, and the optional things you can choose to do have a big impact on how you view Mae and the other characters in the game.

    I actually played Hyper Light Drifter in between runs of NitW and it certainly helped with Demontower. I agree that they did well in making the dash absolutely necessary and the way it is tied to Pale Cat's age, frailty, and health is great! I would have continued with it but I got careless and made the grave error of accidentally killing the NPC the 3rd time it showed up and I didn't have the heart to keep going knowing I'd need to do it all over again anyways to get the true ending. Some day I'll probably try again because I'm sure I'll get the urge to play NitW a fourth time.

    If you haven't seen this yet, it is a very interesting cut scene from the game where Mae hangs out with Germ at his house. I like the little things it would have added to Mae's status as being between a kid and an adult and a little extra info on her Dad and his history and relationship to other people in town! The cryptic discussion of the ending of the game is interesting too!

  • Night in the Woods: Weird Autumn Edition comes out December 13th. The game will now be available for XBox One, in addition to all the systems it was previously on, and it was very much implied that a Switch version is in the works as well but they can't say it officially yet. This new version adds the short side games "Lost Constellation" and "Longest Night", which were released while the game itself was in development, as well as additional content to the game proper. If you already own NitW you'll get the new content as a FREE update.

    From the trailer it looks like we'll at least get a new song, or maybe the option to play bass outside of band practice? There is definitely a new mini game segment and some new story sections, so I'm pretty excited! I wonder if any of the cut content that people have discovered was finished up and added in?

  • I will get this! Really want to play NitW before the year is out.

  • @tokeeffe9 Yeah! I'm really glad they're releasing this now, this year has been so full of great games so the extra stuff gives the perfect little push to finally jump in!

  • I'm glad I haven't had the time for this game yet if it's coming to Switch. There is little reason to buy indie games on PS4 anymore if you have both. Even if I just play on my couch it feels a lot more accessible for someone like me who shares a TV at home.

  • @Haru17 I'm so happy it is coming to Switch! I already had a friend text me earlier today saying they would play it once the Switch version came out. So many indies lend themselves to being playable on the go or on a smaller screen. I can't say I would have opted to get it on PS4 either for the same reason, it's tough to demand TV time so I stick to my handheld and my PC.

  • Still working on the pc version.

  • @logic__error said:

    it was very much implied that a Switch version is in the works as well but they can't say it officially yet

    Thank you for posting this. I would've bought this on Steam during winter sale finally, but now I'll wait for that juicy Switch version.

  • Meant to write this a while ago (I'll probably say this a lot in a few posts) as I finished Night in the Woods a few weeks ago. It's no longer fresh in the mind and @logic__error and @DeweyDecibel already gave some excellent analysis/feedback on the game so I'll keep this relatively short.

    I really loved this game. The weird thing about it is that I really love how mundane the game is. Just coming back to your hometown, walking around the neighbourhood, interacting with people and meeting up with old friends. It's something I'm pretty used to (although to a much smaller extent) and I think the game just absolutely nails that element of life. The actual bigger storyline, I didn't really care for really, I was there for the everyday stuff, talking to the elderly lady in the underground, checking constellations, feeding my rat babies (best payoff!), those were the things that I loved.

    Having you wander around town everyday, to see whatever changes or people were around, I think that worked really well. Also I don't know what it is but any game that has a big jump after 2-3 timings, love it. Feels great.

    The soundtrack is as fantastic as I was expecting it to be. I was actually surprised how a lot of the tracks are only really used once in the game. I'd no idea about the band part of the game either so after initially being rubbish, I really got into trying to perfect those songs.

    I have to mention how great the characters are in this game. Definitely one of the best ensemble of last year, your close friends are great, the parents, neighbours.. oh man, just thinking about them makes me happy.

    So yes, great great game.

    Edit: Oh my god, and Sharkle. How could I forget Sharkle. If you didn't click on him everyday, you're a monster in my book. That is all.

  • @tokeeffe9 I'm so glad you liked it! I agree too that the mundane parts are the strongest point of the game. A lot of the little moments felt the biggest to me, like finding the tooth, the secret behind it, and then the payoff with that at the end. I felt bad not doing those little things when I sped through my second time.

    Sharkle is delightful.