By Phil Schipper / February 13th, 2016
|Developer||Night Light Interactive|
|Release Date||October 8th, 2015|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Mobile|
|Age Rating||Teen (ESRB)|
Adventure games aren’t terribly common anymore, at least compared to other genres. That’s just how it is. So when they do come along, it’s good to pay attention to them. Today, we’re going to look at Whispering Willows, a horror adventure game with ghosts everywhere.
Elena’s father is missing, and she tracks him to the Willows Mansion. Upon arriving, she encounters Flying Hawk, one of her Native American predecessors. He teaches her to tap into her shamanic powers and project her spirit away from her body, then asks her to help him find his own body so that he can rest in peace. So Elena’s true journey begins.
This spirit projection is the main mechanic of the game. Basically, the spirit form can pass through tiny holes in the walls, floor and ceiling of each room in the indoor areas. You can then possess objects such as switches to flip them, or items that you can then bring back to your body to pick up. However, there is a limit on how far you can go from your body, and only your physical form can do certain things, like opening doors.
The spirit can also see other ghosts, the people that originally lived in the mansion. Between these and the large collection of hidden notes scattered around the house and grounds, you can get a detailed sense of what appears to be a sort of slavery-centered household, where whites abuse Native Americans and have them do their dirty work for them. You’ll learn especially more and more about the head of the household and the horrible things he did that lead to this mansion being full of restless spirits.
While a few of the ghosts are there just to add to this narrative, most of them do it while giving you hints on the puzzles you’ll encounter or even being the ones to help you progress. A fair number of them want you to either fetch them an item or investigate something for them, and I would say about half of the things you do in the game are of this nature. The rest of the time, of course, you’ll be exploring, looking for ways to the next area, picking up items, and, on a rare occasion, solving an actual puzzle.
For the most part, though, the puzzles in Whispering Willows are pretty easy, and finding your way around is the tough part. Honestly, this game would definitely do better with a map–even on the Wii U version, the Gamepad is dedicated to simply reading the notes and diary entries you find, which I think is a bit of a waste. There is one area which is meant to be a maze of moving between different screens, but that ended up being more annoying than fun anyway.
Getting a little lost would not be so bad, except that whenever you switch to a different screen, a loading screen comes up. Load times are generally around 10-15 seconds, but when you’re exploring a vast mansion full of long hallways that lead to small rooms, or even just going a long way from point A to point B, these loading times can add up and get extremely annoying. It’s not quite at Tales of the Abyss levels, but it did frustrate me nonetheless.
I assume that the amount of load time is due to the graphics. As you can see from the screenshots, Whispering Willows has a very strong art direction, and it shows in great detail as you play. The lighting and mood are just fantastic. However, certain cut scenes are just a tiny bit underwhelming in comparison, if you ask me. Even then, they’re still pretty good.
It’s pretty decent in the sound department. I couldn’t complain about the music, as it served the purpose of the overall creepy atmosphere quite well. While cut scenes aren’t voiced, a few actions do cause Elena to make some basic grunting sounds, much like in the Zelda series, and those are fine. It didn’t really knock my socks off, though.
Between the main storyline and all the pieces of extra backstory you can pick up through the notes, I would say that the story is the strong point of Whispering Willows, aside from the graphics. It does have the gameplay issues with loading screens and such, though. The game’s length is another drawback: I was done with it in a mere 3 hours. At that point, it might be a bit hard to justify spending the $9.99 USD for it on most of the many different consoles it’s on. However, for the next week, it’ll be part of Steam’s Lunar New Year Sale, so you could get that version for only $2.99. That, at least, seems like a pretty good deal to me.
This review is based on the WiiU version of the game. Review copy supplied by the publisher.
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