By the time I had finished Night in the Woods, I felt like protagonist Mae Borowski. The two of us had just been on an journey together; she the events of the game, and I the act of playing it. We both needed some time to process things.
I feel like Night in the Woods should come with a disclaimer because I don’t think many people actually know what it is, and it’s definitely not for everybody. I’ve seen it called slow, which is true but also the point. Night in the Woods is not really a video game. There’s gameplay, sure, but most of the time you’re simply talking to people or interacting with things. For me, that’s what makes the game so damn good. It’s real. It’s real in a way very few other games have ever been. Honestly, though, I would hesitate to call it a game. It’s a piece of interactive entertainment, but there's not really a goal or anything to accomplish. Night in the Woods is a choose our own adventure book with moving pictures. It’s kind of like a Telltale adventure game or a David Cage joint, but there’s less gameplay than that. You run and jump and sometimes play a simple minigame, but the point is just to live. It’s a slice of life that you’re in control of. I guess in that way it’s a role playing game in the purest sense. You’re literally playing the role of Mae Borowski in the weeks after she moves back home.
So, yes, the game is slow. If that sounds like something you wouldn't like, then don’t play it. For me, though, it was perfect because I’m a weirdo. I’m a weirdo who likes to write and enjoys good stories but hates reading books. I don’t like reading description and I hate writing it. I vastly enjoy visual storytelling. Sure you can use your imagination when you read a book, and imagination is great, but if I’m going to imagine something then it might as well be something that I made up myself. In this way, Night in the Woods is perfect for me. It tells a great story that’s focused on dialog, my favorite thing, in a visually spectacular world with amazing music. It’s the kind of game I never knew I wanted until I had it. That’s one of the ways I loved Night in the Woods. It’s the lesser of the two things I loved, if you can believe that.
The other thing about the game that I’m sure will turn people off is its very specific demographic that I happen to fall into. Night in the Woods is the most relatable thing I’ve ever played. It has affected me in a way that no game ever has before. It felt like it was speaking directly to me. Like I said, though, I’m sure many people won’t feel this way. You might hear a lot of high praise about the game, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t like it even if you like its storytelling style.
Night in the Woods is a very unique coming-of-age tale that’s not about teens or preteens, but actual young adults in the true sense, not in the bookstore section sense. It’s not about preteen or a teenager or surviving school. We’re talking the post-high school age group of 20+, that goes overlooked by many. Right off the bat this speaks to me. I’ve enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) my fair share of high school dramas, but that’s not something I can relate to personally any more because I’m too far removed from it. This game has come at the perfect time for me to appreciate it, and I find myself feeling the same way the characters do about a lot of things even if we have different reasons for feeling that way.
It’s an uncertain time that I think young people of every generation go though. What will you do with the rest of your life? Will you further your education? Will you join the workforce? Will you embrace adulthood? Will you resist growing up? These are the kinds questions that Night in the Woods deals with. These, and many, many more. It’s a great study of the “ologies”: psychology, sociology, criminology, and even astrology.
Night in the Woods deals with a lot of real issue in real ways. The dialog in this game might be the most realistic I’ve ever seen which goes a long way to making the game feel so relatable. I’m about six years older than the characters here, but the issues the game deals with are pretty universal so it still struck a chord with me. Your mileage may vary, but if it sounds like something you might find meaning in, then I say go for it.
I’ve been talking vaguely so far, but I’m about to get more specific. There will be some spoilers, obviously. I still won't be talking about important plot points or events, but I still recommend everybody play this game for the first time knowing as little as possible so now's the time to bail if you want.
Night in the Woods is a game that can be played many different ways. Right from the opening, you’re making choices that will affect the rest of the story. Each day, Mae has the choice of who to hang out with, which impacts what events you get to experience. Of Mae’s circle of friends, I spent my time exclusively with Bea and the two of us went on all sorts of adventures. I did this because at the start of the game Bea didn’t seem to like Mae very much. They clearly knew each other since they were kids and used to be a lot closer, but drifted apart. I was attracted to this relationship because I wanted to win Bea over, and it seemed like Mae and Gregg were already best friends.
It should be noted (and I’m not sure this is something that every reviewer mentions) that the playthrough I had might be drastically different from the one you have or the one someone else has. You can hang with Gregg every day if you want, or alternate between the two, or even do stuff with some of the more minor characters that I ignored probably too much. I’m not really sure what Gregg’s story is at all except that I thought he was too high strung for my tastes. After experiencing the game's excellent writing and quite character moments, though, I now can't wait to find out more about him.
For a first playthrough, though, I couldn't have asked for a better one. I learned all about Bea and, damn, if she wasn’t even more relatable than Mae was. See, Mae dropped out of college to return to her small hometown. I graduated college, although I did go to school down the street from my house. My first year, I lived on campus because I wanted the full college experience, but after that some shit went down and my boarding plans got all screwed up and I ended up having to move back home and help my parents with some stuff. Bea never got the opportunity to go to college because she got stuck running her dad’s shop right out of high school when his health began to fail. She’s trapped, and all she wants to do is get out. That’s me. That’s how I’ve felt for years. I had to move back home and now I’m stuck here. I’m needed. I have obligations that I can’t get out of and everything feels hopeless. I am Bea.
But I am also Mae. Mae is awkward and doesn’t make friends easily. All she ever wanted was to go back to the way things were, so she came home to try and cling on to the past only to find that things had changed and her friends had grown up. My first year of college was perhaps the greatest year of my life. My two best friends were in town and we hung out all the time and life was good. Then one of my friends moved to Boston and the other one was diagnosed with depression and stopped talking to me (he got medication and we’re cool now, but still).
My second year I moved back home and I didn’t have my friends any more. Everyone else I knew was gone and I didn’t see my old floormates at school much. I didn’t feel like it. Being in that setting around people all the time was forcing me to open up, but as soon as I didn’t have to I closed myself off again. I made it through but it was miserable. I thought that once I graduated I’d be able to get the hell out of here, the same old streets for all my 23 years, but then I had to take care of family stuff that’s still ongoing three years later. My friends grew up and moved on. They have jobs and lives now, but I don’t because I can’t. Not right now. And who knows how long that’ll last.
Sometimes you feel like your world is ending and you just want to hold on to any sense of comfort you have left. When things seem like they’re at their worst, all you can do is hope. Sometimes things do work out and sometimes they don’t. It’s the harsh reality of the world. That’s what Night in the Woods is about. Letting go. Moving on. Accepting the world for what it is. It sounds brutal and depressing, and the game sure can get heavy at times, but the ending isn’t exactly sad. At least, mine wasn’t. It was more hopeful than anything, I’d say. Like, the world will put you down but no matter what you can still find the silver lining to make your own happiness no matter your situation.
I was talking to my friend the other day who went to school in Colorado for environmental science or something like that, but he moved back home about a year and a half ago and started working as a boiler technician. I asked him why he’d move back to our hometown that we both consider a piece of garbage, and he told me that he could have continued to hang out in Colorado and work at a sub shop and go mountain hiking for the rest of his days, but he decided to grow up. So he made a plan and got a real job and now he’s buying a house.
Someday, in the not-too-distant future, I hope to revisit Night in the Woods. The overarching plot mystery won't change, but everything else will. I so enjoyed just talking to people that I can’t wait to find out what conversations are waiting for me if I choose different dialog options. I thought I was being thorough (the game took me about 12 hours to complete) but even so there’s still activities and secrets I totally missed out on the first time. And Gregg. I barely even know him! How different will the game be when I hang out with him instead of Bea? I can’t wait to find out. But not today. I’m still processing this whole experience and I want to play it again only when I can come at it fresh. Hopefully it’ll be just as great the second time.