A Fantastical Visual Novel
I’m a big fan of visual novels and adventure games in general. Growing up, Monkey Island was one of my favourite games and Discworld was another I remember playing a lot of as a child. As I grew up, my tastes changed and I found myself blown away by Mass Effect and other narrative-driven games with meaningful choices. Boasting the best of both worlds, on paper Winds Of Change should be my perfect game. In some ways it is, and with over 20 hours of story and some nicely implemented controls, the game certainly does well to offer up a fantastical visual novel, but it’s also held back by the limitations of its genre and slips up during crucial moments of the story.
In true fantasy fashion, the story itself thrusts you into the middle of a prophetic journey, one that sees you wield the Blade Of Exodus and go on a mission to try and steer the tides of war in the favour of your rebellion. You are the Seer of Valinorth, and with that title comes great responsibility. Blessed and cursed by visions, the first act of the game is used to get you accustomed to the play style, as well as the world itself. Admittedly, some of this is a little expository-heavy but once you’ve met all the characters and the conflict is made clear, things do settle down and become much more plot-driven during the middle chapters. The final act will either make or break your experience but for me, I found it okay given what’s come before in the story and how invested I was with the different characters.
Split across four acts, the game has a decent pacing to it too, progressing nicely through various different twists and turns along the way. These forks in the road will ultimately shape your destiny and much like other choice-driven games of its kind, some of these are incredibly important and can mean the difference between certain victory or death. Other times, they do feel shallow and the dialogue choices a little limited, despite three or four options of text to choose from. Early on, the choices themselves won’t feel like they have much weight to them but the longer the story progresses, the more you really start to feel the pressure as your merry band of adventurers rely on your every choice.
How much you get out of Winds Of Change ultimately depends on how much you’re willing to put into it. The main story itself can be completed in around 10-15 hours depending on how fast you read but it’s the added charm and extras to this game that really helps it stand out from other visual novels of its kind. Of course, as a point and click adventure you can expect to be clicking (or pressing spacebar) to progress the story’s narrative which plays out on an aesthetically pleasing screen showing your character and fully voice-acted dialogue bringing the words to life.
There are some re-used art assets here and a lack of sound effects, as well as music that, while audibly hitting the right tone for the game, don’t feel long enough and do loop a lot which may put some people off from this one.
Adding some depth to the game are a few nicely implemented gameplay additions, allowing you to switch across to the antagonists of the story and see their narrative play out in real-time alongside your story. As you progress through the game, this opens up further by allowing you to engage in heart to hearts with your team-mates and even revisit previous areas to unlock extra dialogue options. Each scene also retains that old-school point-and-click feel with interactive items on-screen that open up extra dialogue options, and even books to read that reveal more of the lore.
With no visual cues over where these may be, at times the boxes are a little misleading as two items can be side by side and difficult to discern exactly where you’re clicking. Say what you will about the rigid structure of visual novels though, Winds Of Change does at least attempt to break things up in its relatively straight forward premise.
Of course, with any visual novel be prepared to read. A lot. The text itself is grammatically correct for almost the entirety of the game and the few spelling errors that do crop up are being patched out by developers as far as I’m aware. The only real gripe I have with the game comes from the audio. At times, some of the voice acting fails to hit the emotional peaks their characters demand of them and other times the audio switches timbre and quality between the different actors.
One such example saw the audio fluctuate from loud to quiet back to mid-range again in one conversation, eventually ending on a bit of a bassy note as if the voice actor was too close to the microphone. Now, I did test this across my laptop’s built-in speakers, headphones and even connected a HDMI cable to my TV to be sure of this but the audio quality is something that holds this title back from being a better game. It’s difficult to look past it too, given how crucial it is to the entire experience.
Aside from this, Winds Of Change is a wonderful little visual novel. While the story does feel a little expository-heavy at the start and the latter periods feel very plot-driven rather than orientated by your characters’ natural choices, this charming PC game has enough going for it to make it worth checking out. I love games like this and the world building, lore and general characterisation are good enough to keep you invested for the long haul. There are options to go back and replay with different choices but if I’m honest, I felt no desire to once I finished the game. Winds Of Change is a nice surprise and while it could certainly be better, the game itself solid enough to recommend, especially given it’s relatively cheap asking price.