Game: Heart of the Woods
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Steam)
Developers | Publishers: Studio Élan, Ratalaika Games | Sekai Games
Age Rating: US T | EU 16+
Price: US $19.99 | UK £15.29 | EU € 16,99
Release Date: July 8th, 2021
Review code used with many thanks to Sekai Games!
After taking a dip in the ocean for my past couple of reviews, I moved on to the paranormal woodlands of the Yuri visual novel Heart of the Woods. This title checked a lot of boxes for me, so without any further delay, let’s take a look!
Maddie and Tara are best friends who work together on a vlog covering paranormal events. Maddie is ready to move on to something new, a decision that Tara doesn’t like. Maddie decides to make one last show with Tara, and they travel to the small town of Eysenfeld. What and who they find there will change their lives forever. The Nintendo eShop description gives more away, but I enjoyed playing it so much without spoilers that I prefer not to spoil too much here.
This is a pure visual novel. There are very few choices to be made, and they lead to just a handful of endings. I like to think of it more as a mini-series played out on my Switch. Most of the game is just following the story of Maddie, Tara, and the companions they meet along the way.
The point-of-view switches back and forth between characters as you progress. I enjoyed this because it provided a more complex picture of how the characters were feeling and interacting. This game has highly adjustable text speeds, and I am happy to report that you can move at a fast reading clip if you so desire. I usually want to, but the voice acting in this title is so good I often found myself slowing down to appreciate it.
This title has accessibility features! I don’t feel qualified to give a solid review on them, as I am not familiar enough with their uses, but I’ve included the screencap so that you all can see what features are available. I did try to make sure they are operational and came up with an issue or two. Please see the problems section below for more details.
The font comes in two sizes, although I didn’t see much difference between them. It does have OpenDyslexic font, which I always appreciate. Much easier to read even when the font is small.
Art, Music and Bonus Content
This is one of those games where it’s tough to notice the music because it does its job so well: creates a mood in the background. I found it completely unobtrusive. It added to the story perfectly.
I loved the art. The character designs are top-notch, and the backgrounds are gorgeous. I particularly enjoyed some of the scenes in the forest with pinks, purples, and whites. Beautiful. It’s the sort of background scenery that I would have me pausing to look closer if I saw it in an art museum. There’s a handful of bonus content features. Unlockable images, guest art, and the ability to play the musical numbers you’ve come across.
As mentioned above, although I don’t consider myself qualified to review them extensively, I did try and test the accessibility features. I couldn’t get the scene descriptions to work, or the screen shakes to turn off. However, I understand the developer is working on patches to fix these two issues. Expect them to be resolved soon!
Unlike any other visual novel I’ve played, you have to go into options to set the skip forward button in order to race through text you haven’t read yet. This isn’t a problem, I just wanted to mention it because it is so unusual that I actually thought it was a bug at first. Instead, it’s an advantage since you can’t skip text you haven’t read yet by accident.
This game has full English language voiceovers. As much as I love listening to other languages, even ones I don’t understand, it was very nice to have a game I could follow without reading along. All the actors were good, but I especially enjoyed the acting of Maddie and Abigail’s voice-over artists. (Who is Abigail? Play to find out!)
Mature, Well-Developed Tale
This game is a treat. The characters do not always get along, but their problems (and joys) are resolved and celebrated in believable ways. This game isn’t explicit (it wouldn’t be on this website if it were!), but it does slightly more than hint at some adult topics. I found it tasteful and real. Bravo!
Heart of the Woods is one of the better Yuri titles I’ve played so far. It carries the player into a world featuring the supernatural, romance, and friendship. The characters and their interactions are unusually satisfying and believable. I hope more games from these creators make it to the Switch!
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up