In Backlog Break, Devin Wilger goes through all the games he owns and never got around to playing. This time, he has played through Whispering Willows, from 2014.
How do you want to tell your story? Books are always good, movies can work if you can get the money together, but for some it seems like a game is the way that makes the most sense. The creators of Whispering Willows went the game route to tell their story, one of a bad man and the people who surround him, and a girl who stumbles across all of this in order to find her dad.
The funny thing about this story is a lot of it is optional. Half of the game is finding notes, written by the various characters, and you don’t really have to read them if you don’t want to. Some of the notes can feel a bit redundant, trying to compensate for a player that might not find all of them, like a novelist writing under the assumption that chapters might go missing, but it’s a way to tell a story.
One has to focus on the story because as a game there’s not much here.
It’s a horror adventure game, and you play as that girl on a hunt for her dad. She can, at will, become a ghost, which is the basis for most of the actual game. In ghost form she can get into inaccessible rooms and ‘possess’ objects to move them around. But these puzzles are all pretty simple, there’s not much challenge, and occasionally it feels like a bit of busy-work when you have to hunt through buildings for a certain item and then trudge back to use it.
Beyond story, you have to look at atmosphere, and it’s all over the place. There are comic book-style cutscenes which are, frankly, bad. Poorly drawn and inexpertly colored, they look like a web comic from 2001. And yet the in-game graphics and sprite work is downright excellent, especially the beautifully animated ghost sprite. That’s what caught my eye, at least, when I decided to get the game. Rendered in side-view 2D and centring around the grounds of a neglected mansion, there’s a great, creepy atmosphere here.
I won’t complain that it’s quite short, at only two hours, because Donut County was about the same length and I loved that. But I will complain that it’s quite abrupt, like there were several chapters planned between the third and fourth chapters. It felt a bit like they ran out of money and had to ship the game with what they had.
This gives the impression that I didn’t really like Whispering Willows, which is probably true. Yet I probably would buy more games from this developer. This feels like a talented crew who needed a few more resources to really succeed. The game is based on good ideas, and the story works, but it’s a bit of a first draft. If Whispering Willows gives the developer a chance to make the game that realizes the potential of this one, they could have a hit on their hands.