Heart of the Woods is the latest yuri visual novel from Studio Élan, a studio that specializes in, well, yuri games. I don’t mean to be repetitive, but Studio Élan specializes in games about “women loving women” and that much is clear. Heart of the Woods was such an enjoyable experience that was nothing but upfront about its lesbian romance.
The story initially follows two paranormal YouTubers, Maddie and Tara, as they make their last trip together to a secluded town full of closed off locals and a slightly strange host. The start is incredibly slow to the point where I found myself zoning out and skim reading a lot of the game. That isn’t necessarily a bad point, though. I’ve noticed visual novels take a while to warm up and really get going. Once Heart of the Woods gets to that point it’s an amazingly paced experience that plays with fantasy, magic, and horror in a really surprising way.
Heart of the Woods gives you four main choices and three endings. Each ending is so beautifully written and bittersweet that they kind of sold me on the game as a whole. All the complaints I had about the game’s writing feeling awkward were completely gone. The paragraphs of text describing the outcome of Tara and Maddie’s time really tapped into what makes lesbian fiction good. They were emotionally charged, yet gentle and caring of the characters’ feelings.
On to the most important aspect of the game, though. The romance. Rather than experiencing the story through one main character, Heart of the Woods cycles through four women and two romances. They each have their own flavor and cover the bases in terms of the classic lesbian pairings. I loved the slow burn of both couples coming together while protecting each other. I obviously can’t get too deep into the romances as they include major story spoilers, but by the end of the game I came around to both. The writing for them felt completely lived in. Through all the drama and uncertainties, the story really gave me everything I want when lesbians are in fiction. They weren’t perfect or idealized. They were simply human.Unfortunately, playing on the Switch did have one major downfall. I ran into crashes constantly. In a visual novel that could mean losing a few lines of dialogue or a few hours of playtime (I had to learn to save often the hard way). Just to give an idea of the breadth of crashes, when I first opened up the game it took me 3 hours to get through what I assume is an hour of gameplay because the game crashed 4 times. It was really bad and plagued my experience with the game from start to finish. But it’s a good visual novel!I’m always eager to play games centered on gay women, making my tolerance for them incredibly high. And that’s somewhat true for Heart of the Woods as well. Despite the often-occurring issue it had on the Switch, I still had a good time. But again, I was invested in this visual novel and it’s story in a way not everyone will be.