The goal of a good visual novel is being able to feel like you connect to the characters and world. Having a strong story matters, because you need a reason to keep reading. Being able to connect with characters and identify with what they’re going through, be it your avatar or a potential love interest or friend, helps you care more about what’s going on. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a game that excels in all fronts and, best of all, adds to an already robust library on a system perfect for playing it.
If the name didn’t give it away, this adventure is a part of the World of Darkness world and Werewolf: The Apocalypse lines. But don’t worry; you don’t need any prior knowledge of either to enjoy it. While it is a visual novel with plenty of decisions and relationships to forge, it also plays like you’re going through a single player tabletop role playing campaign. You have a character sheet that keeps track of your goal. You can check your health, rage, and willpower, with rage and willpower often influencing the choices you are capable of making. (For example, you might not even see certain responses if your rage is too low or high.) The things that you do not only affect your relationships, but can determine how analytical, brave, cunning, inspiring, and spiritual your personality can be.
People follow Maia Boroditch, a young woman who’s come to Poland after having strange dreams about a specific forest, Puszcza, and not knowing much about her roots. She learns the town is known for its forest and wolves, her family is somewhat suspicious, and Puszcza itself is in danger of being ravaged by loggers. Your decisions determine what role she plays in things, how she comes to terms with her identity, and the fate of many of the people she comes to know.
As you can probably guess, based on the fact that there’s “werewolf” in the title, this is a game about werewolves! It’s also about identity, discovering your roots, choosing sides, deciding the best ways to resolve conflicts, survival, and a number of other dramatic plotlines that come together much better than you’d expect. The range of variables means that your experience can be different each time you play, because this is one of those games where the smallest choices do feel like they matter. Maia can be different every time. You might see different sides of people on different attempts.
I especially appreciated it after playing games like Cafe Enchante and Piofiore. Yes, I’m one of them. I play visual novels for the relationships that can develop between characters. So I really loved seeing how people’s view of Maia could shift after any possible conversation. How they might react to her assertions if she were more cunning or more spiritual. Working things out is enthralling, as is playing around knowing that once you make a choice, it is fixed.
It’s also an ideal game to play on the Nintendo Switch. The system basically inherited the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita’s roles as this generation’s visual novel machine. Being able to pop in for a fifteen or twenty minutes is a delight. Sitting down and beating the whole game in a single session works too. Either way, having it in your hands so you can relax on a couch and not be trapped at a bigger PC screen is a delight.
It’s such an engrossing game. You have all of these elements at play and know what you’re doing matters. You also know there’s a sense of finality. Once you make a choice, you have to live with it. And because you’re seeing how your avatar changes as you play, how people around you react to you, and the stakes of potentially solving a mystery or ruining lives, it can feel like you have to keep pushing forward. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is another great Switch visual novel, and one you can go through in a few hours and enjoy.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest will come to the Nintendo Switch on January 7, 2021. It is immediately available on PCs.