A college dropout returning home in hopes of finding her old, familiar life back. A town in decay as the job market makes the townsfolk no favors. Friends who, despite their issues, do their best. The mundane and the mythical intertwined together in a rather engaging way that both entertains and pushes forward the themes of the work in ways that I’m not sure has been done in high-profile games before.
Describing a story as “real” is incredibly lazy. But I just cannot find a better word that describes what is within Night in the Woods. The town is an inhabited space that if I was told was inspired by a town in the US, I would believe it. I can see an old pamphlet, “Possum Springs come visit” across it, in a tourism stand somewhere. Likewise, for people – many of them remind me of acquaintances, neighbors, friends and even myself.
Mae is clearly in a bad place when she arrives back home. For example, shortly after the beginning of the game, she looks at her cat self in the mirror and you get to choose which flavor of crap she feels like. I can definitely empathize with her. I have been there, to the point that I just didn’t like seeing myself in the mirror. And, for her, she eventually had to deal with it, as messy as that process is.
Meanwhile, Bea is carrying a burden so heavy it is only because she likes Mae that she sticks around and cares for her. Her mother is dead, and her father essentially broke down after her death. Now, she has to run the family business, and also take care of a father that doesn’t recognize the effort she puts in since she is the one running the day-to-day business. A pressure that I’ve felt, even if on a much smaller scale. It is a shame she is in such a situation, truly, because, being a smart student, graduating at the top of her class, she alway saw herself going to college, and now she can’t, is obsessed with it to the point of going to parties and pretending she’s a student. She somewhat resents Mae for dropping out and giving up on an opportunity she craved so much yet was denied to her.
There were times when I wondered why Mae and Bea stuck together, and as the story progressed it made sense. Beatrice “Bea” Santello and Mae Borowski like each other despite however much they grew apart, or how much Mae fucks up trying to either be helpful or simply trying to deal with her own issues.
Meanwhile, Gregg and Angus are working hard, trying to make it themselves and leave Possum Springs. Probably the ones that are doing better out of the four. And their relationship is… nice. They are a great pair: the talkative, punk and sometimes crazy Gregg and the gentle, nerdy Angus, completely aesthetic opposite to his partner. It’s fun to hang out with Gregg knife fight because that’s the kind of thing you do with Gregg. Just like it is enjoyable to be in Angus company.
And both of them do their best to keep their group going. The band they had serves as a moment for them to hang out together and discuss. To return to normal. Because no matter how harsh or crazy things get, they can always get together and jam.
The Night in the Wood’s story, as focused on these four characters, is a story of friends helping each other go through life and perhaps have a few days that aren’t as heavy as the others. Whether they have no idea where to go next and are still learning how to be an adult, or they simply became one out of necessity and got nowhere else to go, or they are trying to escape their lives metaphorically and literally, they can be sure they will be there for each other.
I am pleased to say that it largely succeeds at what it set out to do. The dialogue is very grounded and, as somebody around their age-group, it is pretty much on point. And the art is simply gorgeous. I believe not opting for a realistic or humane look – anthropomorphic, yes, but not human – really allowed the game to bring these subjects up and examine them without being too much. There are heartfelt moments, and silly things that give the player a breather between everything and that frankly give much more color to the town and the characters. I mean, the ball of yarn does bounce, and my Mae is always going to be walking on the power lines because why not.