Title: Heart of the Woods
Developer: Studio Élan
Release Date: February 15, 2019
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Sekai Project
Genre: Visual Novel
As a super-duper Yuri fangirl, I knew Heart of the Woods was a game I had to experience after I first heard about it. With that said, it’s exciting for me to get that chance. Heart of the Woods has the visual presentation of a fairytale, which quickly grabbed my attention and, thankfully, took me on adventure fitting of the theme.
It’s tough for me to describe what makes Heart of the Woods so special in an intro as it was different than I originally expected. This ended up making the game a more enjoyable experience for me since I rarely knew what was going to happen next. While the story first presents itself as a strictly cute romance, it ends up getting pretty dark and has a serious story arch which got me hooked until the end.
Heart of the Woods introduces Madison, who is helping her best friend Tara with a very popular vlog channel named Taranormal. As the name already implies, the vlog mainly resolves about Tara and supernatural stuff, while Madison mostly does the tedious tasks for her. One day, Madison gets tired of it and wants to quit being the manager, but still agrees to one last trip with her. On this trip, they end up meeting a strange but cute girl named Morgan, who the duo vloggers start to pick up on something very off about her and the town they’re residing in. Throughout the story, Madison and Tara realize that magic does indeed exist and everything is related to its woods near the town — although their new friend Morgan seems to still be keeping secrets from them.
As I mentioned earlier, Heart of the Woods didn’t turn out to be the light-hearted and cute game I expected it to be. It’s much more than this, it’s dark, cruel, and makes you think about how unfair life can be. There are four main characters in Heart of the Woods and they’re all very different from each other. You will find every personality here from the super shy and timid girl to the cheerful and hyper one. With that said, I found myself getting annoyed at times because of the reactions of the characters such as when Tara and Madison, who have been best friends for years, went through a lot together as well, but are so quick to call it quits when things get difficult. Tara couldn’t accept Madisons decision and just decided to not talk to her again — It made their relationship feel questionable.
In Heart of the Woods, there are two main relationships that play out during the story, which was refreshing since most short visual novels only revolve around one couple. The perspective of the story often changes between the four main characters so it’s easy to follow what is happening, even if they’re not all together. I really liked that this game didn’t mainly focus on one girl but on everyone equally. Furthermore, the scenes aren’t repetitive at all as they only use the perspective change when the four of them get separated. I’d also like to add, that the character development in the story is solid and I ended up rooting for every girl to have a happy ending.
Heart of the Woods contains three different endings while two of them are considered bad endings. There are only three choices available to the player in total and these choices only affect the very end of the story. I am left feeling mixed about the endings as I didn’t really see a point in them. They’re basically just random endings that I personally think could have easily been skipped and are not important to the overall story. These endings come off as forced and unsatisfying, but it encouraged me to play through the game again to be able to see the true ending. However, once I reached the true ending I noticed that it differs very little from the other endings outside of a short additional dialog.
Each of the girls in Heart of the Woods has their own color for their name. These colors are very popping so it made the game easier to read because I quickly found myself associating each of the characters with their respective color. It’s a nice feature that lets the player always know immediately who is talking since it might get confusing as the perspective changes if it weren’t for the different colors.
The animations in the game are also done very well, such as the screen shaking when you’re riding the train, but you can also turn this option off in case you’re sensitive to screen shaking. The soundtrack really fits the atmosphere of each of the scenes — but this game also includes dark and shocking tracks as well. Sadly, this game does not contain voice over options, but there are several natural sounds included like squeaking doors or horses riding.
The artwork in Heart of the Woods is absolutely gorgeous and the CGs are exceptionally detailed, it reminded me of a Disney fairytale at times. The only gripe I really have that has to do the graphics is that sometimes the sprites seem unnatural such as when they’re popping in from the side of the screen.
You see, they don’t peep in naturally, but instead, their original sprite was just turned to the side. It just looked really off and would have been better to have more varieties of positions instead. Other than this, there are plenty of different facial expressions expressed by the characters and I found it outstanding that when you’re hovering over a choice, each one of them has a different outcome text with a different facial expression.
To sum it up, Heart of the Woods is a lovely game. While I expected a totally different genre, this game threw me off in many ways, which turned out to be refreshing. It’s easy to notice the effort the developers put into the game and it’s rare to see a romantic visual novel which also has a serious and deep plot.
Heart of the Woods offers readers some sweet moments involving the story’s two couples. The game’s pacing and writing made it easy for me to sympathize with its characters, while I rooted for them and their happiness — which they definitely deserved. Although the bad endings made things a little messy, Heart of the Woods is still an easy recommendation from me for yuri visual novel fans.
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