Title: Heart of the Woods
Developer: Studio Élan
Release Date: July 8, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Sekai Games
Genre: Visual Novel
Heart of the Woods is the first Studio Élan title to come to consoles. The developer and publisher is known for their focus on yuri visual novels, having worked on multiple PC titles. Though the game has an interesting story, this console release might not be the best way to experience it.
Everything begins with Madison “Maddie” Raines and Tara Bryck traveling to Eysenfeld. They work together doing a web show called Taranormal in which they investigate supernatural occurrences. According to a fan named Morgan, this remote village on the other side of the world has had multiple interesting sights.
However, the atmosphere between the two girls in the show is a little tense. Maddie has been thinking about changing her life and wants this to be her last time doing Taranormal. What she couldn’t expect is that this experience in Eysenfeld would be life-changing and completely unlike every previous episode.
The narrative develops in interesting ways, mixing supernatural elements, romance, and drama. There are four main characters (Maddie, Tara, Morgan, and Abigail), and the story plays through all of their perspectives, with more of an emphasis on Maddie. The girls experience growth by interacting with others while facing their shortcomings, fears, and insecurities. However, I should point out that several typos and general text mistakes weren’t fixed for the new release.
On the visual side, Heart of the Woods has character designs and illustrations by Rosuuri. She does a great job at making them expressive and fitting to the story. When it comes to the backgrounds, a specific area deep in the woods is impressive, but the others aren’t really interesting. On the other hand, the soundtrack has multiple tracks that enhance the ambiance, but they could have been used better in some scenes.
The interface is basic, giving it a real indie appeal, but the real issue is the Switch version manages to have big performance issues. The most egregious is that the game crashes frequently. Even though it’s not particularly lengthy (around six hours), this is the game that crashed the most out of all Switch titles I’ve played, which happened almost once every hour.
Besides that, some of the animations and transitions have a noticeable slowdown. It’s easy to notice when the game changes perspectives between characters, as the sequence takes too long before the player has control again. Even the menu can sometimes take a while to accept the player’s input on the touch screen. Having to touch and hold choices feels weird and takes away the illustrations that accompany these moments.
One nice aspect of the game is that it includes some accessibility options. This includes audio cues (telling which track and sound effects are playing), two text sizes, OpenDyslexic font, image descriptions, and self-voicing for the non-voiced moments. However, even those have some problems, as the large text size is what it normally should have been, and when I tested self-voicing, it was way too low and noisy.
It’s a shame the Switch version of Heart of the Woods has so many issues and offers a generally poor experience. The story and characters are really enjoyable, and the game deserved more care and polish for its console debut. However, if you want to play Heart of the Woods, the PC version is a better way to experience it.
[EDITOR’S NOTE]: The crashes in the game seemed to be caused by how the engine handles asset distribution from an SD Card. Higher-end SD Cards are said to not have this problem, but it’s best to run the game from internal memory to avoid crashes. We do not change review scores on Noisy Pixel as the score is based on our experience with the game, but we just wanted to be clear of the issue.
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