Winds of Change (Steam) Review
Release Date: August 21, 2019 (after an Early Access period)
Publisher/Developer: Tall Tail Studios
In a beautiful fantasy utopia, a “Seer” has a vision of the destruction of their home. An evil empire has their eyes on a mystic artifact that has been hidden away in their town capable of raising a relentless army. Meanwhile, the Seer learns that they can use the artifact for good and wield the power to destroy the darkness plaguing the land. They set off on an adventure with their close lifelong friends, leaders of a rebellion, and others they meet along the way.
Winds of Change is a visual novel style game that prides itself in choice. From the very beginning you are in complete control of the Seer (or Seeress) as they decide how to interact with those around them. The developer, Tall Tail Studios, throws around big names like Dragon Age and Mass Effect regarding the power of choice involved. It allows full freedom, particularly in the way you express yourself and romance those you meet. One of your earliest choices is whether you are male or female. This primarily effects the pronouns used in talking to you. You never see your physical character, and even later get to choose between a formal suit and a fancy dress regardless of previous choice. Our Seer seems very forward in relationships: while it doesn’t encompass the whole story I felt as if most every character you meet has a “flirt” option right near the start. I know I have options to dismiss this but it felt like there wasn’t any “work” to get to that point. I’m not that forward of an individual so it felt a little awkward to me. Also, I admit that I haven’t gotten through a large portion of the game but I’ve been doing research looking up bios and such and really only seem to find one female character to interact with, meaning anyone wishing to maintain a relationship with a female is notably limited. Perhaps others show up later in the game, but by the screenshots and character bios I’ve found so far, I feel as if the odds are slim. It just feels odd that with a game based on choice that one so straightforward is left as such. But we’re not here for preferences, it’s time to talk about the story and gameplay.
I love a well-done visual novel, and Winds of Change definitely fits that mold. Each character is well-developed and feels real, with heart and consistent motivation behind their actions. You don’t have to romance them but you can become a good friend and it truly feels that way. Time and care has been put into full voice-acting as well. I loved hearing the emotion put into each line, but also the simple ability to fast-forward if your reading supersedes their speed. Within each area you visit there are conversations to be had between party members, with those you visit, or even side stories in other parts of the realm to keep you up to date on what the villains are doing or such. You also find novels, letters, and other correspondence to read that really flesh out the world. Most everyone is looking to you for help, and your choices can change the outcome of every single person you meet. You can choose to keep things level as they always have been or strike out with the rebellion to change the world.
Each area has support in finding what is there by way of changing your mouse icon, but at times I felt that the activation areas were fairly random. Players may find an activation node in the middle of nowhere on the screen for the Seer to make a comment on the trees or such. I would have loved some sort of notification that said “you’re done” or some more physical clues, as each new screen I felt like I was simply scanning around looking for everything to click. After a new party member joins, you have the ability to head back to other areas to have conversations you would have missed otherwise. This is one point I’d have loved a bit more polish. Early in the game you gain two party members and head to a leader who says you “must leave town immediately” and to make preparations. Well, I headed back into town and found conversations that I could have already gone back to, and all the characters did was talk about how great it was in their town, how they would never leave, like the Big Event hadn’t even happened. Soon after, I left town, was introduced to alternate paths to go down, and did as such. Had a lot of conversations in a particular location, then went along the main path to have all the characters act like they had just left town.
The narrative side stories are interesting, but I often felt like they’d just pop up out of nowhere. Given the fact that our main character isn’t there, they are entirely non-interactive. Especially at the beginning of the game, they show up a lot. You do a lot of reading. I know, it’s the point of a visual novel, but without any interaction by our hero it just makes me want to get back to the original troupe.
All of the characters in the game are cute and fun. I don’t know how to describe it….but I suppose you could say I can easily tell they are all from the same artist. Many of them have similar positions in their portraits, despite each character being unique. Most all of the warrior men you come across are barechested with a belt holding up their pants just off screen that look so low you feel a slight jostle would make everything fall out. Just doesn’t seem practical. Regardless, they all have wonderful features that make them easy to distinguish, great facial expressions that show what they feel, and truly look like they belong to the voices involved. At times it feels like the conversation falls into exposition. One time I got a chance to ask questions and every single line started with “yes” or “it’s true” or such. As you progress and learn more about the world, this becomes less of a problem.
Overall, Winds of Change is a wonderful tale. It’s pretty heavy on the novel side, and I almost would be more comfortable enjoying it as an animated film if it wouldn’t kill the chance of seeing all the deep choices that Tall Tail Studios put into the title. Some areas could use a little polish, namely the timing of side stories and the like, but (especially if you listen to all of the voice acting) you are in for several hours of storytelling where your choices could turn the tide of rebellion.
-Wonderful voice acting for most every line in the game
-Character portraits are big and vibrant
-Your choices have major impact on every character in the story
-Some alternate paths could use proper ordering to not seem out of place
-Can feel like a “hunt and peck” to find everything in a scene
-Side tales seem too lengthy and frequent-I want to interact!
Special Thanks to Tall Tail Studios for providing a code for review!