Night in the Woods Analysis

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I was pretty delighted by my experience with this game. I found the strongest elements to be character and setting, rather than mechanics, but this is a strong vote in favor of narrative as a key part of a game experience – sometimes, the only part that really matters.

Mechanically, I first thought of NitW as akin to a dating sim – the core loop seems to be developing relationships with the various townsfolk, and especially one of your core group of friends. But unlike a more straightforward “spend time with the NPC until they like you” kind of game, NitW takes these opportunities to showcase character dynamics. It puts you in some situations where, no matter your choices, your friends will be a little fed up with you, a little annoyed by you, and – justifiably – pissed off at you for some of your character’s own negative traits.

That’s some damn fine storytelling, and it’s a place that many games fear to tread – to have characters who are multifaceted and who have relationships rather than just tropes that validate whatever choices the player makes. It’s deep and grown up.

The other bit of game mechanic that is prominent is the exploration of the town – runnin’ and jumpin’. This can be a bit repetitive, and does get a little dull as you hop-hop-HOP, hop-hop-HOP, hop-hop-HOP, hop-hop-HOP all around town to visit everyone. The town is well-realized, but the character of Possum Springs is more developed in dialogue than it is through exploration. The decision tree is simple enough that it could’ve been a Twine game, and it would’ve lost a bit of tedium in that interface. (Of course, the price to be paid would be the beautiful artwork and animation, so perhaps not worth it!) NitW is superb literature, and any survey of great American post-industrial writing would be improved by its inclusion. I don’t know that it’s a rewarding challenge or a rewarding system, but it is a very rewarding experience.

So, in the end…

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Flawed characters make you want to learn more and dig deeper. Give people problems that can’t be solved.
  • Protagonists can be flawed, too. Don’t automatically make the protagonist their best friend.
  • Multiple characters that talk of one thing can give you insight into different angles on that thing.
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