Usually when sitting down to play a game, there is a general idea of what’s in store, how the game will approach the player, what mechanics will be in place, the overall narrative, etc. Night in the Woods was a different story. Besides being a narrative-based adventure game with heavy focus on dialogue, Night in the Woods turned out to be more heartfelt than first imagined. When Night in the Woods was in development it looked to be some sort of mystery centered around the premise of something weird seems to be happening in your hometown. And while something strange does happen, it’s not what the overarching theme is focused on. It’s more of a prop, as well as a blending of the theme that the ‘going’s on’ seem to encompass.
Night in the Woods, more than anything, does a fantastic job conveying the importance of relationship, no matter how it looks. It shows us that while we may feel alone at times, or completely out of our minds with nothing to grasp on to, we also unwittingly surround ourselves with those in our lives that will stand by us whether good or bad. Night in the Woods knows exactly what it’s getting across and does it in a way that doesn’t feel out of the ordinary, even if everyone in the game is an animal-person.
Night in the Woods shows relationships in a way that most video games go for but can’t seem to stick the landing. While they’re a slew of games that could be listed off exploring the idea of relationship, Night in the Woods is a breath of fresh air. It might not have the emotional weight other games might have, but has the air-of-reality that a lot don’t. Instead of scenes of ‘cry here’ or ‘be afraid here,’ it’s about focusing on the conversation Mae (the main character) is a part of and how she herself is important to the dialog.
Starting out, Night in the Woods gives a simple introduction of Mae (cat-girl) coming home from having freshly dropped out of college and in a place of stagnation with her life. She is obviously dealing with some personal feelings and this becomes more apparent as the game goes on. What is so fantastic about Mae from the get go, is how comfortable she is with herself, she seems genuine, and not in the sense of she seems like a real person. She’s genuine in that she knows herself and presents herself accordingly, albeit a bit inappropriately at times. This is what allows for the focus on dialog/relationship in Night in the Woods: by just having script, the player can give voice and agency to the cast of characters, each being equally wonderful in their own way.
It’s the dialogue that is the real star of this game and what Night in the Woods excels at. It’s easily relatable and anyone who has been in their young twenties or going through them can understand the woes that Mae and co. seem to face. It also shows the more adult side of life, by peppering in scenes of older folks in town talking about their own lives and the problems that accompany work, home-life, etc. Mae’s parents being the largest representation of this. Having not just Mae be fully realized, but everyone else as well, creates a dichotomy of relationship that breathes. It gives life to the world, where there otherwise might be none.
For a game with no voice acting, the dialog is top notch, the cast of characters all fit the appropriate ages respectively and this can be seen in just the way they talk. It didn’t really hit until a certain scene with Gregg, and I’m not sure that scene would have even happened had I not made a certain choice, but it left a heavy feeling on the chest. It was a moment of contemplation, realizing Night in the Woods had more going on under the hood than previously thought.
At a certain point in the game, after having picked up the rhythm of — Mae wakes up, talks to Mom, screws around for the day — I accidentally made a choice. I was still getting the hang of the game, and while visiting Gregg at the Snack Falcon, proceeded to initiate hanging out with him for the day, which was not the intended outcome of the conversation. Mae was supposed to hang out with Bea for the day, having caused all sorts of drunk debauchery the night before and needing heavily to make up for it. Too late though, stuck with Gregg. Gregg and Mae proceeded to make their way to the woods (which is a dope little ride) and decided to play a game where they stab each other (why does Gregg have two knives?). This is the exact thing I was trying to avoid. Gregg seemed like my screw-around friend, avoiding anything resembling responsibility and not the appropriate influence for Mae, who is trying to get her life together after all! Then after a mini-game that was uncomfortably perfect in length, things took a turn. Things got serious. Gregg did the one thing I wasn’t expecting — he opened up. It was jarring — Gregg began talking about his relationship with Angus (another friend/Greggs boyfriend), how he felt like such a screw up, how he felt like he was constantly letting Angus down and how he too felt lost. It was more vulnerability than I’ve seen from a video game character in a long time. Gregg was being honest, respectful and thankful all at the same time. Gregg was being a friend.
As stated, it’s a bit jarring, especially after having seen Gregg in earlier scenes, but that’s the beauty in it. It’s understandable that Gregg is an unknown as not only is the player not familiar with him, but Mae has been away for the last few years. A lot can change in that time. For those who say people don’t grow, or people don’t change, I’m calling BS. This is what people do every day, because every day is a new experience and who knows what will happen. Even if living life routinely, such as Mae is doing, the unexpected is always around the corner.
This is the full extent of what makes Night in the Woods so special; the cast of characters are just living their lives to the best of their ability. Nothing fancy, nothing overly dramatic, just day-in day-out. It’s up to us to choose who we surround ourselves with and those people in our lives are sometimes full of surprises. It’s about not underestimating/overestimating those that are important to us. Night in the Woods shows what happens when either of these things happen or just what happens when assuming things about others in general. Unless having a dialogue with someone, how else can an understanding of what is happening in their lives be had? Social media only goes so far and coming face to face with those we care for goes above and beyond what is expected. Friends can do some stupid things, friends will think they’re doing stupid things, and the same can be said vice-versa, but really aren’t we all just living our lives to the best of our ability? And if that’s the case, then surrounding ourselves with those who will appreciate us for all our flaws/baggage because they have just as much, is worth it.