Wandersong

jegus why are there so many innocuous-looking fantasy titles that are actually incredibly depressing

Wandersong is an adventure game where, instead of an action hero, you play as a bard whose only ability is singing. You’re told that the world is ending and the only way to save it is to sing the Earthsong, which can only be taught by the spiritual overseers of the spirit world, so you have to go on a quest, solving all your problems along the way with singing.

The story takes a big swerve about halfway in and is actually incredibly dark and bleak, with later segments even borrowing elements from horror. This isn’t one of those fantasy stories where the apocalypse is an all-or-nothing abstract threat; the world and the overseers are slowly dying and you see them deteriorate in real time, all while the protagonists and NPCs contemplate the end of existence. It got to the point where I was genuinely expecting the ending to be “LOL j/k, world ends everyone dies.”

The story has some funny commentary on heroic tropes and says some nice things about friendship and optimism, but I felt it never really stuck the landing. Every chapter keeps throwing heavy, realistic problems at the bard and everyone saying you can’t solve all your problems by singing, and then the bard solves all the problems by singing. (Only to immediately whiplash back to THE WORLD IS ENDING LET’S TALK ABOUT DEATH, to make things even more jarring.) It felt at times like it was parodying both the typical heroic fantasy and itself. So unfortunately, in the end it just felt confused. It’s observing a lot of real-world problems but can’t come up with an answer, so it fills the void with generic feel-good hope instead.

I also never figured out what it was trying to say with Aubrey. Like, there are plenty of stories where the Chosen One is secretly being manipulated to destroy the world instead of save it, but they usually defect at that point instead of saying “heck yeah I love omnicide”. How are you going to “feel special” when everyone is dead including yourself, Aubrey? Even sociopaths have self-preservation instincts! There’s a lot that can be said about heroic fantasies and the toxicity therein, but I have a hard time imagining anyone relates to “I want to be a hero so bad I will murder-suicide the entire world.”

Gameplay-wise, the game is pretty much identical to Night in the Woods, in that the main point of every area is to walk around and talk to people. What I don’t understand is why the game kept kicking you out of conversation every few lines and forcing you to re-initiate dialogue to continue the scene. This happens even when the next chunk starts with a direct response to the previous line, so it makes no sense for them to be split up. It’s odd, I didn’t really mind it when Night in the Woods did it, but here it got pretty annoying. The musical segments also went on just a tad too long — I get that music is the entire point of the game, but after about a solid minute of rhythm minigame I think I get the point.

That’s the other thing — all the “music” mechanics are purely visual, not aural. The way it works is that moving the control stick brings up a color wheel, with every color corresponding to a different note. Every single “music” puzzle is based around matching the colors or positions on the music wheel, or both. There are a few rhythm minigames, but they’re pretty much impossible to do by ear alone and are telegraphed by the colored notes lining up in sequence. It’s an odd choice. (And I hope it doesn’t give colorblind players too much trouble.)

The achievements only being for things Aubrey did was really funny, though.

So I’m overall not sure if I’d recommend this or not. If you didn’t mind the slowness and talk-to-everyone-ness of Night in the Woods, you probably won’t mind the gameplay (and some of the puzzles are genuinely pretty cool, if backloaded), but otherwise I don’t know if it’s worth playing through all the long walking bits when I’m sure someone’s posted the cutscenes on YouTube.

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