Bittersweet and emotional, Night in the Woods provides a fascinating look into your own life.
People leave home. It’s normal, natural, and perfectly commonplace. In time, all birds must leave the nest. Yet for various reasons, people also return. It can be jarring to see a place you’ve loved your entire life change drastically in mere years. That’s the concept behind Night in the Woods and the mellow story it weaves. It’s the story: leave for school, develop independently from your roots, and return.
Playing Night in the Woods is the equivalent of hanging out with your best friends on summer break and catching up on all the juicy stories you’ve missed during the spring semester.
Night in the Woods follows Mae Borowski, a rambunctious cat arriving home from her escapades in college. Immediately, she points out things in the small town of Possum Springs that are different from her memory. Tourist attractions, welcome centers, restaurants—it’s still the same town, but it doesn’t necessarily look like it. However, it feels like home, thanks to the lovable cast of characters Mae interacts with on the daily.
Each day in Night in the Woods acts as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” chapter, as Mae can pick which friend to chill with. This allows for a great deal of situational storytelling: you realize Gregg is a rebel as you lounge in the forest, or that Bea is overburdened through a nonchalant mall trip. Playing Night in the Woods is the equivalent of hanging out with your best friends on summer break and catching up on all the juicy stories you’ve missed during the spring semester.
Not everything is relaxing and laid-back, though. Possum Springs is a dying town, as businesses and families are slowly leaving the region. Those left behind live questionably quaint lives, mostly working service jobs and spending time with loved ones. Not that such a life is a bad one, of course. Just different from the one before. And so, Night in the Woods grapples with the melancholy idea of change, and the yearning of small-town citizens.
What happens in that fleeting moment when you leave home? For me, the answer is: everything. Economies and businesses change on a dime, as fickle as a schoolgirl. Friends grow up, grow apart, and grow back together, closer than ever. Families overcome new turmoil, becoming stronger as a result. Events morph into a blur of detail witnessed by someone else. The community soldiers on. The football games continue. The laughs roll.
The streets are still home and the people are still friends, but are they your home and friends? …What happens when we feel as if we belong nowhere?
Night in the Woods is an absolute punch to the gut. It’s a reminder to call home, but is also a reminder that home may be suffering just as much as you are. It’s a reminder that home may be flourishing just as much as you are. Your friends and family are still there, still going at it. As the thought meanders through your mind, anxiety kicks in—the great weight of nothingness. That, too, is the point of Night in the Woods: to emulate being kicked down emotionally, and experience the restorative process afterward.
The game so masterfully executes the same empty happiness of that weekend reprieve from university, when being in your mining-jobless ghost-town feels so familiar yet so hollow. The streets are still home and the people are still friends, but are they your home and friends? What happens to our minds when we nibble at these thoughts incessantly? What happens when we feel as if we belong nowhere?
I can’t truthfully say that Night in the Woods sticks every emotional landing. The dialogue, albeit quirky and charming, feels clunky and awkward at times. In a game focused on conversing with old friends, the script is key. The story also feels the need to throw a bit too many curveballs in the climax. What begins as a simple tale slowly builds into something unwieldy.
But Night in the Woods does a stupendously good job at yoinking actual emotion from your calcified heart. Despite the odd phrasing, many conversations are adept at producing nostalgia, despair, anger, or true sadness and reflection. The entire adventure mirrors real-life experiences with departure and return, and successfully elicits the correct feelings in response. Night in the Woods is one of the best “life simulators” you’ll play, yet it’s completely different from your own past.