o matter how old you are, there’s always going to be this unspoken acceptance between you and the friends you makes; an acceptance of who’s going to stay for the long haul, and who’s going to be a memory, if anything at all. Some of the key elements that define the human condition are ones that’re fundamentally tied to the concept of loneliness and the effects that it has on people.
This leads to a misinterpretation that the relationships we form are done from out of mutual interests and similarities, glossing over the fact that mutual hatreds and fears have a lot to do with who interact with and trust on a daily basis.
There aren’t a lot of experiences that I can think of that have evoked these ugly truths quite like Night in the Woods by Finji. The tagline of the game tells its players that at the end of everything, you have to try to hold onto anything, setting a tone that consistently sticks it to you the further you dive in. The messages and themes offered in the adventure side-scroller are poignant in their relatability to the hardships of youth in modern Americana, and struggle with mental health issues that stem from the experience.
The setting fades into a commuter bus pulling into town with jaded millennial named Mae Borowski, who recently dropped out of college after only three semesters, packing up and moving back in with her parents in her hometown. Arriving at the bus stop with no one to welcome her, NITW works to immediately monologue the characterization of its protagonist and the world she lives in, and it doesn’t do this by trying convince you why you should care, but rather trying to convince the main character herself why she should.
As Mae settles in, the in-game days are spent acclimating her back to the familiar setting of Possum Springs, where you’ll have the freedom to engage the townsfolk with news of your arrival, leading to some choice nuggets of exposition on our hero of the story. This particular method of narrative in what’s essentially a heavily story-driven game is interesting as its execution is thematic to the world on which the plot is trying to develop. It’s only during moments of comfort or vulnerability that we’re treated to insightful reflections of Mae’s character, the rest of the time she’s interacting with various people she comes across in her return, and it’s at those moments where she develops through her facetious, self-deprecating cynical commentary and reckless abandon towards the idea of being an adult.
These exchanges of dialogue are where the experience really shines as you’ll find yourself visiting other faces outside of Mae’s immediate circle of friends who can accomplish subtle touches of world building, and story-telling through some surprisingly big reveals to the player about the feline millennial’s past, details that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
Not to say that best parts of Night In The Woods are the extra-curricular shenanigans off the plot direction’s beaten path, but they definitely worked to pace out the story with whatever scale of content you wish to feed yourself with, resulting in an organic development the story tailored around how much you play it. The “give ‘n take” of NITW is more than a narrative tool as it slowly becomes a message that it wants to impart on those playing through Mae’s struggles of self-worth.
While the intrepid college dropout is the one half of the game, her close friends are the other, and where the game gives you the chance to relate with any one of them the way you would with your real-life group of buds. The cavalcade of trusted critters includes Gregg: your best friend, and the partner in crime who indulges all of the mischief-making desires Mae already, Angus, the mild-mannered intellectual of the group and Gregg’s boyfriend, and finally Bea, the distant friend who used to be closer with Mae when they were younger.
Whomever you designate to spend more time with is the friend who will have the most influence on Mae’s personal growth throughout the misadventure, appealing to the different characteristics of the gutterpunk cat girl’s personality. The various hangout sessions you can have with the crew are earnest in their portrayal of “twenty-somthin’’ culture and the devil-may-care attitudes and friendships that’re relatable to anyone who lived, or who are currently living those years of their life.
And to that point, the game is also poignant in its portrayal of the more darker moments of that period of adolescence. I was affected on more than one occasion during my time with Night in the Woods, relating to many low points where the Mae’s depression overcame her already unstable self-esteem.
Night in the Woods is the slice-of-life tale that isn’t afraid to be too real; a theater of adult juvenescence where the irony of animals being more human than you ever thought they could be isn’t lost on the people who brought the indie production. The journey is short-lived, but such is that time that we were all young enough to care about the late night orchard parties happening over the weekend, and just like those times, the experience that Night in the Woods has to offer is one that is unforgettable and worth checking out.