Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a choice-based visual novel from studio Different Tales. The game recently launched on Nintendo Switch. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a game in a class of few as its developers had a clear goal, vision, and story they wanted to tell. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a visual novel, and much of the story is illustrated through beautifully written narration. Throughout the story, you are prompted to make choices that determine how the story plays out, who the main character is, and the order things take place.
The game gives you three resources, rage, health, and willpower. The choices available to you change depending on your resources and your previous decisions. Typically, the main issue for games like these is the overall story tends to play out the same regardless of your choices. However, this game solves that issue by making the game itself quite short. The story is small enough that the developers were able to make it vary greatly throughout each playthrough. Your stats and choices greatly affect the entire playthrough, and what choices are even available to you vary greatly with each playthrough. There are also plenty of different endings and differences sprinkled throughout the experience which boosts its replayability. The story is about 2 hours but is perfectly paced. Its shorter length only lends itself to having lots of variation and makes it seem less daunting to play through over and over.
Besides the wonderful writing and gameplay, the presentation is also spectacular. The illustrations and art used in the game are unique and beautiful. The music and sound design are very immersive and engrossing. This is storytelling in gaming at its best. This game is a good lesson on what makes gaming so unique as an art medium.
The context of this game and its creation is also very fascinating. This game is loosely based on a real-world protest that took place 2016 in which the writers and developers personally experienced. The setting is a real-world ancient forest in Europe, and there is a local controversy about the forest being over logged. The game doesn’t attempt to paint anybody as evil or the villain, there is a lot of complexity and different motivations for each group or character. While this story has a lot of fictitious elements compared to the actual event, the made-up parts don’t detract from the suspension of disbelief. The game has a very strong thematic presence and will leave you pondering its subject matter even after you turn it off.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest also avoids a lot of issues I tend to have with games of this genre. Many choice-based games have a lot of good and bad decisions, but this game is more ambivalent. It isn’t black and white, it’s a lot of subtle shades of gray. There aren’t too many right or wrong options, just options with different consequences. My other issue is that these games often have the same overall story with your choices only affecting minor differences. That is not the case for this game. There is so much variance in the story, what options are available to you, and the consequences that no two playthroughs are the same. Games of this genre also tend to be very limiting in terms of gameplay or play freedom. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest circumvents this by never punishing the player for how they choose to play. Things in the game organically react to how you choose to play, and almost nothing is the “right” decision. It is good and bad to everything, and what you choose to prioritize will change your experience.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a game that was made because the developers wanted it to be, not because they wanted money or acclaim. It may seem like an unnecessary distinction to make, but it makes a world of difference in terms of the final product. They had an experience they wanted to share and did so in a beautiful, immersive way. It is a short and small game, but a perfectly well-paced and crafted experience. It is a wonderful piece of art. I’d highly recommend it for anyone who loves story games or exploring gaming as an artistic medium. I highly recommend supporting the developers and this superb game. Even if visual novel RPGs aren’t your usual cup of tea, I’d still say this game is worth a look. It’s also always valuable to support passionate creators like this.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch