When I read the concept of this game I was actually excited... The hardcore gamer in me thought "Wow! New innovation in the RPG Tactics genre! Inconceivable!" The mature gamer thought it would be interesting to play a game that is indisputably plot driven with game play that only serves to augment the story/plot. Mister Hipster gamer though said “whoa! Indie!” but was summarily shoved back into his cave where his Minecraft server resides. So Winter Voices, according to the description, is a game about a girl’s loss of her father and the mourning and sorrow that entails. What it actually turned out to be is a very Freudian exploration (not in that way, you pervert) of the subconscious of a girl with a father whom she was never close. The tale is touching and heartwarming but in a completely bleak and depressing fashion. Really, if I could sum up this game in a single word, it would be depressing. The poetry that the game presents as its dialogue is stuff that would make any Manly McManly Man want to crawl into bed and eat Bon-Bons while crying. Though the episodes you find yourself going through the places that you believe will help you to move on, such as leaving your home town to find the last will and testament that he left and such in another town. The plot is one of the highlights of the game, in addition to being probably one of the best written games of the year.
The mechanics of the game, too, are rather solid. To start with, you cannot fight back. Just straight up, your skills do not do damage, often leaving you to have the goal of survival or reach a certain point. If you like games where you can become a god and one hit something to feel like a big man, then this isn’t the game for you. However, that’s not to say you can’t be offensive. Winter Voices’ expansive skill tree still allows you to build your character however you want. I ended up building a tank because of the sheer amounts of survival missions though out the game with passives that buff my survivability like damage mitigation as well as active skills that reduce the amount of damage output the enemies did. The range of skills also includes summoning allies that give bonuses, heal you or hamper the enemy, Eventually as you continue your journeys you will get allies that, while they aren’t present on the battlefield, supply you with extra skills and bonuses. Over all it’s a very deep skill system.
The stat system that the game employs is rather confusing in that they do not have traditional names, forcing you to rely on clunky translations to try to figure out what they mean/do. Some are quite easy to figure out, like willpower which is basically health (constitution in your standard DnD game), and memory which increases the experience you gain at the cost of harder enemies/battles, but others, like Charisma, despite that it’s the only stat that has a standard name, are pretty vague (I’m still trying to figure out what it does…). The only thing that I found innovative here was the memory stat which allows players to adjust difficulty in a non-Easy, Normal, Hard mode toggle, making the difficulty curve a smooth curve as opposed to the typical non-linear difficulty settings.
That’s all the fun under the hood stuff, but what does it add up to? Well, I’ll give you a fun drinking game. Any time I say the words clunky, slow, or buggy, take a shot. [Game-Debate nor the author takes any responsibility for the resulting alcohol poisoning…]
So the HUD in game is a pretty standard one. You have skills at the bottom, menus in the top left and character windows in the right. However, you have no hotkeys. At all. The result is rather clunky [take a shot], forcing you to click all over the screen. The interface and menus feel rather slow [bottoms up] to respond as well, resulting in using the HUD/Menu as a task upon itself. The movement in the game is slow as well, taking about a solid minute alone to cross a small map. The only way I could find to play the game at a tolerable speed was to use CheatEngine to speed hack it at 5x the standard rate at which the game played. The painful part was that it was still a pretty slow game. Enemies, for some reason, will often attack multiple times, resulting in their turns taking a long while. There is no way to have a “fast” mode to speed up, or skip (that would be a godsend), the animations, making combat painfully slow as well. This, paired with the fact that movement in a non-combat map is extremely clunky by itself due to poor path-finding, makes the game feel rushed and unrefined. The movement is also plagued by bugs. It often took me about 5 tries to get to where I actually wanted the game to take me, resulting in more frustration. Enough about moving and now on to combat.
In theory, not being able to fight back against your enemies often creates a greater sense of tension, see Amnesia. The problem is that in a tactics system, this often leaves you just waiting over and over again while you watch your enemies attack you as you just prepare your defenses. If you want to try to alter your enemies’ positioning to try to be more tactical, then you need to use your push skill. The problem with that is that the skill itself is buggy and clunky (double shot now). The targeting seldom works (you can choose to push the empty ground for no reason cause it does absolutely nothing), if you’re lucky enough to have the skill actually target the enemy (because it finally stopped bugging out on you, though you burnt through most of your PP already) it shoves them a mighty- wait. Why didn’t it shove them?! One of the most important skills in the game is the buggiest? You have to be kidding- Oh, now I died cause I couldn’t push him through the teleport CAUSE I RAN OUT OF MANA TRYING TO HIT THE FREAKIN’ ENEMY THAT YOU WOULDN’T LET ME DO UNTIL YOU KNEW THAT I WOULDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MANA TO FINISH IT. Sadly, most of the other skills are as buggy as this one.
The episodes are not that different between each other, they rely mostly on the same kind of combat, with few unique missions sparsely thrown in. My biggest problem with the game is that it has a general clunky feeling to it. Everything seems too slow and things feel superfluous. The bugs prevent the game from even continuing at time (I spent literally 3 hours on one battle because after I would do a certain goal required action, the game would lock up and prevent me from doing anything else). Each episode blends into the other with no real resolution at all. The thing, in my opinion, with episodic gaming is to have individual story arks within each episode with an overarching plot that unifies them. Winter Voices doesn’t do that, but instead just has one running plot, making you feel like you’re playing a normal game that you have to pay 5$ if you want to continue at a certain point. It’s hard to categorize them separately for an overview of each because each would start with “And you continue your journey, blah blah blah.” The game would make more logical sense if it was just $25 for the whole series (they actually sell this as the Complete pack) because it’s not so much a series as it is just a segmented game…
If I sound overly critical on this game is that the game sets out to do so much, but falls so short on the execution. The concepts that drive have the ability to define the genre of tactics RPG, with writing that could easily be hailed as some of the best, but they are hamstrung and mangled by poor implementation. Bugs, clunkiness and just plain slow gameplay make the game feel more like a chore than an actual experience. The result is that it feels like I’m reading through a T.S. Eliot masterpiece, but in order to turn the page I have to stare at my screen and hit an end turn button, wait another two minutes of watching the AI do it’s ponderous moves. Any hopes of a well-paced narrative is shattered by this.
On the d20 scale I’m split between an 18 and a 10, a pretty wide gap. On one hand, it is a masterpiece that achieves its artistic vision, while on the other hand it’s simply a bug-fest of an unwieldy game that at times, is not fun to play. If you have a great amount of patience, you’re an English/Literature Major or you know how to use CheatEngine properly, then I can’t urge you to pick this game up fast enough. However if you’re used to games that utilize twitch reflexes or have a short attention span, they really, don’t waste your money. (On the rating I gave it a 14 as the average).
If you survived the drinking game, to paraphrase Hamlet, get thee to a stomach pump.