This review has caused me difficulties. There’s a thing. The Thing. I can’t decide whether or not to talk about The Thing (for clarity: it’s a topic from the game which merits referring to with capital T-capital T, not to be confused with Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four). The Thing in question is fairly obvious from the screenshots surrounding this review and is used in a lot of the marketing for the game – the rather ‘distinctive’ art style, shall we say. While I understand that The Thing is inherently absolutely non-sexual, there are some associated sexual themes which it’s difficult to untangle and Winds of Change goes in a direction that leans into those themes at points. In an effort to avoid tarnishing the family-friendly non-sweary reputation of this particular reviewer, I’ve decided to go for this hopefully humourous and non-judgemental euphemistic approach as a bit of a balancing act which I hope isn’t pushing me too far into sounding like a prude and shaming people for their interests or even kink-shaming at an extreme.
Those efforts might have been in vain, however, as I’ve used the phrases ‘sexual themes’ and ‘kink-shaming’ in this opening paragraph, so the USS Family Friendly might have already sailed.
Winds of Change is a visual novel with a branching narrative that’s as grand and intricate as the great tree Yggdrasil. You play as the last Seer and it’s your job to use the gifts granted to you by the spirits to ensure peace and good prevail in the world of Alestia. You’ll do this by leading a rebellion against the Triumvirate, the sinister faction that leads the kingdom. In a fully voiced (by some seriously talented voice actors) story, you’ll explore a vibrant and detailed world and make decisions that will set Alestia on a path to a brighter tomorrow, building relationships along the way.
The core gameplay is dialogue choice based, with the novel playing out in front of you until you have a choice to make – standard interactive novel stuff, nobody is expecting a Devil May Cry hack-and-slash combat system from a game like this and those who are will be sorely disappointed thanks to their insane expectations. But beyond the main branching narrative there are a few other ways that you can interact with the game, to save it from the interactive novel pitfall of becoming a wall of text with a choice every twenty screens. There’s a map for you to direct your character towards the next bit of story and to give the game world a little more realism. There are some point-and-click areas with some side dialogue and world-building mixed in with The Item You Need To Click On To Progress The Story. You can get some additional optional perspectives on areas and events by seeing them from the perspective of your companions and you’ll also build relationships with those companions, as well as influencing the story, by your choices in the rest of the game.
Speaking of relationships, this is where The Thing moves from being an interesting and family-friendly genre choice to pushing into a more connotationally-laden area. You can 100% romance your way through your companions in the story, with ‘romance’ being a term for the system that’s earned the game a ‘Sexual Themes’ warning in the ESBR rating. On the really positive side, you can romance companions regardless of your/their gender as it’s always great to see no enforced heterosexuality in a game driven by the player’s choices. For me though, considering the heavy theming of the game towards The Thing, the romance system shifts Winds of Change along the scale from a game for general audiences to something more targeted towards people who are interested in The Thing.
The Thing means that Winds of Change has a very well defined, if niche, target audience who I’m sure will absolutely love it. After a very quick google, this is apparently about 3 million people worldwide that Winds of Change has got on-side immediately, which is nothing to sniff at. I’m also sure that those of us who aren’t into The Thing could get something from the game but, I personally don’t think it has a huge inherent mainstream appeal. Winds of Change is certainly a competent fantasy visual novel but with The Thing always loitering at the back of the player’s mind, it’s difficult to dissociate and be fully lost in the narrative. Or maybe after all my agonising over being furry-agnostic, I’m just an old prude after all.