During the Halloween season, I find myself looking for games that fall into the horror category. Most of the titles involve either a lot of blood and guts or multiple jump scares, but rarely do we get a good old-fashioned ghost story. Thankfully, developer Night Light Interactive has given us something different to scratch that itch with their adventure game “Whispering Willows”. Although it’s very short in length and somewhat lacking in puzzle mechanics, there are still some interesting story elements that make this title worth a shot.
The story of “Whispering Willows” centers around a female protagonist named Elena Elkhorn, who is on a mission to rescue her missing father. Elena carries a special amulet that grants her two special abilities: project her own spirit into the ghost realm and communicate with the dead. The former allows her to navigate through tight corridors and interact with items in the physical world that are out of reach of her physical body. Both, however, become an integral part of helping Elena unravel the mystery of Whispering Willows and ultimately rescuing her father.
The gameplay primarily consists of navigating through a two-dimensional environment locating keys and other items in order to access new areas. Elena will come across several different ghosts who each have a different story to tell about their lives before they perished. She will need to help these spirits unravel the truth behind their pasts before tackling the mystery for which she came to Whispering Willows.
Sadly, the extent of all of these mysteries revolves around fetch quests and very simple puzzles that take very little brainpower to solve. The environment is also rather small, yet I wound up wandering around quite a bit trying to figure out just what I was supposed to do next. I found myself wishing for a bit more depth, not only in the gameplay department, but also in the number of tales. The stories were so short that they felt like a decent start to something better rather than a cohesive, complete narrative. At the finale, I was scratching my head trying to make sense of exactly what happened.
That’s not to say that “Whispering Willows” isn’t without its merits. The art style, which looks like an
animated comic book with a slightly softer tone, feels genuinely unique. It gives a very eerie, yet rarely overbearing setting. The sound design is also high quality and gives a two dimensional environment much
more depth. The individual stories offered by each ghost are welcome, especially since we rarely get this kind of storytelling in games.
All in all, I’d say this title is worth checking out as long as you don’t expect a lot of depth in storytelling. It’s nothing I would call revolutionary or mind-blowing, but the story beats are interesting enough for a one-time, quick playthrough.
[“Whispering Willows” isn’t a brand new title (it originally released on Ouya in May of 2014), but it received ports on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, iOS and Xbox One within the past four months.]