Oh, man. Where do we even begin? We’ve tried writing the start of this article about a hundred times in our heads, but every time we seem to end up missing something out or failing to put across exactly what we think of Winter Voices. We’re honestly quite flummoxed about how to approach Winter Voices; how do you approach a game which, while beautiful in its way, suffers from such fundamental and obvious errors?
Well, you have to start off by acknowledging that Winter Voices is definitely not a very fun game to play. As I complained many times while I played, I’d rather have a razor-wire body-floss than play it for any longer than strictly required.
Lets start at the top. Winter Voices is an episodic, turn-based RPG, published independently. The first episode, subtitled Avalanche, is set in a small village cut off from the rest of the world. You are cast as a young lady whose father has just died, who keeps having weird hallucinations and who isn’t sure of her place in the world. Those are the basics, now for the rest.
What you really need to know about Winter Voices is that it’s biggest problem is that it has a strain of literary diarrhoea which usually affects young goths. It is constantly spewing out pseudo-philosophical, pseudo-poetical nonsense in vast quantity and to very little effect, in other words. Never has there been a game more in need of a visit from the red pen.
Take the introduction, for example; it blathers on for far longer than it really needs to, repeating itself over and over again in the most roundabout way possible, the writers refusing to let you play until they’ve used every synonym they know for ‘cold’ and ‘snowy’. As lovely but low-fi art of the snow-bound village drifts across the screen you’re bombarded with ramblings which are neither clear nor succinct via the most bored sounding narrator ever. We get the point; it’s set in a small mountain town, OK? Move on, or at least tell us something about the wider world the game exists in.
The introduction is unfortunately indicative of how the rest of the game shapes up too, the end result being the deeper you delve the less attention you start paying to the story. One of the notes we scrawled down as we played the opening chapters read ‘is this just a platform for bad poetry?’ The narration is the type of thing we’re more used to hearing in tragic creative writing seminars where beret-sporting hipsters mingle with ‘liberal anarchists’ – it’s certainly not something we’d pay to play at home.
Get to one of those green squares to win, assuming the bad guys don't just stand on them...
It gets worse. Winter Voices’ overwordy script combines with a tedious pace to create an experience which draws on far longer than it should do. The ‘tiny’ village in the mountains actually turns out to be far bigger than you really want it to be, mainly because it takes ages to get anywhere in it. Your character walks so slowly she’s almost going in reverse. Expect to do much backtracking too, as the map doesn’t highlight where in the town you are at any given time, making it easy to stumble in the wrong direction.
The only redeeming part of Winter Voices presentation is the artwork that’s used throughout the game. The hand-drawn character portraits and backgrounds are definitely a far-cry from the photorealistic, high-poly graphics of larger releases, but that works to Beyond the Pillars’ advantage in some ways. Winter Voices has its own visual identity and is genuinely pretty on occasion; it’s just a shame that the developer hasn’t realised that a picture can tell a thousand words.