Whispering Willows is quite unlike any other game I’ve played, even though the building blocks of it all come from the adventure genre. The basic story follows a young girl named Elena, who goes to the uninhabited Willows mansion in the middle of the night with the sole aim of finding her father, the groundskeeper, who has disappeared there. Whispering Willows is all set up to be a horror adventure title, but instead what you find is a story that explores just how far people will go for love and recover what they lost.
Elena is a girl who discovers she has the power of astral projection, the ability to allow her spirit to leave her body, which is used to solve some of the puzzles in Whispering Willows. She can’t fight and the few threats there are require either running away or sneaking past, but while the game is billed as a horror title there are very few moments of actual fear. I can think of only two sections that instilled tension within me, but they lasted around 30 seconds. If you’re looking for a scary adventure game then Whispering Willows isn’t it.
In fact calling Whispering Willows a horror adventure game is a bit disingenious. Historical thriller would be a much more accurate description of the game, considering how much of the plot is based upon the past of the mansion and the people that once inhabited it. When Elena projects her spirit the ghosts of the past become visible, and she can talk to them. None of them seem interested in scaring the living, just getting help so they can find peace and move on. All of their stories tie in with one particular character, Wortham Willows. He built the mansion and became the mayor of the local town, as well as being the source of many peoples’ woes.
On the surface all of these characters seem fairly two-dimensional but searching the mansion and the surrounding grounds turns up letters and notes that shed light on the history of the place. Elena’s family has a link to that location through the Native Americans that used to inhabit the land, and from whom she inherited her power. As you read the notes and letters you find that there was a culture clash, which in turn had a lot of lingering effects on those that lived through it. Reading the diary entries of the ghosts turns them into characters with underlying depth, with motivations and problems that are masked by their demeanour. You can go through the game without reading the notes but doing so means missing out on all of the events that set up the plot.
The puzzles in Whispering Willows are incredibly simple to solve, the majority of which require Elena sending her spirit to get into a different room through small gaps, where a switch or an object can be moved to open up a path. Some puzzles will require you to find an object in the grounds and have it interact with something or someone else to move forward, but since there are only a few different locations this doesn’t take long to do. In fact Whispering Willows can be completed in around three hours, which I think is the perfect length for the story it tells.
The art style of the game takes on a hand drawn aesthetic and it looks remarkable, but it is the sound work that should be particularly praised. The off-key piano and creepy melodies make a valiant attempt to create an atmosphere of fear, while the environmental noises like furniture scraping along the ground off screen reminds that you are in a haunted location. However this sound work almost juxtaposes with the rest of Whispering Willows, which simply isn’t a scary game.
There are a couple of annoyances like the stealth sections where you can only glimpse the monsters momentarily. The timing has to be perfect because if you walk forward too fast you will die. There was also one instance where a character wanted something solved, which I did, but when I went to report that to her she kept giving me the instruction on what to do to solve her problem. Sadly it made Whispering Willows feel a touch incomplete.
Whispering Willows is an enjoyable game with a good story, though much of it will rely on you reading all the letters scattered through the game. The puzzles aren’t hard and while some of the atmosphere is creepy the game doesn’t quite present the horror you expect. While Whispering Willows is an interesting experience it is a short one at three hours. There are also a couple of annoyances and the puzzles are incredibly simple to work out, but that keeps things moving at a steady pace. Overall Whispering Willows is for those who like adventure titles but also like to experience a story that unfolds without too much effort being put in, making it a solid debut from Night Light Interactive.
Version Tested: PS4