Everybody travels. That’s a fact of life. You travel to the shops, you travel to work, you travel to see friends and family, and if your circumstances allow or call for it, you’ll travel to places far from home. Traveling has become a key theme in the human condition. It builds on our nature to explore, and yet traveling is very rarely the core theme of a game. Wanderlust: Travel Stories is a game where it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters.
It starts on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where five travellers come together to exchange stories about their travels while exploring the famous island. Each member of the group has seen different parts of the world and has their own view on what they experience due to their life experiences. There’s Tomek, who has spent his life being anxious, Henriette, who yearns for the sea, her father Henry, who traveled the world as a famous photographer, fashionista Martine, and the Portuguese reporter Adita, whose heart really belongs in Africa.
Each story is different and deals with different themes from grief, challenging the unknown, love, family, conflict, and spirituality. How the stories pan out depends on player actions. Through each journey, you have to manage the mental and physical wellbeing of characters with choices affecting how stressed and fatigued they are. This, in turn, affects their mood, which can open up new options that take the stories down different paths. While it is an interesting system there are periods where your forced down a certain narrative direction and so forced into certain states of mind. This is most obvious during a riverboat trip that goes through several African nations.
Similarly in some scenarios, you have a budget to spend on various things from food to clothes, travel options to accommodation. At first you feel cautious with the money, but it seems that the budget is more than enough in any situation and becomes less of a concern as you go on. There’s no pressure to this money management side of things, and maybe that’s the point.
The main focus is the stories themselves. Wanderlust: Travel Stories is much more an interactive novel than a game. Each characters’ stories last for different lengths of time, though a couple of hours the norm and one lasting three hours. You’ll spend your time reading with occasionally making a choice or choosing a destination on a map. That, in this case, is fine as the stories are well written with rounded characters. Sure, there may be times where you don’t like the character you’re reading about, but Different Tales has captured a number of personalities that they can incorporate a few different perspectives on traveling.
The writing isn’t the only thing that is good. Wanderlust: Travel Stories draws you into the characters’ lives while tapping into that desire for exploration thanks in part to how it’s all presented to you. Each scene has a picture in the background with a lot of these pictures coming from the development team members’ own travels. That really helps in setting a scene as you imagine what is happening around those images, which is only amplified by the music and sounds that blend with the words on screen to give a real sense of place. From a cloud clapping, to the sounds of a hustling, bustling city market, it really grounds you in the moments.