Winds of Change is an interesting visual novel that tells a well-crafted fantasy tale, but that gets bogged down in inter-character relationships.
It's hard to tell a new fantasy story without falling into some well-worn tropes along the way. After all, with iconic stories such as the Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings sitting so strong in popular consciousness, it's ever-too-easy to end up in familiar territory. Something that tries to do things a little bit differently is Winds of Change, albeit with mixed results.
Winds of Change is an early access success story. Acting as a spiritual successor to the developer's previous title Major\Minor, the visual novel sets itself in a world of of magic and catastrophe, as player character The Seer tries to understand an apocalyptic vision of the future and save the world along the way. That all sounds quite standard, but there are moments here and there that help separate out the core story from some of its peers.
That said, the influences behind Winds of Change are clear. This is an epic fantasy story, consisting of young, naive heroes setting off from their cosy homeland with destiny in tow. But, within this trapping Winds of Change manages to do some good things with subverting player expectations, even if not all of them hit home.
Some elements of the story and general structure are reminiscent of BioWare RPGs like Baldur's Gate or Dragon Age. This isn't the case with the gameplay, which is much more restrictive due to its visual novel status, but more so in the plot department. Humble beginnings lead to big things down the line, and there's similarities in the jovial nature of its cast of party members too - although there's no-one who will sit in the memory like Minsc or Morrigan.
What starts as a well-trodden path down a typical fantasy adventure - albeit with anthropomorphic animals instead of the likes of humans and elves - then takes a detour at occasional moments. You'll see lush forests, arid deserts, and untrustworthy towns, but within that the story takes some neat detours. The main plot is well-written, helping to undermine the 'chosen one' narrative in some interesting ways without it feeling overly deliberate.
Most of the time the game follows The Seer, the playable character who is occasionally hit with prophetic visions and has control over a mysterious and powerful blade. However, at times Winds of Change gives the player the option to hop into the stories of other characters via smaller vignettes. This allows Winds of Change to explore its world through other points of view, including its villains.
This shared narrative also allows the twists and turns of the narrative to fully envelop the player. The lore that has been put into Winds of Change is fairly interesting, with bits and pieces of written content scattered around its static scenes to give a little more detail. That lore can then be overturned over the course of the game with some well-placed shock reveals.
Unfortunately, the care taken with the world-building is undermined regularly by other issues. Perhaps the most obvious of these elements is how the story is overpowered by an emphasis on relationship drama. Winds of Change is extremely dialogue-heavy, even for a visual novel, and the player will often feel the need to spend a large proportion of time in each area talking to characters and responding to their urgent emotional needs, which can feel jarring and sudden.
There's a clear influence from Mass Effect in particular here. But, whereas the camaraderie and inter-personal relationships there were forged by action, here it's only by dialogue due to the lack of real action scenes. This isn't helped by the limited character models for different emotions, and players will likely get bored of seeing the same 'worried' or 'thoughtful' poses of the main characters.
Dialogue, too, can feel stilted - which is exacerbated by the heavy dialogue focus of Winds of Change as a whole. Thankfully the writing for the narration and the internal monologue of the main character is much better, but even so it's suppressed by just how chatty the other party members are. Often, the player will want some of the characters to be quiet for a while just so they can move onto the next part of the plot.
Thankfully the final act is very good, acting like the final mission of Mass Effect 2. Again, this doesn't have the same impact as that iconic finale as the player will not have the same emotional attachment to the characters. Nonetheless, it comes together well, with high stakes that are sometimes missing from the rest of the game.
Overall, there's more to Winds of Change than its cutesy furry exterior provides, with a fascinating overarching story. But, it does get stuck in the smaller details, and that can be extremely frustrating. If you don't mind spending a lot of time waiting on the foibles of characters, though, then this could be a winner for those after a decent fantasy story.
Winds of Change releases August 21, 2019 for PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.