Vena is sitting on the fence. Every decision she is confronted with is paralysing. A hunter by trade, like her father before her, she has been offered the opportunity of a lifetime: a job in the big city, a chance to broaden her horizons, to escape the boredom of small town life, and to earn a pretty penny as a bodyguard while doing so. But leaving isn’t so easy.
The town of Windy Meadow is her home. Her bedbound mother needs care, her younger sister guidance. Her niece is dangerously ill too, and ogres and goblins prowl the town’s borders, eager to attack without provocation. Yeah, there’s a lot going on.
Windy Meadow sets up all of these decisions in a natural manner, and it never feels overbearing or unrealistic (at least, beyond the realities of this fantasy world). They feel like genuine problems a young hunter in a medieval fantasy setting would face, and it’s just sheer bad luck that they’ve all been forced upon your shoulders at once.
It helps that conversations with various characters around the village are well written, and your relationships to them are predetermined. This isn’t a visual novel where you can boost your friendship metre with any character you want in order to commence courting or whatever. You spend too much time at the tavern. One of your sisters hates you for no discernable reason. Your family is pushing you to take the offer in the city. You can’t change their minds. You can only decide yours.
Did I mention that Vena is incredibly indecisive? This seems like a slightly heavyhanded narrative device, forcing the difficult decisions upon your shoulders when you’d be making them anyway. Sometimes all her moping gets a bit much, and despite the decisions being tricky predicaments with no clearly correct path forwards, sometimes you just want to give her a shake and tell her to get a grip.
Part of this frustration comes from the freedom of Windy Meadow’s predecessor. Roadwarden was one of my favourite games last year, the text-heavy RPG describing bleak vistas and presenting you with tricky dilemmas at every turn. You, the titular Roadwarden, couldn’t afford to be indecisive out in the wilds, so Vena’s uncertainty in the relative safety of her village grows tiresome.
This is compounded by the fact that, when you do make your mind up, Vena doubts herself and presents the options again in a later scene. Sure, you may have more information at this point, but I wish she was more like her older brother, making snap decisions to aid his family.
There is plenty to like about Windy Meadow, despite the frustrating protagonist. The pixel art is stunning, the writing and characters, as I previously mentioned, are stellar, and the route forward is difficult to navigate. But one of my favourite parts of the game is how it deals with combat.
Combat is antithetical to the visual novel formula, but a fantasy staple. This is not Tavern Talk or Legends & Lattes, where combat happens off-screen or not at all. Combat is a key threat, and your decisions can lead to or avert battles. If you decide to face the tribe of goblins, though, don’t expect to be making decisions in the midst of battles. Fighting is depicted through gory and evocative comic book panels as action unfolds and you watch the repercussions of your actions play out.
Windy Meadow does well to make you care about the family at the centre of its story, but I can’t help feeling like the Roadwardens of its predecessor are the main draw to this world. I want to find out what the effects of my decisions are, despite the fact that Vena is an annoyance and her indecision a constant thorn in the game’s side. Windy Meadow is well written and well presented, but at times the game is fighting against a protagonist that repels you at every turn.
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