Things aren’t what they seem in Woodsalt. Protagonist Emcy awakes from a 1000-year stasis in Nu-Terra, a colony on a far-flung planet built by refugees from a ruined Earth.
Stuck in a small, glass-domed community, he’s reunited with his sister and welcomed by a melange of fellow revived escapees and individuals born in the settlement.
But harmony in this suburb is as fake as its atmosphere, with a revolutionary faction agitating to over-throw the heavy-handed government. And Emcy starts seeing freakish visions and premonitions. Something’s just… off.
Like Emcy, you may also take a while to adjust. Looking and sounding a bit like a PS1 Final Fantasy game, and sort of borrowing the confidant system from Persona, Woodsalt initially tricks the mind into JRPG mode, but it’s strictly a visual novel.
A daily schedule oscillates between fixed story segments and ‘free roam’, where you traipse through half-a-dozen locations dotted with static townsfolk and select two key characters whose personal stories you’d like to unravel.
It’s not much, and not exactly charged with momentum. Emcy ambles between scenes over lilting, looping music, perhaps sifting through some lore-laden documents in the local library, before heading to another meeting, another conversation. In chat, you make dialogue choices, but few seem significant. Sometimes, the nightmarish visions are welcome to stop you from drifting off.
Still, the individual tales do have some of that Persona pull, and you soon find yourself prioritising favourites to see how they pan out, especially since time is limited. The script is slightly messy, but has personality, with a blunt British turn of phrase that induces a few chuckles.
There’s intrigue in the plot too, boosted by some fun meta moments, from parallels with The Truman Show and Bandersnatch to characters commenting on the size of their 1990s JRPG-style heads.
If that’s enough to pull you through to the conclusion, the conclusion itself might make you regret it. With much still unresolved, the game loops back to the start, asking you to try again. Where Hatoful Boyfriend used multiple brief cycles to morph into something horrifyingly different, this feels more like the twist ending of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – a sadistic trial.
Rather than play on what you’ve learned to subtly alter scenes and dialogue options, it’s a crude reset that asks you to relive every ponderous step. All you can do is hang out with different NPCs this time, maybe getting closer to the truth at the end of another four hours.
In making such audacious demands, Woodsalt wildly overestimates the draw of its mystery and amiable banter. With no RPG systems to fall back on, it’s an act of self-annihilation that torpedoes much of the game’s earned goodwill.
Something’s off in Nu-Terra, but also in a narrative structure that makes finding answers needlessly laborious.
Conflict on Nu-Terra is between citizens who want to return to Earth and those who don’t, with both relying on the same power source. It’s a premise that works through the pros and cons of insular communities, hopeful futures, and nostalgic dreams. And yes, it’s a struggle between remainers and leavers, which has a certain relevance.
A half-decent sci-fi story that falls foul of its own hubristic twists.
Genre: Visual novel
Format: Switch (tested) / PC
Developer: Team Woodsalt
Publisher: Team Woodsalt
Release: Out now