Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: LOOT Entertainment
Developer: Night Light Interactive
I feel like I enjoy Whispering Willows for the wrong reason. See, it's an adventure game I was able to beat with a minimum of outside help, and that's normally not something I'm able to achieve on my own. The very fact I was able to do that makes me feel a certain fondness towards it — even if I can see that, as adventure games go, it's got its fair share of flaws.
First and foremost among these: the game features some ridiculous spikes in difficulty. And I don't just mean that every so often it becomes a little harder than normal. I mean that Whispering Willows is generally a fairly easy, straightforward game that occasionally becomes thoroughly impossible. I don't want to give away exactly what happens — the whole thing centres around a mysterious ghost story, after all — but there are one or two spots (particularly near the end) where the game suddenly throws aside everything else it's trying to do in the name of killing your character at all costs. At these points, you're basically relying 100% on luck to get by. You'll eventually get through with a bit of persistence, of course, but it's still pretty jarring to go from one end of the difficulty spectrum to the other with no warning whatsoever.
The only other area in the game that's even slightly as difficult is in the way it expects you to just remember everything. Now, for the most part, that's not too difficult; you're generally tasked with going to Person or Point A, where you're instructed to go to Person/Point B, where in turn you get sent on your way to Person/Point C, and so on. That, obviously, doesn't require too much memorization, and as long as you can follow along with the story it will mostly make sense. But considering there are a couple of pretty sizeable places to explore — the main mansion, obviously, to say nothing of when you start off the game stuck in some catacombs — Whispering Willows definitely would've benefited from providing players with some kind of map. After all, it forces you to read through dozens and dozens of note to reveal its story; one more screen doesn't seem like it would've complicated things too much.
Thankfully, even without a map, you'll probably be able to follow along simply because the plot is pretty engaging. It's a spooky little ghost story about a girl trying to rescue her father from a haunted mansion, and Whispering Willows does a good job of conveying everything you need to know via notes scattered throughout the mansion grounds. It's not a particularly long story, but it doesn't need to be, either; I suspect that if it had taken longer than the few hours it takes to beat the game, it would've required some unnecessary plot padding, and that wouldn't have helped the game in any way.
What does help the game, by contrast: its incredibly foreboding atmosphere. Whispering Willows understands that the best way to make something scary is simply by creating a vague sense of unease, and it nails that vibe consistently. Between the spooky shadows at the edge of the screen, the creepy sounds that emanate from every darkened corner and bush, and — most importantly — the sinister soundtrack that's constantly, persistently moving forward, this game knows what it takes to leave you feeling seriously unsettled.
Which, of course, is pretty much the whole point of a horror adventure like Whispering Willows. It's creepy enough to get you into the spirit of the game, but not so creepy that it'll freak the more faint-hearted players (i.e. like me) out. Now, if it could just do something about those terrifying difficulty spikes…