Review: Winds of Change
Growing up as a furry in the late 90s and early 2000s, it seemed unthinkable that it’d ever be some degree of mainstream. Sure, animators on various cartoons were undoubtedly throwing us a bone here and there, but the thought of something unapologetically made by furries, for furries, escaping our niche corner of the internet and seeing success was absolutely wild. These days the jokes are less frequent, strangers more understanding, but it was still a pleasant surprise to see a furry visual novel appear on a major console.
Today we’re covering Winds of Change, a visual novel released on June 3, 2021, for the Nintendo Switch by Klace.
Through the Fire and the Flames
Our story opens with the peaceful village of Valinorth in flames. Rebels have struck against the oppressive Triumvirate and stolen their powerful relic, the Blade of Exodus, thinking it safe in the neutral village. How wrong they were, as the townsfolk are slaughtered, the blade recovered, and your own death struck by the grand inquisitor.
And then you wake up. You play the Seer, an individual whose close connection to the spirits allows for visions of the future. With this knowledge of the impending attack, you embark on a quest to save your people, protect the blade, and aid the rebellion in striking back. Along the way you grow closer to your band of heroes and discover the true nature of your gift, the Triumvirate, and the true purpose of the blade.
The narrative explores the nature of power and corruption, and the question of what’s truly right. You’re often called to make choices that will have impacts for the rest of the game, and rarely is it clear what the right answer is. Sometimes it’s a choice between something that is morally right and something that will aid you in taking down the Triumvirate, but often it’s between two options with fairly big downsides. Do you grant power to a few of your allies that will leave them in a vegatative state later, or force innocent souls into a life of pain and suffering? Do you instigate a civil war in a neighboring country or leave it in the hands of a despot who allows only the strong to survive?
What really makes the story stand out is the detail put into the characters and the worldbuilding. While you all may be united in your goal of stopping the Triumvirate, each of the major players has their own goals and often these come into conflict. While a fair few of these are encountered over the course of the main story, the optional side conversations are where they really go into depth, with each party member having their own side storyline and a host of books and little details to flesh out each location and its history.
All the lines from the various characters (outside of your own) are fully voiced, a rarity in the realm of English visual novels, and they certainly have a lot to say. There’s little in the way of outright exposition to the player; most of what you learn about the world, your allies, and the central conflict is through talking to people about it. When you examine items in the environment, the explanation is more your own character’s thoughts about it rather than an impersonal explanation. Even in the occasion that you crack open a book, there’s a narration to bring life to the text and they are usually the personal notes and theories of a particular individual, a one-sided conversation with someone no longer there.
Gameplay is fairly standard visual novel fare for the most part. Mostly you’ll be talking to your companions and making decisions that alter the story, though each location also has things to investigate in the background for more dialogue and world building, as well as optional scenes you can view. There are parallel scenes which cover events happening in different areas at the same time, party banter to listen in on what your companions are talking about at the time, and directly speaking to your companions and asking them questions. While technically “optional,” all of these are vital for understanding the events going on, and are where a large portion of the characterization and gameplay resides.
Lastly, there are of course romance options and I’m pleased to say it’s quite different from a lot of visual novels I’ve played. There’s little in the way of fanservice, unless you count half the guys having no idea what a shirt is, but there’s a fair amount of LGBT representation (Every dateable party member can be pursued regardless of which gender you pick), and they’re also varied in how they react.
So, each party member has their own storyline encountered over certain optional marked “heart to heart” conversations, during which you find out a lot more about them and help them realize their own goals, and you can choose to be flirty and pursue this as a romance or choose other dialogue options to simply remain friends. For some, they’re eager to hop into a relationship, but others have quite a lot on their plate with the whole rebellion thing and take a fair bit of warming up to. In the end, for most of them the most you can hope for is a kiss or a dance with the hope of settling down once everything is over… assuming you all survive that is.
Now, that’s not to say everything is perfect. A lot of things certainly feel rushed, with characters becoming skilled in new techniques absurdly quickly, people pledging their loyalty with only the slightest of reasons to, and a few occasions where characters are clearly doing something that is supposed to be clever but in practice just overcomplicates things. None of these are bad enough to truly detract from the rest of the story however.
The Beauty of Nature
I absolutely adore the art style for Winds of Change. All the backgrounds have this lovely oil-painted look to them, while the characters have a more clearly defined comic-book look to them and plenty of personality. They’re backed up by an impressive vocal cast covering an even more impressive number of lines, with everything outside of your own comments and inner thoughts fully voiced.
The soundtrack is stellar, a medieval-inspired mix of distinctive and evocative tunes illustrating your trek across the land of Alestia. There’s not a single track I didn’t enjoy, but special shoutout goes to “Join the Song,” the first vocal track in the game and an absolute jam. Pity it’s in a section so easy to skip past so I’ll just say when you hit the open seas, take a moment to relax, grab a drink, and listen for a bit.
Winds of Change is hands down one of my favorite titles of the year. It was a blast getting to know all these wonderful characters, and a few moments even made me tear up. It has its flaws, sure, but by indie game standards it’s remarkably well polished.
While it’s true the target audience is a bit niche, at its core Winds of Change is a thrilling fantasy visual novel about the oppressed and downtrodden finding hope and doing everything they can to change their world for the better, a story everyone can enjoy.
Review copy provided by Crunching Koalas for Switch. Screenshots provided by reviewer.