Heart of the Woods is a fantasy yuri visual novel by Studio Élan that features a story about paranormal investigation, ancient mysteries, and a love between two girls that transcends life and death. There is a lot to like and a lot to dislike in this one, so let's get started!
Maddie Raines is a manager, editor, and business-handler for her best friend Tara Bryck’s YouTube channel Taranormal. Tara investigates the paranormal stuff around the world for her viewer’s amusement, even though she never finds anything worthwhile. Maddie is getting tired of doing work for Taranormal and wants to go back to college but agrees to do one last trip for Tara who wants to keep Maddie working with her on the channel. They end up taking a trip to Eysenfeld, a town in Germany to meet Morgan Fischer, one of their fans who has reports of a legend regarding a forest sprite. Morgan provides them details about paranormal activity that is happening in town. However, once Maddie and Tara start to investigate, they realize the townspeople do not take kindly to them inquiring about the legend. Eventually the story leads into the paranormal mysteries that may have inspired the legend.
Pros and Cons
-Art style is very beautiful
-Voice acting is really good
-The soundtrack has nice piano melody
-The story has some good ideas but it’s slow
-Some characters do questionable things and are not very likable
-The fantasy aspect is not done very well
Problems with the Story
Let's start with one of the bigger issues I have with the story, and that is how it handles a certain conflict and how it’s presented. There comes a point in the story where Maddie, Tara, and Morgan come across a paranormal phenomenon. In this scene, some of the girls acted surprised and excited as you would expect from a team of paranormal investigators. However, the scriptwriter decided to bring in an element of drama and conflict which simply distracts from a pivotal part of the story. The drama brought in with the girl's reactions doesn't fit the scene and it seems to come out of nowhere.
Typically, you would have some type of build-up in a story along the way for conflict to make sense to the audience, and this was not present in the story.
The other problem I have with the story is how they handed the Yuri relationship between Maddie and Abigail. Abigail is not introduced until much later in the story, so it leaves very little time to establish a natural relationship between the two without feeling rushed. This is a central plot point in the game so I would have expected an earlier introduction to the love interest, or some other way to build up momentum around and their affections for each other.
One last note is that the Heart of The Woods has some fantasy elements mixed in that also are not handled very well. They seem to have the same problem with providing any form of build up so these elements simply appear randomly leaving an uninteresting impression.
With this said, there are a few supernatural elements that were done right, and when this happened throughout the story I really appreciated and enjoyed them. Unfortunately, I was left disappointed by things all the other story elements done wrong that overshadowed the few times that had good execution.
One of the key features of a visual novel is the short cast of characters that you follow around throughout the story. Heart of the woods missed the mark here with the girls having rather unlikeable personalities and annoying attitudes with no character growth showing improvement. I was hoping for more in this department, but never felt satisfied with any of the characters.
Graphics, Performance, and Soundtrack
One thing that I did like, if not loved about Heart of The Woods was the art style. Everything is drawn very well and looks beautiful with the quality of the characters and backgrounds matching equally in the scenes. The backgrounds have a very "painted" feel to it as if brushed by oil paint. This adds a refreshing uniqueness to the visual novel genre.
The soundtrack is something I also like as the piano melodies fit very well with the theme of the visual novel and were pleasant to listen to. The voice acting is another area that I have no complaints about. The voice acting all was all done in high quality, fitting the characters nicely. This shows that a lot of work was put into this area.
The VN runs really well with no issues whatsoever. I tested the game on an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB, AMD Ryzen 5 1500X Quad-Core Processor 3.50, and 16 GB of RAM.
On the surface, Heart of The Woods has some good ideas, however, the story is what really holds the game back from being truly good. The execution of ideas was simply not done well which is disappointing as the novel does have some positive things going for it, especially in the art and sound department.
In conclusion, I do not dislike this novel, but I couldn't find much to like about it either, leaving me with a neutral opinion overall.