Traveling to a remote village in the woods, Maddie and Tara have low expectations. The two run a popular online show focusing on the supernatural, but thus far it’s been nothing but smoke and mirrors. When they receive an invitation to the antiquated village of Eysenfeld, they’re expecting more of the same. But it soon becomes apparent that the locals are hiding a secret. Maddie sees unnatural beasts in the forest that she’s sure are products of her imagination. Lights in the woods flicker and sparkle but disappear if she gets too close.
In time she learns that the lights come from a girl named Abigail. Well, the ghost of a girl. She was sacrificed hundreds of years ago by the villagers to appease the god of the forest. Maddie devotes her time in Eysenfeld to getting to know Abigail, and eventually promises to break the curse that binds her to the woods.
What a visual novel! I know, this is a weird way to start out a review, but what can I say? I was not prepared for what this one had to offer.
Admittedly, the story might have started out a bit slow for my liking—given that it takes quite a while for any yuri action to be even hinted at—but once we know where the journey will lead us, it’s nothing but a joy.
First up, before even getting deeper into the story and the characters, let me point out one of the more obvious things to you. The art is stunning. The characters themselves look amazing, the art is vibrant, and even the backgrounds look great. It’s a true feast for the eyes, and given the fact that this is, for once, a visual novel that just hands out new pretty CGs every few minutes, it’s one joy after another. It’s rare to see so many scenes featuring those CGs not being dragged out either. I guess they simply added more than enough of these to be able to just throw them at us whenever. How refreshing!
As for this kind of story, meaning one that is greatly driven by the atmosphere, a fitting art style is even more important. And oh boy, did they deliver.
We’re basically thrown into the lives of Tara and Maddie, two best friends on a mission to film their last episode of their internet show, Taranormal. Gotta love the creative name of that show, by the way.
When it comes to the story, I don’t want to go into detail too much, given that you can read the summary up there, so let’s just say that we’re witnessing their first actual paranormal adventure.
I enjoyed following their friendship, as I thought they had a great and interesting chemistry. Nothing that I would want to ship, but their friendly fights, as well as their obvious fondness of each other, was simply delivered perfectly and made the instructional part of the game so much more enjoyable. The writing in general is a big plus as well. The characters also felt relatable, even in an environment that is so far from real-life.
Well, I guess that goes for our four main characters and not so much for the main villain of the story. Evelyn, in grave contrast to the four girls, just seemed one-dimensional. She was the villain, and that’s pretty much it. Just an evil entity carrying out her malicious plan, nothing more and nothing less.
Still, the storyline following the events to prevent Evelyn from having her way was weirdly compelling, even if I didn’t find the villain herself all that interesting. In fact, it felt like watching an episode of Charmed, if anyone can remember that series from back in the day.
I especially enjoyed the transition between only humoring the thought of paranormal phenomenon and actually seeing firsthand that it does in fact exist. The story actually starts out telling us that Tara’s internet show, Taranormal, was pretty much all just fun and games, but as soon as we witness the first paranormal event, we’re thrown headfirst into this new world, and we see all kinds of creatures, magic, and even sinister rituals taking place.
The story is actually full of surprises, with Maddie’s death being one of the bigger ones. Of course, it’s hard to keep that up, and it doesn’t last for the whole story, as we see quite a few events that are easy to foresee, as well as those that would have needed some more depth or explanation to actually work out. In short, I would say that the story is gripping and truly exciting to follow, but it’s lacking in some parts as well.
And speaking of surprises, what actually surprised me the most was the music.
Never have I ever found myself actually noticing much of any background music. It’s usually there and pleasant enough, but with this one, I found myself sometimes humming some melodies at work or while cooking, and that has simply never happened to me before. Some seriously great work has been put into these tracks, and they just added so, so much to the game.
Now, even though I have so much praise to give for this game, of course there are a few weak points as well.
For me, how two characters get together is one of the most important and enjoyable parts of a romance story. It can’t happen too fast and neither can it happen too slow. Personally, I think we see both of these scenarios in Heart of the Woods.
Admittedly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Tara and Morgan as a couple. It was all about Maddie and Abby for me. So, seeing that they pretty much start their journey to get together with sex was okay for me, even if I would have usually not liked the idea when it comes to romance stories. What followed after, however, was what I enjoyed more: some subtle changes that eventually lead to more. I love that!
With Maddie and Abby, on the other hand, it was a very slow burn kind of romance at first. Nothing really happened, but when it did, it went fast. They basically went from admiring each other from a distance for what feels like an eternity to unexpectedly kissing and then immediately telling each other they are in love.
I guess that last little part where I’d usually like to see some more subtle approaches just went by in an instant, and they jumped on the girlfriend train way too fast.
While Tara and Morgan didn’t want to throw themselves into a relationship and give it all a name, Maddie and Abby went full-on girlfriend mode, even though they quite literally had all eternity to figure it all out first.
Oh well. I’m a little (or quite a bit) picky when it comes to this transition part of a relationship, and I think it could have been depicted in a more prolonged way, when it comes to Maddie and Abby.
Same actually goes for the sex scene, but we all know that I’m just a sucker for these, and I’d say the more, the better, so I was a bit disappointed to see it happen so quickly – and also to see it be over so quickly… 😛
Lastly, I guess I just want to point out that it’s hard not to notice just how much work and effort was put into this visual novel. From the art to the music to the writing, this one quite literally oozes quality. Of course, there are bound to be some weak points too, but for basically everyone interested in a great yuri story, I can still recommend them to check out this gem. Especially those of you who enjoyed Starlight Vega, as you’ll probably fall in love with this one as well.
You can buy the game either on the official website, Steam, itch.io, or over at Denpasoft. There’s also a free 18+ patch available that you can get over on the Denpasoft website. Links to all of these can be found at the bottom of the post.
Also, if you’re still unsure whether to pick up this game or not, just check out this trailer. I’m sure that will make it real easy.