Winds of Change brings many good changes over its visual novel predecessor
Klace, a pink canine character with colorful locks, and his studio Tall Tail Studios has released a successor to his Ursa Major winning visual novel Major/Minor. Winds of Change is not a sequel, it is a self contained adventure that requires no experience with the former to play and enjoy. There are a few Easter eggs that seem to allude to the older game, but nothing that shapes your ability to comprehend the world before you.
So given that is this game worth your time? In short if you love visual novels and enjoyed Major/Minor you will love this game even more as it is better in every regard. If you despise the genre obviously, you may want to pass.
I would say even if you disliked Major/Minor due to its quality, you should give this one a shot. The difference between the two games are night and day. I’ll be covering mechanics over story in this, mostly to avoid narrative spoilers. There are however a spoiler for Mass Effect 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Cutting the Fat
One of the greatest things about this is how exposition is handled compared to Major/Minor. Winds of Change uses a feature called parallel chronicles to deal with side events that are occurring while you are moving about your journey. These cut scenes are things that the player has no agency in, but it helps give context to the actions of other characters not present before you. Since these scenes have no influence over the story before the player directly, this means they can skip them by not activating them on subsequent play-throughs.
In Major/Minor you had to sit through these events each time you played, forcing you to skip these interjection scenes each time. Basically every time the story could go “Meanwhile back at the Hall of Justice…” instead of having to sit through it, you can just move on by not activating it in the first place.
This cuts hours of time when replaying the game to make the different choices and engage in the story before you. It also creates a “show and don’t tell” aspect where the story can show you what the enemy is up to through character interaction instead of having another character inform you via a witness testimony style exposition dump. This makes the story much more engaging from beginning to end.
One of the worst travesties of Major/Minor that I recall, for example, is when you main character returned to the modern world to wake up in a room, only to have your friend start going into minutes worth of explaining how the main antagonist in that realm was brought to justice [link has spoiler]. Given that the antagonist was responsible for harming people you cared about, it was a huge let down that the villain was dispatched off screen while you were in the fantasy realm.
You basically had someone telling you the juicy bits via third person rather than seeing it. If Major/Minor had used a thing like a parallel chronicles to show what happened to the villain it would have made the story much more engaging. This added mechanic allows the player to feel like they are in control of how they experience the story, and it makes the entire experience much more pleasant. The world building, likewise, is far better this time around. Instead of jumping around from setting to setting, there is one main setting that you travel and experience fully.
But just don’t take my word for it, statistics from Steam show that the players of the game were retained much stronger than in the successor title. Over 30% of players finished Winds of Change in full, while around 15% or less completed Major/Minor (M/M had two endings with two achievements so it makes it harder to get a precise percentage of player-base). This difference is even more stark when you realize that the amount of people that completed the first chapter of ten in Major/Minor was just under 40%. This means that Winds had succeeded in hooking the audience far better than the previous story. About the amount of players as a percentage had completed Winds of Change than had gotten through a tenth of Major/Minor.
The flavor that the relationship via heart to heart conversations provides great replayability to the story in conjunction with the main story decisions made. With your companions you could pursue many style of relationships. Be it a tense adverse one, a platonic friendship, or full on romance. Flavor bits were dashed into the story based on how the character feels about you at the time events occur. It’s not just a binary of “they love me, they love me not”.
It is also great that these relations build intermittently over the course of the story and in most cases feel like a natural progression rather than a toggle being switched. Some are handled better than others, but none of them are handled too poorly.
However, it would be interesting to see a visual novel go full on ‘novella’ with the way it handles romantic relations. For instance, if the character you are playing is playing the field a bit wide, that one of your partners takes notice of your infidelity. Cue the organ music as your partner decries, “How can you do this to me Antonio?!”
Such a situation could be difficult to program. It’s easier to segregate each of the relations you have with your fellow revolutionaries as a one-to-one aspect between you and them and have those toggles add flavor to the overall story. But as we played through the story, and my audience started to choose the options to flirt with multiple characters with little communication to the ones I previously flirted with, I was waiting for the moment when Fortaime would confront me on dancing with Damak after sharing an apple with them in the alleyway.
“Did that apple we shared mean nothing to you?” I pictured him saying as he soured.
Interestingly though, this was just an impression I got from my first play-through during the live let’s play. I later went back and did a full on flirt with everyone possible and found that, actually, there are instances where it is acknowledged that you are playing the field. In all cases though, it seems the subject of your affections are fine with it and don’t get territorial with one another.
Phew. At least they’re talking among each other about what you’re doing. At least some of them are, some of your comrades remain mum about it. It kind of still feels awkward that they are the ones informing one another about your engagements.
This is an overall issue with the visual novel genre that is certainly not isolated to Winds of Change. The pursuing of open relationships with no communication with your lover(s) that you desire an open relationship having no consequence may be its own trope at this point. Truly this game is one of fantasy, I suppose. As I’ve said in regards to these things, relations are like electric circuits. If you go into them thinking they’re open, when they’re actually closed, you’re in for a shock.
It’s like one of those old game tropes when you could putz about the world with no consequences as you took the time to explore, despite the urgency in the story while you’re doing it. This trope was shattered by some games in the past decade, however. I got double slapped one year as I played Mass Effect 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, back to back, and got punished for my completionist style of slow exploration that games taught me was how you play games to the utmost in prior titles. It turns out that the hostages and prisoners in these stories ended up paying the price for me not treating the situation with the urgency presented. I had to laugh at how, ‘fool me once, fool me twice’ it was.
Maybe one day a visual novel will surprise me like a bucket of ice water dumped on my face like the above two examples. That playing the field ends up getting one of your lovers to try and bean you with a baseball for your betrayal. However, this game would not be that day.
It should also be noted that if the relationship with characters is essential to your enjoyment of the story, there are not many options when it comes to having them with those of the fairer sex. Valessa is the only female in your group, so if you are a lesbian Seeress or a straight Seer, I hope you find her to your liking otherwise you are going to be found hung out to dry in romance options. If you don’t fall under those two categories, however, there is plenty of personality between your companions that you probably will find at least one to your liking.
I must also note that you can always skip the intimacy, keeping things platonic. The story doesn’t center around you hooking up with those in your group, it is a side element.
An upgrade all around
There are voice acted lines now, and the delivery is great. It certainly made it much easier to stream and gave my voice a respite. Given the choice branches it is impressive they were able to give life to the characters in so many different varying circumstances.
In addition, the music settings allow you to better adjust it to your liking, where the limitations of the prior engine had five toggles, but mostly it was between loud and off. I was glad that I could enjoy the ambient songs this time, along with the vocal tracks which were all added at powerful moments.
The expression of the characters' art was a lot more engaging and less static than Major/Minor. Each character being given emotions such as rage, contemplation, sadness, and of course a neutral pose. The camera will do a minor zoom on who is talking, similar to someone eye tracking them. These changes may seem minor, but they make a major difference when it comes to immersion.
If Major/Minor won an Ursa Major, it would be a shame if this one was unable to do so. It is a far superior title. However, there is some stiff competition this year from outside the fandom with the likes of Pokemon Sword/Shield, a new platformer in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, as well an Untitled Goose Game. Klace had noted that they would be taking an extensive hiatus from game development after Winds of Change, but I’m glad that he and all those that worked on this one saw it through as my audience really enjoyed the characters and the journey that it had to offer.