Character driven stories can be a difficult thing. There are so many parts to balance, and if one of those starts to fall apart, it can have a very noticeable impact on the rest of the game. Are the characters interesting? Is there a good sense of world-building that immerses players in its environment? Do I find myself invested in the overarching plot? It’s no easy task, but sometimes you find a game that manages to do all of it well enough to suck you in and keep you intrigued.
Woodsalt by Team Woodsalt is a game that I would best describe as an open world visual novel. You play as Emcy, a young man recently awoken from stasis in order to start his career on the planet of Nu-Terra long after the world had fallen victim of a terrible calamity. You move in with your sister, and from there Emcy’s life just becomes recovering from the effects of stasis and getting used to life on this new planet.
But rather than being a barren wasteland, Nu-Terra is already pretty far along in society by the time you’re woken up. There’s established government, mass public transportation, and even a pretty good looking barbecue restaurant called Sloppy Seconds. One of the main questions that Woodsalt asks the player is if you would want to go back to Earth because it’s “home” or continue to thrive on Nu-Terra because going back seems pointless. Several of the characters in Woodsalt all have their own thoughts and opinions on this subject and you’ll be able to learn a lot about them by spending time with them.
This brings me to what could arguably be called the main gameplay mechanic of Woodsalt, Free Roam mode. During most days, you’ll be able to wander around the town and encounter folks that you can spend time with. To paraphrase an idea from the developer themselves, these were heavily inspired by the Social Links/Confidants in the newer Persona RPG titles, and for better or worse I definitely got those vibes. Whether you’re growing closer to your sister, Gi, or spending time with a dirt scientist and his daughter out in the countryside, there’s something enjoyable about getting to know these characters and seeing their perspective on the ideas of returning to Earth versus staying on Nu-Terra. One of my personal favorite characters was Kim, who explored outside of the town biosphere and loved Nu-Terra for what the planet itself offered rather than the manufactured attempts at recreating a normal Earth life. And of course, Edie, the enthusiastic scientist girl who was super cute and I definitely wanted to date her. Because she was sweet and cute. Good times.
As I previously mentioned, a big theme of Woodsalt is the idea of choice. I’m still not sure how much impact my choices truly have on the game, but some of the events that unfolded definitely make me want to play through the game a second time to try out different picks. For example, I actually had two of the characters die on me, and I have to wonder if it was due entirely to my choices in what I thought they should do. I’m pretty sure I was about to get a third character killed, but I saw that event on the last Free Roam day of the entire game, so I can’t say for certain.
There are a couple of small things that I believe would enhance Woodsalt to a level above what it currently is. During the Free Roam mode, you basically have enough time to hang out with two characters before you have to go to bed or continue the story. I would’ve really appreciated having some sort of indicator on the screen either showing or telling players things like what time of day it currently is or even if we’re in Free Roam mode or what our next major objective is supposed to be.
Another thing that I wish the game had was some sort of character tracker. One of Woodsalt’s high points is the social events where you get closer to other characters and follow through their specific chain of events. Having some sort of menu option to see all the characters you’ve hung out with and how far into their storylines you are would be a good quality of life upgrade, and would also help players have a better grasp on whether or not something like that was supposed to happen. For example, if I saw something that showed me there were supposed to be two more events after I got that one character killed, I’d know for next time that my choices really do matter.
Woodsalt is something of an enigma for me. The graphics are nothing too special, but definitely have their own charm, and in certain places its stylized aesthetic enhances some of the darker elements of the story. The world of Nu-Terra is fairly simplistic, but still manages to feel like a community where people live, work, love and maybe wouldn’t want to leave. The dialogue works well for this type of story, blending social elements, sci-fi and in some places, psychological thriller. There were a few moments that I won’t spoil where I did find myself legitimately upset or creeped out by what was happening, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t truly invested during those scenes.
If you’re a fan of visual novels and like the city roaming/social mechanics of stuff like Persona, there’s probably enough in Woodsalt for you to enjoy and I recommend picking it up. Despite the inspiration it takes from certain other sources, it does a good enough job of making itself feel unique and it’s a story that I’m not only happy I played all the way through, but one where I want to play through it again. The game actually has a message regarding such choices, even asking Emcy flat out if he’s satisfied with the decisions he’s made so far. I couldn’t tell you if I got a good ending, a bad ending, or even if it’s just the only ending, but I can say that I’m eager to start a brand new life on Nu-Terra and try it all over again.
John reviewed Woodsalt on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on Steam