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Weeping Willow Review

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Weeping Willow has a gut-punch of a premise. It’s uncomfortable enough to make you squirm in your seat as you play. What if someone walked into your house, proudly announced that they were your partner, and then refused to leave? And what if everyone believed them, rather than you? It’s the ultimate gaslighting nightmare.

It’s a Hitchcockian premise that feels reasonably familiar from film and TV. It reminded us of Sommersby, the stodgy Richard Gere movie where a war hero returned to his family, only to be accused of being an imposter. But fair play to Weeping Willow: it’s not something we’ve encountered in games, and it makes for an immediately engaging plot for a visual novel.

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The story centres on Sofia, a fox-eared newly wed, who has married above her station to a baron named Otto Von Wolf. Otto is clearly wealthy, or was wealthy at one point, and it’s made clear that Sofia is lower class, with all the scandal that comes from that kind of match. 

Clearly inspired by a certain pandemic, the town of Weidendorf, where Sofia lives, is under quarantine from the plague. While Sofia and Otto have been married for several months, precious few people have actually seen them, as everyone has been indoors. Which is lucky for a plot that revolves around false identity. We’d call it a clumsy narrative device if we hadn’t lived it a couple of years ago.

What complicates matters is that Otto Von Wolf has gone missing. Sofia submits a missing person’s report with the local Imperial Investigators. Manfred Naymann, a dashing sheriff-like chap, takes some notes and goes on the hunt. But no sooner is he out of the door when Otto Von Wolf returns. Sofia tells us that this Otto looks nothing like her husband. He’s an imposter, and he’s making himself at home, cuddling up to Sofia, staking a claim to the house, and eyeing up an incoming inheritance.

Weeping Willow takes an age to reach some pretty obvious conclusions. Why not ask him some personal questions that only Otto would know? Eventually, we get there, and – inexplicably – New Otto answers them with ease. He’s spotty on a couple of answers, but otherwise gets them right. Otto has personally identifying documents, and they, too, are confirmed.

Eventually, Sofia wheels out some witnesses. But they confirm Otto’s story. Is Sofia going mad? Is this really Otto? If not, how has Otto achieved this ruse? These are big questions that Weeping Willow has about two hours to resolve in its short visual novel runtime.

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Does it answer them satisfyingly? Oh Lord no, absolutely not. We have to be careful not to ruin the events of Weeping Willow, but goodness gracious does the ending make zero sense. Even writing some of the details now, the building blocks don’t line up. You have to completely ignore fundamentals of the plot for it to work, and that’s before you start questioning how manipulative the whole setup is. There’s more contrivances here than a complete boxset of Neighbours.

That’s a problem, because the payoff needs to be satisfying and emphatic. A mystery-box needs to open satisfactorily, or it reflects badly on everything that came before. And it doesn’t help that the path that leads to the box is ramshackle and meandering. 

First of all, Weeping Willow needs an edit. It still makes sense, which is a low bar that visual novels have failed to clear in the past. But when it spells despair as ‘dispare’ and a multitude of other misspellings, then you know that it’s missing a degree of care. We had double-take moments where we wondered if we misunderstood. 

Then there are the bad habits that visual novels often fall into. There’s a titillating softcore moment when Sofia has a bath and someone spies on her through a keyhole for, well, no reason at all. Another scene, again in the bathroom, is extremely unpleasant. We would suggest trigger warnings for anyone who has been sexually assaulted or gaslit before: the scene made us pretty uncomfortable.

Mostly, events just don’t feel believable, even for a visual novel where the main character is a fox. The Imperial Investigators keep leaving Sofia alone with her accuser, for example, as if that was ever going to be a good plan. If someone tells you that they don’t believe their husband is really their husband, don’t encourage the two to have a sleepover. I ended up personally blaming the Investigators for a lot of the events that transpire.

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We left Weeping Willow with a feeling of betrayal. It makes you invest in characters and then pulls the rug, saying “ah, they weren’t who you thought they were!”. That’s fine if it happens once or maybe twice, and lays a breadcrumb trail to those twists. But when virtually everyone is doing it, without a whisper of the u-turn? It gets tiresome, and we stopped caring. What can you latch onto when nothing is true? Weeping Willow shows that you can’t latch onto anything at all, and it damages everything else as a result.

It should also be noted that Weeping Willow is a visual novel with a single, unbranching and choiceless track. If there were dialogue options to fall back on, the narrative might have felt less contrived. But this is entirely linear, and that will be a dealbreaker for players who like their novels with multiple endings and the ability to imprint on the story. 

There’s no doubt that Weeping Willow is a visual novel that has a killer premise. It latches onto the home invasion premise like a limpet. But it’s squandered with an ending that you’ll be questioning as soon as it gets revealed. That’s if you haven’t already rejected a queasy, scruffy narrative that will test your patience. 

It’s not often that we finish a visual novel and immediately start jotting down some better endings. But that’s the effect Weeping Willow had on us. It’s a mystery box with a soggy twig inside.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • The opening is immediately gripping
  • Has a fascinating mystery to solve…
Cons:
  • …which it flubs by the end
  • Twist makes zero sense
  • Has unsavoury moments
  • Characters change constantly
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Sometimes You
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 3 May 2023 | £4.19
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>The opening is immediately gripping</li> <li>Has a fascinating mystery to solve…</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>…which it flubs by the end</li> <li>Twist makes zero sense</li> <li>Has unsavoury moments</li> <li>Characters change constantly</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Sometimes You</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 3 May 2023 | £4.19</li> </ul>Weeping Willow Review
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