I’ve never known what to expect from Wanderlust Travel Stories. I first heard of the game through a press email, whose subject line mentioned a “new game from ex-Witcher developers.” Reading that, I’d anticipated seeing some type of fantasy RPG along the line of Geralt’s adventures. Instead, I saw Wanderlust, a visual novel/adventure game focused upon the wonders of travel.
Even more importantly, I didn’t expect for Wanderlust to be so compelling. After spending a few hours with an early demo, Wanderlust already looks set to be one of 2019’s most surprisingly delightful games. By its very nature, it won’t be for everybody; but for anyone in search of a more relaxed gaming experience, one that takes you on a journey without leaving home, it seems on track to deliver fantastically.
“The Essential Gap Year”
My demo wasted no time in introducing one of the main characters. Although the full Wanderlust will feature the stories of five different travelers, the demo focused on only one – Martine, a fashion student from Germany taking a gap year in Thailand. With the pressures of university and an impending career closing in on her, Martine finds herself in a crowded Bangkok street in the middle of the night. She arrives in the country with no objective in mind other than the desire to “find herself.”
Beyond that brief setup, I soon found that there are very few predetermined outcomes for Martine’s story. Within seconds of starting the game, I was greeted with a variety of different activities for Martine to participate in. It wasn’t long before I learned that these choices would significantly affect how the later parts of the game played out.
The demo offered plenty of flexibility for the story, allowing me to choose whether Martine would go to the local temples to further her spiritual development, take a cooking course to find truth in more mundane sources, or simply go shopping. These options offer what looks like an impressively varied experience, one that should encourage multiple playthroughs.
Better yet, these scenarios are all written fantastically. Each one of them ties into Martine’s journey of self-discovery in its own way, while still feeling like a natural part of her gap year adventure. From the late-night parties to the heart to heart conversations with fellow travelers, the demo was brought to life with its exemplary writing. It achieved its ultimate goal – although I’ve barely experienced international travel before, Wanderlust made me feel as if I had, bringing the noisy, dirty, vibrant streets of Bangkok to life with its flexible and well-written narrative.
By its very nature, Wanderlust presents a minimal gameplay experience. After all, the gameplay primarily boils down to plenty of reading, with the occasional dialogue box or position on a map to click. However, the game still manages to present an interesting product.
As mentioned above, there could be impressive replayability due to the immense flexibility of the narrative. I played the demo two times, each of which yielded dramatically different results based on my decisions. Depending on the hotel I chose or the tourist spots I visited, I was met with a dramatically changed sequence of events.
But there is resource management to consider as well. Most obviously, you’ll have a fairly strict budget to keep track of. While my demo gave me a substantial lump sum to begin with, there’s no indication of how quickly this money will run out or whether there will be any ability to make more money later on. While the budget makes the journey feel more realistic, I’m concerned that it could diminish the inherently relaxing qualities of the game later on in the final release.
Beyond monetary concerns, I found Martine to certainly be an emotional individual – and as a college student myself, I can understand her mindset. Depending on how events played out, her mood would change. I tried to ensure that she remained happy, calm, optimistic, or a general combination of positive emotions for the majority of the demo.
However, in my first run through the demo, I inadvertently plunged poor Martine into a plethora of negative feelings – she was sad, worried, stressed, and fatigued by the end of it. Her negative emotions limited how much she could do; she didn’t feel like exploring the city after I gave her crippling depression. Upon attempting a second playthrough, however, I managed to keep Martine feeling relaxed and happy, which gave her the energy to experience more of the city, leading to some different outcomes in the story. Again, if this flexibility can keep up in the full game, it should do wonders in encouraging multiple playthroughs.
Graphics and Audio
On the surface, there’s not much to Wanderlust’s visuals. After all, I spent the majority of my demo scrolling through lengthy blocks of text, menus, and dialogue options. However, this text is enlivened by some fantastic photography of each location. The developers themselves took many of the photos, as well.
These images are gorgeous across the board. They’re incredibly artistic with some impressive lighting and focusing effects to truly highlight the intended mood of each photo. They perfectly complement the text as well. Combined with the understated instrumental music and light atmospheric sounds of busy crowds and the bustle of each environment, and the visuals perfectly pair with the vivid text to make each locale come alive.