Wanderlust Travel Stories review for Nintendo Switch, PC

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC
Publisher: Forever Entertainment
Developer: Different Tales
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Even though it seems like visual novels are mainly a Japanese thing, the reality is that there?s a Western branch of the genre too. Think of a game like 80 Days, where you revisit the Jules Verne?s classic Around the World in 80 Days. It may be a little flashier than what you?d see in games like Steins;Gate or Code: Realize, but at its core, it?s still a visual novel.

You can see the same spirit that inhabits 80 Days also inhabits Wanderlust Travel Stories — that spirit, of course, being a Choose Your Own Adventure-style branching narrative (though not a direct copy, I?ll hasten to add, since I?d rather neither game get sued into oblivion). Here, as in 80 Days, you follow a character?s journey, making key choices here and there to nudge the story in one direction or another.

There are a few key differences in Wanderlust, however. The first is that this game is much more ambitious. Here, rather than following one person and his trip around the world, you?re following nearly half a dozen people?s stories — each of them told slowly, unfolding over the course of a few hours, as you decide here and there where you think their vacation should take them.

The second is that Wanderlust leans at least as much towards its literary side as it does its gaming side. I mean, it comes with both a manifesto and a bibliography. Each traveler?s tale strains to show personal reflection and growth, in a way that I?d wager few games, visual novel or not, even attempt to achieve. While we?re hardly talking about incredible depths in Wanderlust?s observations or reflections, this game is clearly intended to make you stop and think, rather than simply just acting.

Mind you, this same impulse definitely makes Wanderlust feel a little pretentious. Its goals are well-intentioned, to be sure — at a time when borders and minds are closing rapidly, of course it?s good to think of all the world has to offer — but when you have a story about a young woman from Germany going on endlessly about how mystical and innocent the people of Thailand are, it?s hard not to see at least a whiff of orientalism (possibly the most literal way possible!) going on. To be fair, the counter-argument to that would be that I chose that woman?s path, and I could have just as easily made her a Western snob who did nothing in Thailand but party and shop, rather than going off to a feminist convent for a month — but even then, you don?t have to look very deeply to know which direction Wanderlust wants you to take.

But even if the deeper meaning of Wanderlust?s politics are somewhere between pablum and deeply problematic, there?s no denying that the game fulfills its goal of making you stop and read and think about what you want to do next. It?s a visual novel that takes the ?novel” part very seriously, and even if it accompanies its copious text with some gorgeous visuals, if you?re going to play/experience it, you?ll better have your reading glasses handy.

Forever Entertainment provided us with a Wanderlust Travel Stories Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B-