Review – Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (Switch)

Visual novel type games can be really difficult to make interesting. There’s usually very little gameplay elements involved aside from just clicking a button to move to the next page. Occasionally there will be moments where you can make choices that affect the story, but beyond that there’s usually not much else to do except experience the story. The strength of the story is what makes or breaks these types of games. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine from Serenity Forge is not just one story, but hundreds of tiny tales, and almost all of them are boring.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine isn’t a true visual novel style of game, but it does rely heavily on those elements. There are some very rudimentary gameplay mechanics included in here, but I’ll get those momentarily. For now I’ll get to what this game is actually about.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

What have I got to lose?

You play as an unnamed traveler who joins a poker game with a group of strangers and one mysterious fellow who is mostly hidden by the shadows. After a while it comes down to the two of you left at the table and you wager on an incredible hand. You don’t have quite enough money on you to bet properly, but he lets you put your soul on the line. As you can probably predict, you lose the hand and are now indebted to the stranger, who reveals himself to be a demon of sorts. He says he loves a good story and learning the truths about people. He strips you of your earthly flesh and tasks you with discovering some good tales and uncovering some truths from a few strangers. Your task is set and you head out.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

The premise is a lot better sounding than its implementation.

This game takes place during the Great Depression era of America. Your skeletal self mosies along the land with your bindle in hand in search of stories to repay your debt. The premise is truly unique, but it fails in its execution. There are over two hundred stories you can collect from strangers across the country, but they are all incredibly short and largely uninteresting. Occasionally you’ll get the chance to make a decision with how you interact with a stranger, but the result pretty much ends up being the same which makes the choices you make seem worthless.

Every now and then you’ll rest at a campfire or hop into a train car and have the chance to speak to one of sixteen main characters. These are the people you must uncover the true stories about. You can get them to open up about themselves by sharing the tales you’ve gathered along your journey. Successfully telling them the type of story they want to hear will drop their guard a little bit and let you in on a small piece of their tale. These main character interactions are probably the most interesting part of the game and even their tales are fairly lackluster. At least their stories have some actual depth to them though, unlike the other few hundred others.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

Nor are you good at telling a captivating story.

Now I did mention that there are some gameplay elements in this game and there are… kind of. You control your character as he walks across the country at an agonizing pace. You can whistle while you walk by activating a QTE, which makes you move incrementally quicker. It’s a barely noticeable difference though. You’ll still slog across the country at a rate that would make a snail look like a cheetah. There is a way for you hitchhike, but this slows your movements even more and often times you won’t catch a ride. Hopping on a train is decent option for getting around swiftly, but doing so will result in you missing out on collecting stories. But seeing as how weak most of them are, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

The illustrations for the tales are beautiful, but look at the lack of dialogue options. This is common throughout the game.

Trekking across the country might be slightly less painful if the world was as beautifully artistically rendered as the cutscenes and stranger interactions. Sadly, they’re not. The skeleton protagonist, buildings, and surrounding environment are all displayed in a very basic 3D model, with hardly any detail or texturing throughout. In fact, shadows from the clouds passing overhead will run across the land, but in weird jagged shapes. It’s a bizarre design choice and one that takes you out of the immersion. There are also huge framerate drops when you’re travelling, which is mind boggling considering how unimpressive and minimalistic the world is around you.

What the hell kind of cloud shadow is that?

There is a decent soundtrack to listen to as you meander across America. It fits the tone of the Depression era very well. However, since you’ll more than likely be whistling nonstop to get from point A to point B as “quickly” as possible, you’ll miss out on hearing a lot of it. There is a lot of voice acting in here, especially from the narrator who reads each of the stories aloud. Thankfully, the voice acting is solid throughout, but much of it is somewhat unmemorable considering how unsatisfying many of the stories are. Sting actually voices the demon you first encounter, and gives a passable, albeit short, performance.

I appreciate what Where the Water Tastes Like Wine was going for, I really do. It’s just so mind numbingly boring. I say that as someone who often enjoys games that others consider to be boring because I can appreciate their narrative or artistry. So when I say a game is boring, you know it must be abysmal. I’m sure I’ll get responses like ” I’m not appreciating its look into the culture of that time”, but that’s simply not the case. The stories are too brief to have any real depth and the rest of the gameplay is atrocious. They had a good idea here, but failed to deliver it in any sort of a compelling manner. If you have insomnia and are looking for something to help you fall asleep, consider picking up Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.

 

Graphics: 4.5

The hand drawn portions for the cutscenes and stories are striking in a simplistic way, but the 3D worlds map you must journey across is horrifically basic and bland.

Gameplay: 2.0

Most of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a visual novel where you only have the option of clicking the “next” button or choosing an interaction option. Walking across America at a snail’s pace is infuriating. You can move slightly quicker by engaging in a QTE that makes you whistle. That’s about it.

Sound: 7.0

The soundtrack is well done and most of the vocal performances are fair. However, since you’ll be whistling most of the time, you’ll miss most of the music.

Fun Factor: 3.0

The “gameplay” elements are terrible and ridiculously slow. There are hundreds of stories to uncover, but most of them are so short that they’re as shallow as a puddle. This game is a borefest from beginning to end.

Final Verdict: 3.5

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is available now on PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine was provided by the publisher.

Advertisements