Adventure Gamers Awards
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have the power of a god – the power to change the fate of someone’s life? Chinese developer WMY Studio’s visual novel-style adventure WILL: A Wonderful World puts you in this very position, entrusting you with the fates of mortals wishing for better than the unfortunate situations in which they find themselves. Players are encouraged to follow a path of "absolute kindness," resolving requests while also facing the possibility that no matter how you try to save people from suffering, they will continue to encounter danger and hardship. Through mature portrayals of love, murder, hope, and depression, this game whips between perspectives and genres, though it regrettably slips into absurdity along the way, and it turns out you don’t have nearly as much power as your status would imply.
Players assume the role of Myth, an amnesia-afflicted god with the appearance of a pig-tailed girl. Myth receives cries for help in the form of letters, except they are really more of a gateway into the sender’s thoughts and emotions than handwritten messages. Your companion and instructor is a talking dog named Will, who gifts you a pen capable of rewriting the order of events within these letters. Okay, it doesn’t actually write, despite being a pen; instead it plucks sentences from each letter to then be rearranged.
As a simple example of your capabilities, one letter describes a character practicing tennis at night who is unable to find her house keys when the court’s light suddenly burns out. If you correctly reposition the text specifying the moment the light fails, now after leaving the court she will have picked up her keys without issue. As the sole gameplay mechanic, this text manipulation proves to be considerably more restrictive than it initially appears. Still, there’s no question that it is a great concept to ensure player involvement in a story-centric game.
Before getting into more particulars, let me give a rundown of the extensive cast. Li Wen is a high schooler and skilled athlete who finds herself overcome with unexpected feelings for her teacher. Jimmy is a spoiled rich kid and expert hacker, as well as Li Wen’s secret stalker. Grief-stricken painter Wen Zhaoren is their art teacher. Elsewhere, Park Sang-Gun is a twelve-year-old with an abusive father who cruelly sends him away to an asylum. Carlos finds himself embroiled in China’s criminal underworld after leaving Mexico to find his missing sister Alicia, who gets her own tragic tale illuminating her disappearance. In Busan’s police department, Chang Gyeong-Min is a rookie cop with a childlike concept of justice. His superior, Kang Baek-Ya, operates a task force of specialized officers while simultaneously battling darkness within himself. Then we have Spottie, a stray cat trying to make his way in a city of uncaring humans. Additionally, there are a few one-off chapters with minor roles and a mystery character whose identity is really not much of a surprise at all.
The cast is both full and diverse, and their individual stories assemble an eclectic compilation of genres – romance, crime thriller, horror, action, comedy – all underlined by drama and personal tribulation. The contents of their letters are notably mature in theme, including suicide and torture. Victimizing characters is a common go-to for stories seeking audience sympathy, but much of the writing here, or perhaps the translation, is beholden to melodrama when subtlety would be more affective, or to a passive voice where emotion is needed. The former makes high school drama scenes come off just as dire as the life-or-death urgency portrayed in scenes with gunfights, while the latter issue makes a scene depicting rape feel oddly callous.
The events you are given to rearrange are all pre-determined (there’s a joke about fate in here somewhere), and where you can place these events in context for each letter is typically limited to the middle of two chunks of text – you cannot start or end with the moveable events. The process becomes more complicated, and more interesting, when the game pairs two letters, allowing you to swap select events from one story to the another. Creativity is rarely rewarded, unfortunately, apart from an occasion where I swapped one person’s gun with a dried fish from another tale, which led to humorous results. Fact is, there isn’t much experimentation at all, as wrong choices typically lead to fail states, more often than not with the characters dying or being knocked unconscious. Thankfully, you can simply click the retry option and arrange the story differently without having to read through the whole story again.
Conclusions to letters are ranked according to how agreeable the results are. With fourteen stories in all, each divided into their own chapters (or letters) of varying tone and length, a single playthrough should last approximately fifteen hours. Depending on your level of enjoyment, you may be inclined to reload your save after the credits and try for different results to completed letters.
Strangely, WILL gives you tutorials on many rules that don’t see much use overall. Swappable events in letters might be accompanied by numbers in which higher values cannot precede lower values. Another condition you will seldom need to adhere to pertains to events conflicting with each other and thus cannot be present in the same letter, only switched between letters. You can even run into a situation where the result of one scenario prevents future events from happening, meaning a character’s story could reach a dead end until you achieve a different conclusion in a previous letter. Once again, though, this is rare, or at least I didn’t run into it too often even while insisting on retrying chapters until I finished with the highest rank.
Certain text is highlighted in a few colors to get your attention: orange indicates pertinent information; blue is clickable and gives you an educational description of the term in question, covering topics like spies, pandas, blood types, “massage” parlors (yes, that kind), and human sticks (this one being among the most disturbing things I’ve ever heard of); and red for hints in solving a letter’s dilemma. These hints are unavailable on the hard difficulty setting to supposedly make solutions tougher to decipher, but honestly I don’t think there is much of a difference because I was forced to resort to guesswork most of the time anyway.
In the vast majority of letters there aren’t enough clear indications of what your arrangements might yield, especially late in the game, so gradually I stopped putting much effort into it and relied on retries to get the result I wanted. For instance, at one point Alicia is strapped to a medical bed and is able to loosen the straps enough to snatch a bottle of pills from a nearby tray. One holds sleeping pills and the other poison, yet the game gives no hint as to which she wants or what she plans on using them for. I avoided the pills I thought would end poorly, but apparently I chose wrong. That said, a few puzzles are entirely solvable through practical problem solving, such as creating the ideal scenario for a blood transfusion, or spelling out an address in Morse code after figuring out how to convert it into an acronym.
As you complete letters your mailbox will fill up with more, usually several at a time so you have your pick of what order you want to read them. Story developments are constant, but content is a mixed bag. The slow build of passion in Li Wen’s tale and the conquering of depression in Wen Zhaoren’s are well-paced, even touching. Meanwhile, in a brief span of time Alicia gets kidnapped twice by two unrelated groups and Carlos bumbles his way into bad situations and never grows as a character. At least Jimmy’s side of things offers some humor at times, even if it’s mostly inane. Sometimes narratives become too farfetched to take seriously, such as a certain helpless character becoming a top ranked assassin. Other times events are highly contrived, like Chang overhearing some gang members talking about setting a trap for his superior officer while at a random bar.
Speaking of which, the police story of Chang and Kang is little more than the garish excitement of a cheesy cop show: the against-all-odds survival of our heroes, cartoonish villains, and narrative reveals that are overly convenient and/or outright ridiculous. Truly, this is the most tiresome plot in the game, at one point going into longwinded detail about bad guys pulling the triggers on their guns, the pins making contact with the bullets, the bullets leaving the barrels, the air swirling around the bullets… *gasp* how could a character even observe all these details in slow motion like this? Anyway, the written attempts at tension in these action scenes become incredibly numbing.
When viewed in its entirety, I would say the stories create a decent experience, though the writing is often uninspired. You’ll run across a fair number of inelegant or redundant sentences like, "He was a great painter because every painting of his was great." I also found it tedious how WILL simply refuses to call blood what it is, constantly referring to it as a “red sticky liquid.” More baffling, it even goes so far as referring to urine as “foul smelling yellow water.” Along these lines, some inner monologues are out of place in tonality: would someone really equate a fall from great height to bungee jumping as they are currently plummeting to their doom?
While not fully voice acted, the various characters will make vocal interjections at times in their native tongues. Since I don’t speak any of these languages I had no idea what they were saying, but their presence, along with sound effects at relevant moments, add a good deal of dimension to long stretches of text. The synth music briskly trades styles and genres to match sharp pivots in the narrative, and expertly so. I really can’t give enough commendations to the soundtrack, as it’s a collection of earworms that I often found myself humming along to while reading. The menu theme between chapters specifically has been firmly stuck in my head for days. The only issue in the audio department that I noticed was the sound of rain that had an obvious break every time its loop restarted.
Character designs are another admirable facet that could even pass for key art from a high-quality anime series. Too bad you don’t see them very often. Usually you are presented only with a character’s mildly animated silhouette on a solid colored background with text overlaid. WILL is unquestionably a text-heavy game, though sometimes punctuated with a full screen piece of art, like a photograph capturing a moment of triumph or one of intimacy. With just sprinkles of these attractive images, I only wish there were more to enjoy.
I must admit that even when things became truly ridiculous, with implausible plot twists emerging without proper setup, I stayed curious about what might occur next. A major redeeming aspect of the story for me was a critical turn in the last hour that reinvigorated my interest, even after some previous stories wore me down. I won’t say much about it, except that the entire tale expands to the fate of all humankind.
Even as the stakes rise to a global scale, the game doesn’t want you to forget the importance of individual lives. The characters you have followed throughout may not have any influence over the fate of the world like you do from your godly pedestal, but WILL serves as a reminder that humanity is the sum of its parts and we all depend on each other to rise above our suffering. Just as my general feelings about this title are mixed, I teeter between a hopeful and pessimistic reading of the experience. I could tell you the message here is that humans are incapable of taking care of themselves and are a bunch of screw-ups that need a higher power to clean up their messes. But I would rather say that WILL: A Wonderful World demonstrates separate lives weaving together a shared experience of compassion and understanding in spite of misery – after all, wouldn’t that truly be a wonderful world?