The Wind Is Cruel and Fickle
I’m gonna start this review of The Wind and Wilting Blossom with a confession. I’ve been covering this game for a while now. I actually spent some time covering the early access version back in August, when I was at my previous website. I had invested a good 4 hours diving into the meat of that version, and mostly discussed the difficulty and my hopes for the future. Fast forward a few months later, and now The Wind and Wilting Blossom has officially released. Since I started playing again, I’ve spent a good 12 additional hours to muster my thoughts. And while I am definitely a fan of this effort from Picklefeet Games, there’s still a good number of issues I had with it. So get ready for the good and the bad about this adventure.
Choose Your Champion
The Wind and Wilting Blossom is a tactical rogue game set in Japan. Despite those trappings, it also very much reminds me of a classic game, The Oregon Trail. Much like that game, you’re constantly moving forwards, defying the elements and deadly creatures in your attempt to survive. Also, much like that classic, The Wind and Wilting Blossom can be overwhelmingly cruel in the random nature of the game. No matter which leader you select, the premise is the same. You’re the champion of good set against the supernatural might of Takiyasha the Witch. She’s set a horde of gashadokuro, gigantic skeletons, to destroy you. They represent the clock you’re racing against, but if they ever catch up to you, you’ll be in for a world of hurt. Your goal is always to get to the exit flag on the map while making certain you engage in key story missions. If you ever miss one of those, you’ll have to race backwards to reach it before you can leave any region. As you rush past nodes on the map, you’ll have to spend food to move forward. If you ever run out of that key resource, you’ll be forced to stand still and scavenge for more as the horde of monsters catches up to you.
A Roll of the Dice
As you move across the maps, you’ll encounter random events and enemy encounters. And those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, either. Many events require you to make a choice. Depending on your choice, something good or bad might happen. You might get robbed and lose precious Wado coins, drop vital foodstuff, or even acquire a shiny new weapon. Often these are binary choices, but sometimes you’ll have more options depending on your team makeup. Having an archer might let you shoot down a bird, or a soldier could give you the chance to brawl with drunken louts. I like the sheer volume of choices here, but after you’ve played the game a few times, they get a bit samey. I tired of rereading the same text again and again, especially once I memorized the right choice to get what I wanted. And honestly, The Wind and Wilting Blossom can be a bit text-heavy. I’m not necessarily against reading copious amounts of story in games, but I also think that you could often do more with less here.
Step Into the Arena
You’re mostly playing The Wind and Wilting Blossom for the combat, so let’s dive into that. I can say I both love and sometimes hate the combat here. Not cause it’s poorly done, mind you, but because it often lacks balance. Like many tactical games, you have standard features like moving across a grid, selecting attacks, and strategically using your team. There’s many different classes you can employ, from soldiers to merchants to farmers and archers. That’s not nearly all of them, but you’re more likely to encounter those classes than the more powerful ones. You’ll gradually unlock new classes the more you play and fulfill various achievements, and even after playing as long as I did, I am far from having unlocked everything. That includes not just character classes, but leaders, artifacts and other items. I’m fine with the variety of content here, but it’s often rare to encounter the better classes. Furthermore, the later in a run you reach them, the more expensive they are to recruit. Cause other than your starting team, you’ll have to pay cold hard Wado for each unit you recruit, other than those you might randomly get from lucky events.
Muster Your Armies
One complaint about this system is I never had enough Wado, even when I used merchants special ability to accumulate more of it. As a result, it’s often a harrowing choice whether to spend money on a new recruit, a new weapon, useful items or powerful artifacts. Another thing that irked me is that units don’t level up automatically. Instead, you need to use scrolls to level up any unit, including your powerful leaders. Much like Wado, I rarely had enough scrolls to level everyone up evenly. Keeping in mind that you can only level every unit up to a maximum of level 5. Leveling up boosts various stats, but it’s always a predetermined ratio. You can never make a super powerful archer or a ultra tanky merchant. Each unit can only get so powerful. And while that’s not an issue early in any run, the farther you get the more powerful the forces arrayed against you become. Suddenly, instead of basic skeleton warriors, mud men and floating heads, you face truly dangerous Oni that can take down your whole team with ease. So god help you if you’re only armed with a team of lowly farmers to save the day…
A Quiver of Arrows Is Stronger Than a Sword
I really grew to love the archer units, since they are one of the rare ranged attackers in the game. Case in point, I’ve only unlocked one other in my time, and I have yet to actually encounter them in a run. With so many melee attackers, it’s really easy to take a battering. Each unit in the game has a health meter, but only some of them have armor. Armor regenerates after each battle, but your base health doesn’t. It also doesn’t fill up when you level up. You can only increase your health by paying, you guessed it, more Wado. Well, that’s not entirely true. If you’re lucky, you might come across something like an Onsen and take a relaxing bath to heal up. But in general, if you don’t want to rely on random chance to heal your team, you need to be ready to spend more money. Which is why I so loved my ranged units. Especially considering permadeath is very much a thing in The Wind and Wilting Blossom.
At the Whim of the Gods
The combat itself in the game is simple, fast and efficient. Each turn you can move and attack in any order. After your turn is over, the enemies get a chance to slash you to ribbons. Enemies target the closest units, using their threat value to break ties with multiple targets. Some of your units have special abilities, such as merchants gathering Wado, bandits placing deadly traps or gamblers having a chance to deal double damage. But most of your units lack any special sauce, so you’ll need to use them intelligently. Another important facet are special weapons. Though your basic units can’t swap out their weapons, you can eventually equip your leaders with a variety of armament. This lets you make them ranged units, for example, by equipping them with stones, bow and arrow, or kunai with chain. There’s just the small issue of ammunition. Some weapons require one type, represented by flames, while others require ammo represented by blue beads. If you don’t have enough to use these special weapons, you’re out of luck, and are forced to use your default weapon. The basic leader, Mitsukuni, is armed with a Katana. And while it’s perfectly capable of dealing death, I often preferred the secondary abilities of other weapons. Especially the hammer, since it let me knock foes backwards, either colliding with and harming their allies or knocking them into dangerous traps I’d set. I love that sort of nuance, and just wanted more of the same from The Wind and Wilting Blossom. But after all my hours with it, that’s the best strategy I could suss out, which is a little disappointing.
Another One Bites the Dust
It’s probably not a surprise at this point that I’m uncomfortable with the difficulty in the game. Sometimes it plays really well, but the game is definitely programmed to make your life miserable at inconvenient moments. I should point out, I started out trying to play the game on Normal, but that was way too hard. And lest I get slandered as a gamer who can’t play difficult games, I should point out I’ve beaten the likes of Hades and The Binding of Isaac repeatedly. Hell, I even managed to beat the story in The End is Nigh. So I’m not against hard games. But I am frustrated by games that feel unbalanced or unnecessarily cruel. I spent the majority of my time on Easy, which is still quite difficult. Even on that difficulty, I was unable to defeat the final boss of the game, the sinister Takiyasha the Witch. I gave it my best effort and stubbornly kept trying, but was always brought low by unexpected circumstances or horrible monsters. And again, that’s on Easy. I can’t even imagine beating the game on Normal or higher. This isn’t to say this game isn’t worth playing. But I sincerely hope Picklefeet Games takes my criticism to heart and further tweaks the overall balance of the game. Cause what’s here still has a lot of potential, even if it hasn’t been reached quite yet.
Speaking of difficulty, some encounters count as boss fights in The Wind and Wilting Blossom. They start pretty tamely, such as facing off against a duo of Oni thugs, but they quickly ramp up tremendously. A good example is a fight against a winged demon that alternates between hassling you with gusts of damaging wind and blowing gouts of fire that burn your team. Another example is the first battle against Takiyasha. She’s riding a giant toad that can hit you anywhere on the map, as well as gulping down and spitting out your teammates, inflicting tons of damage. During the final battle, she’ll instead summon more and more monsters every other turn and then smash you with eldritch lightning. The fact that most of these bosses can hit you from anywhere makes them a giant hassle, as does their massive armor rating. Even fully leveled, most of your units only have between 10 and 20 health, including both their base HP and armor. In contrast, some of these foes have 40 or more health, which is quite hard to contend with. Especially since they can also hit you with status effects, making their advantage even steeper. I like the idea of these boss fights, but like many other elements of the game, they need a bit more retooling.
Don’t let it be said that I have nothing positive to say about the game. I actually really find the aesthetic style of The Wind and Wilting Blossom very attractive. Sure it’s simple, but it works really well. The woodblock print style is quite unique in the tactical genre, and there are tons of well-drawn monsters. That visual aesthetic has been improved since the early access days, adding fancy animations and sound effects. Though not overly dramatic, the sound effects do the job. Of more import is the music, which is both catchy and puts me in mind of feudal Japan. It can be mellow one moment, then dramatic the next. Generally, the tones are somewhat somber, but everything fits the theme of the game. You’re beset by forces far stronger than you, so it would be silly if the entire musical composition was upbeat. Honestly, the art and music here are both a big draw and a large part of why I’ve been following The Wind and Wilting Blossom for so long.
Racing Against the Darkness
I’ve said plenty about the game that negatively affected my enjoyment, but here are some areas the game did pretty well. There’s a ton of replay value here, difficulty aside. You’ll unlock tons and tons of new features, including super handy artifacts. I neglected those my first few runs, but quickly became a fan after I used one. These charms can do very helpful things like making it so you don’t spend food to move to a new map or prevent enemy ambushes. Some powerful artifacts even let you heal when characters defeat foes, which is incredible. I also appreciate that of the many leaders you can pick from, they each have multiple layouts you can unlock. These will affect their starting team, artifacts, and even primary weapon. And just as a silly aside, I love you can change the names of your team. I spent one run naming them silly things such as Samurai Jackass and the like. Honestly, if you’re willing to withstand the difficulty of the game, there’s a lot here you can enjoy.
Face Death With Honor
Despite my problems with it, I still enjoyed my time with The Wind and Wilting Blossom. It’s very much a mixed experience, but my irritation is softened somewhat by the knowledge that Picklefeet is constantly working on improving the game. I know they’re a small team, which makes their dedication all the more admirable. So if you’re willing to wait for the game to reach its ideal version, it’s not asking too much to buy the game now. Just don’t expect to win very often as you face off against Takiyasha’s monstrous hordes.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Picklefeet Games; Developer: Picklefeet Games; Players: 1; Released: December 11, 2020; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.