The Stillness of the Wind (Switch eShop) Review
Beautiful, solemn and sluggish best describe The Stillness of the Wind. Although there’s nothing wrong with a slow-paced story, here it feels excessive largely thanks to some performance issues on the Switch, despite an otherwise fascinating and bold setting.
Unlike many games in a farmland setting where expansion is the overarching goal, The Stillness of the Wind sees you playing an isolated elderly woman living out the last of her days on a humble little homestead. Each day is spent doing basic tasks like tending to plants, milking goats and churning it into cheese, and exploring the surrounding desert plains.
Time passes regardless of your actions, meaning you only have a limited amount of time to fit tasks in. Reflecting the challenges of growing older, The Stillness of the Wind sets an extraordinarily slow pace, and there’s never enough time to do everything – how like life. In the context of Stillness, this forces you to choose between decisions like selling cheese for hay to keep goats alive, or instead foraging food for dinner to keep yourself healthy.
Isolation plays a major role in The Stillness of the Wind, with the woman’s only contact with the outside world comes from the postman who visits each day with letters from her family. The postie also doubles as a travelling merchant who you can trade produce with for more seeds and supplies. Every plot point of importance is communicated through these letters, essentially happening off-screen in a tame Reservoir Dogs sort of way. It works to an extent due to how alone you feel in slowly working on the farm, and how well-written the letters are. Each family member who writes feels grounded and human in their communications, offering nice insights to their albeit faceless personalities. Unfortunately, bizarre events transpire to keep you from ever reuniting with separated relatives, which feeds into the rather sad and downtrodden themes of being left behind The Stillness of the Wind instils.
While The Stillness of the Wind expresses a certain solemn charm in its ongoing narrative and beautiful colour palette, it’s not one that resonated strongly with me, largely due to my frustrations while playing through its couple-hour duration. Very little of what you can do on the homestead is communicated clearly, if at all. Many of the limited actions you can undertake are discovered by slowly walking from object to object, pressing buttons to see what happens, and figuring out if the results are worth your time. Whereas games like Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon give you plenty of potential tools to use and an equal amount of autonomy to figure out how to use them, they also drop useful hints at timely moments to help you out. I must stress that The Stillness of the Wind is not a farming game at its heart, but the difference in communication is still relevant.
Unless this communication approach is deliberately set out to illustrate an elderly woman becoming forgetful in her final days – which I doubted while playing – the lack of clear instructions made for tedious frustration. This is especially cumbersome when every minor action takes a significant portion of each short day, so every misstep feels greatly punished. I can perceive The Stillness in the Wind attempting to weave a tale of increasing helplessness and futility in the face of everything becoming too hard through its gameplay, but it ultimately made me more prickly than pensive.
Further to my frustrations, The Stillness of the Wind encounters some severe frame rate drops, particularly when played in handheld. During some scripted late-game moments, the game sputters to a crawl, unable to cope with the various on-screen particle effects, making an already slow-paced experience even more so. Another issue I encountered was after accidentally dropping a bucket too close to the woman’s house, which resulted in her refusal or inability to pick it up again. It was several in-game days later that I discovered an option buried in the menu that resets every item to their original position – again, something I wish I was informed of from the beginning.
Aside from the escalating content of the letters you receive, there’s no great sense of progression. No feeling of moving forward, as though all you’re doing is prolonging the inevitable. I imagine that’s what The Stillness of the Wind tries to invoke; playing as an elderly woman in her twilight years doing what she needs to do to get by. However, I found the overall experience quite dull and dreary, mainly because of how slow and difficult it was to perform each task.
To end on a more positive note, The Stillness of the Wind’s art direction is lovely. It employs a film grain effect to mask the relatively lo-fi visuals, putting a focus on the strong desert colours and vibrant architecture. As you enter the woman’s house or shed, the interior unfolds like a mini diorama, offering an isometric window into her cute little abode. While toiling away at your daily tasks, various sweeping synth pads fill the soundscapes, sounding just a couple of bars short of launching into U2’s ethereal “Where The Streets Have No Name”, which is no unwelcome auditory treat.
For someone else, The Stillness of the Wind might be a lovely parable about the challenges of living out your final days after everyone else has moved on. Too few mediums highlight the experiences of the elderly, so this game deserves praise for going where few others go. Unfortunately, I found it to be a plodding and meandering affair due to its excessively slow pacing and frustratingly vague instructions, among a struggling frame rate on Switch.
+ Rich use of colour and art direction
+ An interesting approach to telling the story of the elderly
- Severe frame rate issues during heavy particle effects
- Vague communication of what to do
- Pacing is very slow