The Stillness of the Wind Review
In all senses, The Stillness of the Wind is a quiet game. Your days are punctuated by bird song and the cluck of your chickens. It’s the little things that matter: a shadow as it slowly passes across your farm, whether you’ll have three eggs or four today, how many trips you’ll have to make to the well and back to water your plants. Progress is gentle but steady, limited by your slow movements and dwindling energy. You play as Talma, an old woman on a distant planet, the last occupant of a homestead comprising a couple of goats, some chickens and a dry patch of land to farm. Her family has long since departed, siblings and children unreachable in a far-flung city.
The game follows a diurnal rhythm and depending on your choice you’ll be milking goats to make cheese, watering your plants or exploring the desert. It’s not really a farming simulator per se, more an old woman who lives alone with goats simulator, since Talma’s plodding pace makes every job a particular chore. She can’t be rushed in her tasks either since an early button press will get you nowhere. The same is true for her movements and the controls do their best to keep you at an odd distance. Playing on the Switch it’s a two button affair, one to pick up/use and another to drop, while Talma herself is controlled in a point-and-click style by selecting the ground in front of you with a cursor to move her towards objects of interest or to interact.
It’s a control scheme that perhaps makes more sense with a mouse and PC and on the Switch feels rather clunky. A fact the developers seem aware of with an option in the menu screen to reset objects to where they should be, useful when you realise you’ve dropped your watering can somewhere in the desert, or when your basket gets stuck between the fence and becomes unreachable. You never feel in direct control of Talma, only able to suggest places for her to go. For a game that tells a specific story this makes sense: you are not Talma, Talma is Talma, it’s only your job to lead her where she needs to go. It all combines to create a sense of Talma’s age, you must follow the slow rhythm of the game and let it control you, not the other way around.
The story too, cannot be rushed, carefully paced out by sporadic visits from the only other person you meet, a travelling merchant, who delivers letters from the outside world along with handy items, such as hay and seeds to trade your cheese and eggs for. The bartering is bogged down in a frustratingly fiddly and tiny menu (especially while docked on the Switch). With no way to select multiple items, you’re left to scroll up and down in a haphazard fashion while trying to haggle for the best price for vital items and other mystical artefacts. It’s the letters however that hold the key to the story: sent from various family members, they hint at upheavals abroad that may reach Talma sooner than she realises. One from a relative who decides to return home is particularly bittersweet and provides a hectic contrast to Talma’s scratched-out existence.
Fellow Traveller Games has certainly created a world in decline, sketched out in a patchwork of earthy tones and the unrelenting yellowness of the desert. Talma herself is a part of the environment; made from the same scraps of cloth as her favourite armchair, she perfectly blends into her surroundings. The weight of responsibility to carry on her way of life is shown in the hunch of her back, her old age in the sighs and groans that accompany her every movement. In such a quiet world, a childish giggle in the desert is as deafening as it is surprising. There are not many games told from such a perspective. Here the end of the world happens not with any fanfare or valiant hero to save it but in the minute changes in Talma’s daily routine. Will it rain today? Will there be water in the well today? Enough hay to last to tomorrow? These daily concerns build up into the larger ones: will Talma’s daughter make it back to the farm? Will things settle down in the distant city? How will things end? You can’t help but be drawn into Talma’s solitary world once you attune yourself to its elegiac rhythm.
That’s not to say the pacing is always quite right, The Stillness of the Wind suffers from a saggy middle section where daily chores really do become a chore. The denouement goes part way to redeem this with a particularly gut-punch of an ending, which while not unexpected, is no less emotionally resonant. And it’s the emotion that is paramount here, for the few hours you’ll spend with Talma you quickly come to care about her. Watching her slow decline is quietly heartbreaking when faced with such a hard environment. The Stillness of the Wind doesn’t linger long in the memory but while it lasts it demonstrates that video games are one of the most effective ways to tell a story, to make us invest in a character, to feel a little of what they are feeling. However sad and hopeless that might be. In the end, it comes as a relief to leave Talma’s failing, deserted world behind.
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