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Painting Werther – Review

I’m not usually a visual novel gamer but Painting Werther brings with it a unique perspective. This game is a visual novel based on a book from 1776 that was banned in some countries because people decided to kill themselves in copycat declarations of love. It’s also a visual novel where you paint the backgrounds as the story unfolds. The result is something much more active than most visual novels, even if the story itself is a linear one.

Some of the imagery is hauntingly beautiful.

Based on Goethe’s 1776 book “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, Painting Werther explains a tale of unrequited love between Werther and his artistic muse Charlotte. Charlotte is to be wed to Albert though and so whilst they may be friends, Werther is desperate to make something more of it. Or does he? The devil is in your interpretation of a deeply romantic man who feels every emotion several times harder than anything else. I have my own theories on what was really going on but it is definitely a book not just about love, but mental health too. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t end well! The written text is paired down across 23 chapters, each taking around 5 – 10 minutes to read and paint out. There is some 1700’s wordsmithing here (the dramatic ‘Oh Wilhelm!” made me chuckle with its repetition) as the narrative is played out, like the book, across letters back from Werther to his friend Wilhelm. It’s well done if a little stuffy which is precise for its time.

Whereas other images are just completely beautiful!

Whilst the story plays out, Painting Werther feeds you hundreds of absolutely stunning pieces of artwork. They vary in style but never in quality as they use watercolours, sketches, paints and hypnotic stop motion moving canvasses. These are the real stars of the game to be honest and every screen is dripping in style and class. Every few pictures will have something for you to do with them. Sometimes they start out blurry and you paint them in. Sometimes they are a pencil outline and as you wave the mouse around more detail is filled in each time. Others require a little more precision with clicking and stroking the mouse over hair to paint it in. The controls are very simple and Painting Werther is so forgiving, there is no skill involved. It does make the game stand out though, not just visually, but as a more active experience than more passive reading only visual novels. I was never frustrated by the painting and in some scenes you can flick between different styles of artwork and see your version appear in future frames too. A few have hidden moves or tricks to discover too which is lovely. As you play the game, rearrangements of classical themes ring out too. They are like MIDI+ versions of classics so expect a jazzier version of Mozart for example.

Being able to paint the world in colour or sketch out faces by wiggling the mouse is a lovely addition.

Painting Werther is a game to played slowly. You can power read and wiggle through this in 3.5 hours but that is missing the point. Each painting is to be savoured, a bit like every emotion Werther feels is meant to be felt. It is a truly unique concept and experience that I really enjoyed. It’s not for everyone but romantics and artists will adore this.

Review copy provided by publisher. Painting Werther is out now on Steam.

Painting Werther
Final Thoughts
A romantic and emotional journey through love that is brought to life in a world of artistic beauty and haunted horror through its paintings.
Painting is so easy to do.
The artwork is varied and sublime. You can see why it took years to make!
Chapters are short bitesized snippets making it easy to digest.
A lot of hidden subtext and personal interpretation makes for a decent story to be told.
If narcissism is a trigger, you may want to strangle Werther after 10 minutes.

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