What do you get when you cross a fully voice acted RPG, a visual novel, a hitchhiker simulator, and a unique premise? You get Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, an indie game set in 1930’s America, where the Great Depression and Dust Bowl was in full swing. The game is fully voice acted, where an actor has gone through and read aloud lines of dialogue or descriptions of scenes, and even has the voice talent of musician Sting as The Dire Wolf.
You play an unnamed protagonist who has lost a game of cards to a stranger, and now, at this Dire Wolf’s bidding, you must wander and collect stories. But the catch is, these stories are what will eventually become the foundational folklore of The United States. For example, on one of my journeys, I came across an old man burying a dog, and he kept mumbling about apples and apple trees. He threw some seeds into the grave and we parted ways. As the game progressed and I shared the stories, the old man became Johnny Appleseed. You’ll also encounter famous folklore creatures like the Jersey Devil and Bigfoot, and even the Headless Horseman, but how their story is told will depend on how you play. You will also encounter fellow travelers in need of help or company, as you share your stories, you’ll uncover theirs; their joy and sorrows, and regrets. Their stories often reflect the people of the time: a lost soldier mourning his twin, a Chicago poet whose lover left him, a runaway Huckleberry Finn inspired kid with only his dogs to talk to, and many more. You’ll travel the United States (minus Alaska and Hawaii) and experience this wonderful passion project, and I really hope you all will give this a chance, cause not even the critics did.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine was developed by Dim Bulb and Serenity Forge, published by Good Shepherd Entertainment in 2018. Johnnemann Nordhagen was the primary designer, and programmer. In his blog, Nordhagen gives us a look into where the game fell short. A short handedness, lack of experience, and general mismanagement of people was the downfall of the game, even before release. Nordhagen lost more money on the game than he ever got back, and Where the Water Taste Like Wine was panned by critics. Not to mention in 2018, it was overshadowed by AAA games like God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Spyro: Reignited Trilogy. Moore’s Law seemed to be at play, and unfortunately it was a flop both in sales (less than 4,000 sold at release) and ratings.
The biggest draw for me with Where the Water Tastes Like Wine was the unique premise. The way you interact with the stories and encounters will directly change the outcome and its effect on the other travelers. For instance, there was one encounter of two strangers passing by each other, who appear to recognize each other as long lost brothers, and embrace. You’re given the choice to move on, or to stay and watch. If you move on, the story you earn will become a Sweet Story. Suddenly, they realize they’re both strangers to each other, and the story suddenly becomes a Humorous Story. One complaint I do have about the number of stories is that it’s skewed towards horror/adventure and not all of our travelers enjoy such stories. So it makes their mini games a bit harder, as you try to win favor and get them to open up. I will also say that the art and music are amazing, simply splendid! The art style is reminiscent of old school illustrations and the music changes as you travel from area to area, making you feel like you’re in New Orleans, or Texas, or the North West.
The audio really adds a lot to the game, too. The Narrator also has an amazing amount of range as he details your story and brings different characters to life. To speed up on your wanderings, you can play a whistle mini game, but it’s only 4 different tunes and they can get old after a few hours. However, the overall musical score was fantastic, there’s a bunch of well composed styles that change from region to region and incorporate cool instruments. The Southwest portion of the game adds Native influenced music with steady drums and flutes, while Northern states get some nice acoustic and banjo twangs here and there.
I really like the other travelers too; the way they are written feels natural and realistic, and their dialogue isn’t ham fisted or corny. I especially love being able to slowly get to know them, like real people. There was so much love and passion poured into this game, and one day I really hope the stars will align and the developers will get a chance to redo this game, after more experience, to make it what it should have been.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a great adventure game. The stories you tell, the people you meet, all so carefully interwoven and interesting. I especially love the aspect of changing someone’s story, for better or worse, and being able to see different outcomes with each story. If you have a moment, please consider giving Where the Water Tastes Like Wine a chance. I rate this game a 3.75 / 5. I dock points because the overworld needs more interesting encounters and more things going on. Like, with all of our encounters, it’d be cool if you could see them actually happening from afar, and then decide to walk over to interact. Otherwise, it’s a very good game, especially for a first-time developer, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys walking simulators, RPGs, and retro style games!
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is available on several platforms: PCs and the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One home consoles.