Aboard a raft in a storm trying to keep it steady against the giant waves crashing against you as the thunder and lightning crack the sky, a giant tentacle swats you from your platform. Sinking below the waves you start to feel yourself drowning until suddenly you are on your feet. Seeing nothing more than a giant portal in front of you, there’s nothing else to do that to head towards it to find out what’s on the other side. Waking up in a shoreline with nothing but the clothes on your back and a knife, you set out on a new adventure.
Windbound at its core is a Survival adventure with a couple Roguelike elements thrown into the mix in case you die. So for those wanting a good challenge, there’s Survivalist Mode: which contains the default settings where if you die you start back at chapter one holding onto only what was “held” on your person, and losing anything that was being carried in your bag. For those wanting a more relaxing adventure that still has some fangs to sink into you, there’s the Storyteller Mode: which is pretty much the Survivalist mode however you get to keep what’s on your person, what’s in your bag, and you also get to continue from the current chapter.
It goes without saying that dying sucks so you’ll want to play things a bit carefully, though for the most part, Windbound is a fairly relaxing experience. Set in an The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker style meets Breath of the Wild, you’ll be moving from island to island gathering everything that you can carry and craft in order to find these towers that will light your way forwards. Set between five “stages”, each stage will have three towers that need to be lit in order to move forward towards the end credits. Only getting tougher to find, the real dangers aren’t with the tougher beasts that you’ll encounter, but more of your own complacency as you approach them thinking “I’ve got this”.
There are several features that Windbound does very well. Both your inventory and your crafting abilities are tied to one another so you never have to go digging through one or the other to get what you want. Instead, you just need to tab between the two, make what you want, and continue on. Starting with only your knife as a tool, you’ll have to make due with nothing more than a grass canoe to start off as you paddle your way forward on the open water until finally learning how to make a mast and having the wind do the hard work for you.
This is perhaps the biggest thing that I had against Windbound. Sailing via the wind with the oar to be nothing more than the rudder. There should have been the option, especially when trying to land gently and not damage your canoes or your eventual three pronged wooden rafts with metal armor plating, to use the oar to paddle gently up to where you wanted to weigh anchor. Once the mast is in, the oar is out. So you can either jump off your raft which has the anchor auto deploy, or crash into a beach and then have to shove the raft back into the ocean once you’re ready to leave. It would have made a lot more sense to be able to use this oar as it’s even magical and appears and disappears as you need it.
For the wind itself, I have a love hate relationship with it as even by the very end, I was uncertain as to what exactly meant what. You’re stuck sailing to the directions of the wind so sometimes, as much as you want to go forwards, you can’t. You’ll have to take the longer way around and honestly, on the open water, it makes sense as that’s pretty much how it would be. What didn’t make sense is that tightened or loosened, my sails would sometimes stop me cold in the water and I couldn’t figure out why. I’m still sailing with the wind, aren’t I? The direction that the wind would be blowing on screen wasn’t always the direction that you would be able to sail in and I would have liked a compass somewhere on screen to showcase the wind’s direction as sometimes it made no sense to sail into it and go flying forwards…
Otherwise, the rest of the adventure is fairly solid. Each landmass can be explored at your own rhythm though you’ll have to make sure to keep an eye on your stamina as if you run out, that’s it. Same for your health bar so you’ll in general want to keep your strength up. You can do these by either eating berries and mushrooms, or by hunting for meat and then either cooking it or by eating it raw. Cooking meat can not only heal you while restoring your stamina, but, eating raw meat will poison you and the dizzying screen effects are not pleasant to look at.
Windbound is fairly simple and it may take about a dozen hours depending on how fast you go, how meticulous you want to be, or how unlucky you are. Not every island will have what you need or even enough of what you need so it could take several stops before being able to craft what you want. Only adding to this is that if you die you both lose your canoe or raft and all of the materials that were stored on them. It sucks, but then again, you’re restarting from the beginning of the first area or your current one and it’s not the same each time so it only made sense for the raft to be lost and yours could have been left in another “dimension”.
If I were to have one actual complaint though, on top of the issues with the wind as I clearly did not know its name, it would be the story. Why? Why is never actually answered. Why are you here? Why are you sailing between these points and activating these towers? I get the ending and “why” that happens, but the rest? Maybe I’m just not good at reading very vague mural designs. As I mentioned, each stage has three points that need to be activated, once you’ve done these, and find a specific island that opens up to you, you are treated to both the unveiling of a historical mural and then a “boss fight” which is more like a sailing trial that must be completed in order to move forwards.
These murals though, there are five, they each have three scenes, and I just didn’t get them. Overall I think I know what happened between the humans and the tentacled beast, but what does that have to do with the “here and now”? As you explore the islands big and small you can sometimes come across locations where you’ll hear the thoughts of someone from the past. It adds a bit of context to what happened and why you aren’t finding anyone, but it never helps uncover what you’re actually up to. The end result of the adventure is sweet though, and if that is the entire point of it all? Then maybe there’s a bit of redemption for the vagueness throughout, but honestly? Hell if I know if I’m even right about it. Maybe it’s just meant to be what I personally feel like it represents? I don’t know and that’s what bugs me as even the Souls games in their vagueness had more context.