Oh I heard you calling out for me and everything felt right
Just give it time
We have so much time."
Maddie Raines has had enough. After years of serving as manager, editor, and general business-handler for her best friend Tara's popular paranormal vlog channel, she's finally ready to move forward with her own life. But when she agrees to take one last trip with Tara to the mysterious village of Eysenfeld, she's suddenly swept up in a dangerous supernatural crisis that will change the course of both of their lives forever. A strange young woman named Morgan has promised them undeniable proof of real paranormal phenomena, and what she has to offer eclipses anything they’d ever seen before.
However, out of all the strange occurrences the three of them bear witness to, one in particular captivates Maddie in a way she’s never been before: the ghost of a young woman. This woman is Abigail, the victim of a centuries-old injustice now bound eternally to the forest surrounding Eysenfeld. Drawn to Maddie in a way she can’t explain, Abigail reveals herself to another person for the first time in more than 200 years.
While Tara and Morgan investigate the mysteries surrounding the village itself, Maddie begins to form a bond with Abigail that grows to be more intense than any bond she’s felt before. As she learns the truth about Abigail’s death and imprisonment, she realizes that it falls to her and her friends to break the curse that has ruled over Eysenfeld for centuries. But more importantly than that, it falls to her to finally free the woman she loves.
Heart of the Woods is a Ren'Py-based Yuri Visual Novel made by Studio Élan released on February 15th 2019. The game is currently available for PC through Itch.io and Steam, with a version for the Nintendo Switch released on July 8th, 2021. A successful Kickstarter campaign was held in October of the same year to fund a patch to add voice acting to the game. A spinoff game titled, "I Told You So" features four episodes, one of which takes place before the game, and three of which take place after the good ending.
Heart of The Woods provides examples of the following:
- Abusive Parents: Evelyn doesn't seem to care much for Morgan, except as her next vessel.
- Accidental Truth: Maddie declines to hear about Morgan’s mother, Evelyn, not wanting to hear theories on how she is “actually the spawn of Satan” or something. While not quite that, the Moonsick One/Evelyn is indeed an evil supernatural entity, specifically a fairy.
- Achievement System: A patch added Steam achievements for the game- one for starting the game and reaching each chapter, one for each ending, one each for viewing the art and music galleries, and one for getting all 11 other achievements.
- Agent Mulder / Agent Scully: At the beginning of the game Tara is a firm believer in the paranormal and Maddie doesn't believe any of it. Maddie starts to believe over the course of the game.
- Amicable Exes: Tara and Madison dated for a few weeks in college, mainly as an experiment. Their breakup nearly ruined their friendship, but they patched things up.
- Beta Couple: Tara and Morgan. Their relationship doesn't get as much exposure in promotional materials as Madison and Abigail's, but they're the first to hook up.
- Big Bad: The Moonsick One aka Mayor Evelyn Fischer is the one who cast the curse on the village of Eysenfeld, and wants to keep Madison Raines and Tara Bryck from discovering the truth.
- Bittersweet Ending: All of the Multiple Endings fall into this category, as does one of the unused endings, since Evelyn is defeated, but at the cost of one or more characters' lives.
- "Sacrifice": If you choose "I'll make it up to you," Geladura returns to her true Fairy Queen form, and Maddie and Abigail are given normal, living human bodies, but Morgan sacrifices herself to kill Evelyn, resulting in Tara being completely emotionally devastated and depressed on the train ride home. She's also jealous of Maddie and Abigail's happiness, and hates herself for feeling this way. Maddie blames herself for this due to hesitating to kill Evelyn earlier, and thinks Tara hates her now, but Abigail assures her that she doesn't. As a result, there ends up being another rift between Tara and Madison, but Madison holds out hope that their relationship will mend in time.
- "Freedom": If you choose, "I'll keep Tara safe," or "One way or another, this ends tonight," Geladura sacrifices herself to kill Evelyn. Because of this, Maddie is now stuck as the Fairy's Queen thanks to the agreement they made earlier, and her, Abigail and the Fairies vanish from sight without even getting to say goodbye to Tara and Morgan. Tara goes into a grieving spiral and eventually informs her fan base and Maddie's family of her "Death", with the latter breaking off contact with her, while Morgan blames herself for all of this. Tara also quits Taranormal and moves on to other projects. Eventually they move out of Maddie's house due to painful memories, and the epilogue has Morgan getting accepted by Tara's family and the two of them getting married while Morgan internally thanks Maddie, Abigail and Geladura for making this possible.
- A planned third bad ending, mentioned in the art book, would have been something of a hybrid of the other two endings. Like in Ending 2, Geladura dies, and Madison would have to remain as Fairy Queen. However, Morgan would have volunteered to replace Madison, due to pointing out that Madison promised to give the fairies a queen, not to become one herself. The fairies would have accepted her, giving her enough time to say goodbye to Tara and her friends.
- Even the Golden Ending is this, as although all four heroines survive and are able to go to America, and Geladura is able to return to her role as queen, the forest spirit has to sacrifice itself to replace the destroyed ancestral tree and keep the forest creatures alive, and Abigail gives it a tearful goodbye.
- The Blank: At the end of Chapter 2, Maddie chases who appears to be Tara into the woods just as a blizzard starts, only to find a faceless illusion made by Evelyn.
- Book Ends: The game begins with Madison and Tara arriving in Eysenfield on a train. The last scene in each of the endings before The Stinger involves the surviving main characters leaving by train.
- Both Sides Have a Point: When you think about it, both Madison and Tara have legitimate points in their feud over Madison leaving Taranormal. Ultimately, both of them apologize to each other once they're reunited in Chapter 5.
- On the one hand, Madison has made many sacrifices to be part of Taranormal, from quitting her part-time job to dropping out of college, to say nothing of traveling all over the world with Tara and getting involved in her misadventures. Madison not only keeps Tara in line, but also handles many important things, like video editing, that Tara should be able to do herself. It's understandable that Madison would want to reclaim her life after giving so much time and effort to Taranormal, especially since Madison doesn't get any of the fame. Madison is also understandably upset about Tara giving her the cold shoulder when Madison wants to help, and Morgan calls Tara out on pushing Madison away despite wanting to be friends with her again.
- On the other hand, Madison is a vital part of Taranormal, with her business and tech savvy, so Tara would be hard-pressed to do her job without Madison. As Madison herself admits, Tara shoulders all of the Taranormal expenses, including paying thousands of dollars to go to Eysenfeld, while splitting royalties with Madison, so Madison can't really complain about Tara wasting money on the trip if Tara's the only one paying. While Madison's skepticism is understandable, so is Tara not being happy with Madison's constant negativity about the trip, or Madison's dislike of Morgan. While Tara takes Madison's decision to quit too personally, Tara has reason to doubt whether Madison's renewed interest in the Eysenfeld case means she's willing to stick it out with Taranormal for the long term. Madison also admits that she should have told Tara she was thinking about quitting and talked things through with her instead of suddenly telling her about her decision just before leaving for Eysenfeld.
- Boy Meets Ghoul: The main couple is Madison, a living woman, and Abigail, a Cute Ghost Girl. Played With in that Madison dies at the end of Chapter 2, at which point she and Abigail become able to communicate, and the two of them return to life when Madison becomes Fairy Queen at the end of Chapter 4.
- Braving the Blizzard: Near the end of Chapter 2, Madison sees Tara in a sudden snowstorm and runs after her. "Tara" is an illusion, and this leads to Madison's death.
- Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: One major subplot is long-time Best Friends Madison and Tara going through a rough patch over the former's decision to quit Taranormal. While they stop speaking for a while early on in Chapter 2, they ultimately reconcile in Chapter 5.
- Breather Episode: Chapter 5 is mostly taken up by Maddie restoring herself and Abigail to living bodies and all four main characters reuniting and hanging out at the cabin. After everything that's happened during the last couple of chapters, it's all rather sweet and relaxing, right up until the very end when Tara gets abducted by Evelyn.
- Brick Joke: When Morgan offers to show Madison and Tara something in the forest, Tara asks if it's the fountain of youth, a crashed UFO or Elvis. In the good ending, Abigail offers to take them to the forest to show them something.Tara: Is it Elvis?
Madison: You're never gonna let that go, are you?
- In the "Trick or Truth" episode of "I Told You So", Tara becomes fond of the screenname AbiGayIRL, and decides that if she ever befriends someone who's named Abigail, she'll try to get that person to use the name. Madison wonders where they'll meet someone named Abigail who has no Internet presence.
- Later on that same episode, Tara embarrasses Madison by mentioning that Madison finds pink hair attractive, and says Madison would be "set for life" if she found someone with natural pink hair. Once again, this is referring to Abigail.
- Came Back Strong: Maddie comes back to life as the Fairy Queen.
- The Casanova: Tara has a bit of reputation and is hitting on people a few minutes after meeting them.
- Cast Full of Gay: All four of the main characters are lesbians.
- Childhood Friends: Maddie and Tara met and became friends in high school.
- Chromosome Casting: Virtually every significant character is female, and the only male character is an unnamed old man who Tara and Madison interview during their early stay in town.
- Comical Overreacting: Not long after they arrive at the cabin, Maddie hears Tara scream bloody murder and runs into the living room, only to discover that’s just her reaction to realizing there’s no phone signal or wi-fi. The kicker is Maddie is actually pretty horrified to realize this too.
- Covert Pervert: Morgan seems like the innocent quiet type, but is pretty experienced. In the optional adult patch, we find out that Abigail fits this trope pretty hard as well.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Geladura vs. Evelyn. In the "Freedom" ending, Geladura still has enough strength to kill Evelyn with a single spell before she expires. On the good ending route, she takes down Evelyn with just as little effort.
- Cute Ghost Girl: Abigail, of course.
- Cute Mute: Abigail can't talk to living people, so she just talks through hand motions and pointing at things. Madison gets Abigail's name by bringing over a book of baby names and asking Abigail to point at her name.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: The true ending. Evelyn is killed, resulting in Geladura becoming the Fairy Queen again, Morgan being finally free from her abusive mother, the Forest Spirit becoming a tree and Maddie and Abigail being permanently brought back to life. The epilogue has all 4 girls return home, living a happy life together and embracing each other on the beach.
- Establishing Series Moment: The first scene on the train not only reveals where the characters are going and why they are going there, but also establishes Madison and Tara's feud(a significant subplot for the game), and sets the tone for the rest of the game. The latter is especially important, and the art book reveals that this is why the creators went for this scene rather than the unused Taranormal broadcast, since while that scene had established Madison and Tara's characters, it began the game with the wrong tone.
- Family of Choice: A major theme of the game. Because Morgan has an awful relationship with her mother, and Abigail was betrayed by her parents and sister, the four main characters come to consider each other family. Even Madison, who presumably has a better family than Morgan or Abigail, says she's closer to Tara than her family, since Tara is the person she misses most after she dies and ends up as a ghost.
- When she first gets a good look at Abigail, one of the first things Maddie notices is how her eyes remind her of Morgan's.
- During Evelyn's first appearance Maddie notices that the horses pulling their carriage seem nervous around her. It's a hint at her true nature, both as a terrible person and of her supernatural origins.
- After Tara and Madison first meet Evelyn and realize she's Morgan's mother, Tara flippantly suggests that Evelyn doesn't control Morgan's life, and Morgan hesitates before agreeing. It turns out that Evelyn is an extremely controlling mother who dictated every aspect of Morgan's life, and was even able to prevent her from cutting her own hair.
- When Tara interviews the two girls, the conversation turns to Morgan. One of them says that everyone knows Morgan, some better than others, and her friend looks rather uncomfortable. This is an early indication that Morgan has had sex with the closeted lesbians of Eysenfeld, and she later suggests that she "probably" slept with one of those girls.
- The Friends Who Never Hang: Out of the four main characters, Tara and Abigail are the only ones who never have a one-on-one conversation, most likely because they meet toward the end of the story.
- Guide Dang It!: Getting the true ending. There are only three decisions in the game, but they don't quite work the same way as in other visual novels. The choices you make for the first two decisions have barely any noticeable impact on their own, but, when paired togetherExample(spoilers) determine which options are available to you in the third decision, and that choice will determine your ending. Not only is the third choice seemingly innocuous, since it's just Morgan responding to Madison, but the distinctions between the choices aren't immediately obviousThe choices (MAJOR SPOILERS) . See the flowchart of your choices here.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Gay?: I Told You So! has endless semi-random dialogue reminders that the characters are gay, none of which go beyond brief dialogue gags. It's all played for laughs, of course.Morgan: Thanks, babe. Also, you're gay.
- Heroic BSoD: Tara and Maddie both get one after they first encounter the Forest Spirit.
- Invisible to Normals: Living people can't see ghosts unless the ghosts use astral projection to make themselves visible. It took Abigail decades to learn how to do this, and she loses this power when she saves Madison.
- Jacob Marley Apparel: Abigail appears to wear the same dress that she died in. Madison wears her usual outfit after becoming a ghost herself, until she temporarily becomes Fairy Queen. The art book reveals that Abigail's dress was chosen because it was a period-appropriate gown, but was kept simple because Abigail didn't have time to dress up before her death.
- Kindhearted Cat Lover: All four of the main characters. Madison and Tara have a cat named BT, Morgan has a cat named Geladura, and while Abigail doesn't have any pets, she has an affinity for animals and hits it off well with BT in the "Sacrifice" ending. Contrast Evelyn, a Jerkass who hates Geladura.
- Last-Second Ending Choice: The dialogue choice that determines which ending you get happens just before the climax, and the choices available to you are determined by your choices in the other two prompts. See Guide Dang It! for more.
- Limited Wardrobe: The game takes place over the course of a month-long trip to Eysenfeld, and except for three occasions- Madison becoming Fairy Queen, Abigail borrowing Madison's clothes after returning to life and the cast going to the beach in the good ending- everyone's clothes stay the same. Lampshaded in the demo version, when one scene involving a chibified Tara and Madison has Tara asking Madison why she's wearing a winter coat indoors; Madison says that they didn't feel the need to make a sprite of her dressed less warmly for a scene that won't appear in the final version of the game.
- Linear Visual Novel: While the story has Multiple Endings, they're determined by a choice made just before the climax, and the preceding two choices (the only other ones the player has) determine what choices the player has available for the third choice. The consequences of the choices only become apparent at the end of the climax.
- Long-Lost Relative: Abigail is Morgan's ancestor.
- Multiple Endings: There are three different endings (two bad endings- "Sacrifice" and "Freedom"- and one Golden Ending) based on what choices the player makes.
- Nature Spirit: Morgan has seen one in the woods around the town and seeing it in person is what makes Maddie start believing.
- No Social Skills: Morgan doesn't show much emotion, is often blunt and overly honest, makes up stories about her antiques, and does odd things like knock on Maddie's windows in the middle of the night. Given the social isolation and curses Evelyn has enforced on her, much of it operates as coping mechanisms or simple ignorance.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Towards the end of Chapter 4, Maddie begins to flicker in and out of existence due to the damage to the forest's power when Evelyn forces Morgan to destroy one of the ancestral trees. This is represented by both the visuals and the music suddenly cutting to black and pure silence.
- Overly Long Hug: Madison and Tara have one after Madison comes back to life in Chapter 5.
- Poor Communication Kills: The feud between Madison and Tara over the former leaving Taranormal is exacerbated due to Madison never telling Tara about her feelings until she arrived at her decision, then telling Tara mere days before the trip to Eysenfeld.
- Really Gets Around: Tara is stated to sleep around a good amount, mostly with fans, although she's totally fine with that. Morgan also has slept with most of the women in the town after she was outed but she doesn't feel as good about it.
- Rightful King Returns: In the best ending Geladura returns as the Fairy Queen.
- Ship Sinking: While the couples are fairly obvious from early on, the story still sinks some of the possible pairings.
- Anyone who hoped that long-time best friends Madison and Tara might get together will be disappointed to hear that they had briefly tried going out in college as an experiment, which nearly ruined their friendship until they called it off. Morgan bluntly notes that they'd make a terrible couple.
- Not only do Abigail and Morgan interact with each other the least out of all the main characters, but in one of the few times they speak, they learn that Abigail is Morgan's distant ancestor.
- In Chapter 1, Maddie says that Morgan’s stories make their paranormal show look like Scooby-Doo.
- Maddie also calls Tara Indiana before going into an antique shop.
- Maddie is a big fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey and has watched it multiple times.
- After first meeting Abigail, Maddie compares herself to Gretel in how she could be walking right into a trap.
- Sickening Sweethearts: In "I Told You So," Abigaila and Madison tend to reach this level of lovey-dovey even while on camera, much to Tara's annoyance.
- Snow Means Death: The snow always gets heavier during the worst possible times, and results in Maddie's death after getting lured out into the woods.
- Speak in Unison: Madison and Tara do this when they apologize to each other in Chapter 5.
- The Stinger: Each ending has a post-credits scene.
- "Sacrifice" Ending: Madison and Tara welcome Abigail to their home. Madison feels guilty about Morgan's death, but Abigail reassures her that Tara doesn't hate her. Madison tries to bridge the gap between her and Tara, and Tara is receptive..
- "Freedom" Ending: Tara returns home, informs Madison's loved ones of her disappearance and quits Taranormal. Years later, she and Morgan get married.
- True Ending: The four friends go to the beach together.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
- As a result of trying to videotape the forest spirit during a snowstorm (which results in poor visibility and Tara's hands shaking due to the cold), Tara and Madison only have a few seconds of usable footage. Madison anticipates that she and Tara will be subject to intense scrutiny and people will accuse them of doctoring the footage, but still believes that they'll become famous. Then the footage ends up becoming corrupted, likely due to Evelyn's interference.
- Abigail, having died 200 years ago, doesn't have any documentation. In the good ending, Tara has to forge it for her before they leave Eysenfeld.
- Abigail didn't have time to get dressed before her death, so she wears a simple gown. Unfortunately, her clothes aren't nearly warm enough for winter, so Madison has to loan Abigail some clothes when Madison is returned to life. Since Madison is a bit taller than Abigail, her clothes don't fit Abigail all that well.
- Switching P.O.V.: Madison, Tara, Morgan and Abigail all take turns as the POV character.
- Sympathetic P.O.V.: When it comes to the feud between Madison and Tara over the former quitting Taranormal, the current viewpoint character comes off as more sympathetic and willing to admit her shortcomings.
- For all of Chapter 1 and much of Chapter 2, Madison is the POV character. The player gets to see her desire to take control of her life again after giving so much of it to Taranormal, of her frustration at the idea of spending so much time and money on a wild goose chase (and at Morgan for inviting them to Eysenfeld), and feeling hurt when Tara freezes her out. That said, she also realizes that she isn't being fair to Tara or Morgan, especially when Tara is taking on all the costs of the trip while still paying Madison for her time in Eysenfeld.
- In Tara's first POV scene, the viewer gets to see how important Madison's friendship is to her, as well as the fact that Madison's decision to quit amounts to walking away from what they built together and puts Taranormal's future in jeopardy. Additionally, while the player realizes why Madison is going out into the woods, Tara doesn't, and sees those trips, along with Madison's attitude, as proof of her being uncooperative. Tara's left at a loss for words when Morgan calls her out on not listening to Madison.
- During Morgan's first POV chapter, she sees Tara and Madison bickering over who's responsible for the footage being corrupted. As a neutral observer, albeit one who gets along better with Tara than she does with Madison, she concludes they're both to blame for the feud.
- Take Me Instead:
- Abigail gave herself up in the generational sacrifice to save her sister. Her sister was more than happy to let her do it.
- In "The lady of the lake," Morgan takes Madison's place as Fairy Queen. Tara, who originally didn't want Madison to make the sacrifice, then tries to offer herself in Morgan's stead, only for Morgan to tell her that she doesn't want Tara to do that, either.
- Talking Animal: Morgan claims that her cat can talk. It turns out that her cat is actually the Fairy Queen, who's been transformed into a cat.
- Tarot Motifs: The character page from the official website assigns each of the four main characters a Major Arcana:
- Madison is The Moon, referencing Madison uncovering the secrets of Eysenfeld despite not believing in the supernatural.
- Tara is The Fool. She's a highly spontaneous free spirit, representing the upright Fool, but also is the least mature of the main characters, representing the reversed Fool.
- Morgan is The Hanged Man. This can be a reference to how Morgan hopes to eventually cut ties with her past and leave Eysenfeld behind, or her sacrificing herself to defeat Evelyn in the "Freedom" ending.
- Abigail is The Sun. Despite having spent two centuries as a ghost, Abigail finds companionship in the animals of the forest, and falls in love with Madison, signifying her ability to persevere despite her loneliness
- Theme Naming: Most of the game's achievements are named after songs from the game's soundtrack.
- Trans Tribulations: Tara came out and transitioned in high school. Most of her friends abandoned her as a result, and Madison was the only one who stuck around.
- Treacherous Spirit Chase: At the end of Chapter 2, Madison runs into a blizzard after Tara, whom she has every reason to believe is alive (despite the fact that the rift between the two means neither knows where the other is) but appears to be in danger. Madison doesn't realize it's an illusion until it's too late, and freezes to death, but Abigail brings her back as a spirit.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Madison often snarks at Tara and complains about her irresponsibility, but the two of them are nevertheless friends. Unfortunately, their friendship becomes strained when Madison announces that she's quitting Taranormal.
- Vlog Series: Taranormal seems to be a mix of this and a traditional ghost hunting show.
- Wham Episode: The end of Chapter 2. Madison falls for Evelyn's illusion, chases an illusionary Tara out into the blizzard and freezes to death, only for Abigail to rescue her.
- Wham Line:
Morgan: My mom... isn't really my mom. To be frank, she's not even human. Not anymore.
- While Morgan and her mother Evelyn are not on good terms, this line in Chapter 2 is rather unexpected.
Evelyn: Since you loved it so much, I wonder how it will feel for you to be the one to kill it.
- In Chapter 3, Morgan tries to get her cat Geladura off her bed so Tara can lie down on it, only for Geladura to say, "There's plenty of room on the floor." What Geladura says is less important than her confirming that she can, in fact, talk, as Morgan had insisted.
- In Chapter 4, Evelyn brings Morgan to a tree, and claims that Morgan is part of the forest. As she delivers this line, the music stops.
Madison: (narrating) By listening- or rather, by feeling- I realize who they're communicating with. Geladura.
- In Chapter 5, the fairies recognize their true Queen.
Fairies: Our queen! Our queen!
- In Chapter 6, these lines of dialogue reveal that the player got the "Freedom" ending.
Morgan: (narrating) They chant the phrase over and over again. I feel nauseous as I realize the consequences of what's happened. Without Geladura, there's no fairy queen to take Maddie's place. By her own agreement, she has to stay here. Forever.
- Wham Shot: Near the end of Chapter 2, Madison spots Tara in a blizzard, and runs to catch up to her, only to realize that "Tara" doesn't have a face, and is an illusion created by Evelyn.
- Will-o'-the-Wisp: The first paranormal thing they see in Eysenfeld. Maddie is not impressed.