When Infinite Fall unveiled their Kickstarter trailer, Night in the Woods seemed like a simple, albeit finely crafted universe full of disaffected youth. The trailer hinted at dire stakes, the end of the world and all that, but it seemed to take a back seat to the aimless rebellion implied by a punky cat trashing mailboxes with a baseball bat and mumbling "everything sucks forever."
More than a year has passed, and while the public has seen little of the game itself, we have been treated to two "supplemental games," not dissimilar from those that have been released between Kentucky Route Zero acts. These games paint a much different picture of the NITW world. They deal in fairy tales, folk lore, even religion.
Though the core game seems to take place in a place not so different from present-day Pittsburgh (Infinite Fall's home turf), the supplemental games reveal an original mythology, hints of a culture much different than our own. In Longest Night, the first of the games, the jaded young cast of NITW gather around a bonfire for Longest Night, a solstice-like holiday that seems to hold as much cultural import as Christmas in the US.
Through them, we witness an old Longest Night tradition, where they recount the stories of ancient constellations made visible by the night's sheer blackness. This is not some flat lore dump, though, like you might find in the books of The Elder Scrolls or the codex of Mass Effect. For us, these stories are embellished by the interjections, opinions, and even forgetfulness of the characters telling them.
Still, thanks in part to their incompleteness, we learn so much about the world. The Broken Snake constellation is referred to as "the first thing that talked," but its story is interrupted by Mae the cat's experiences in Sunday school. So here, amongst Greek-style constellations of mythic heroes, we have something that seems more like an American Indian tale about a talking animal, one that is apparently taught in a Christian-like church that three of the group attended.
Other stories feature asides about race, with Angus the bear saying he "never felt much ursidae pride." Angus and Gregg the fox are a gay couple, but we have yet to learn if that is of any cultural concern. Perhaps being an interspecies couple is more unconventional? As we learn in the next game, Lost Constellation, Mae's family seems to be primarily cats.
Lost Constellation takes the form of a Longest Night bedtime story, told to a younger Mae by her grandfather. The story follows Adina Astra, a crocodilian astronomer who travels through the woods to find a special star. Mae's grandfather claims this story came from his family's homeland, but Adina herself is largely unfamiliar with the customs of the woods, which seem to line up with those of the "Longest Night Religion." Also, the only cat in the story is a non-anthropomorphic character who speaks cryptically, but has little reverence for the area's religious practices (this cat eats a mouse priest).
Are the bits of folklore present here (ex. The Forest God, The Huncher) still part of the modern Longest Night Religion? Is Mae a descendant of this cat? Is curious agnosticism a part of feline culture? It's difficult to say at this point. And we may never know. Night in the Woods seems content to wallow in that curious agnosticism. Old traditions are interesting and fun to toy with, but they are simply the most well-trodden branches of a spiritual path we must all take for ourselves.
For a modern day twenty-something, that path could just as easily lead to "everything sucks forever."