Serious spoilers for Lost Constellation ahead. If you haven’t played, read at your own risk, or better yet, go play it and come back later.
For such a small game, there’s a lot to unpack (or if you prefer puns, to unbury) in Lost Constellation. While many players are still just getting to know Mae and the rest of the Night In The Woods (NITW) character ensemble, it’s clear that the NITW team have a strong sense of the world and the story they’re crafting, and as a result, the experience is a highly immersive and enjoyable one. In fact, their intimacy with the world is such that it allows the game to balance horror and humor poignantly. While the overall story and plot strike a chord that is at once dark and pensive, the dialogue that propels the story forward is full of wit and charm. As a result, you’re likely to smile your way through Lost Constellation because of its minute-to-minute cleverness, but you’re also likely to leave it feeling connected to something bigger, to something that fills you up till you might overflow.
Lost Constellation is a metadrama, or metanarrative if you’d rather, that begins with Mae listening to a Longest Night story. As she listens, we are transported to the inner-story world and control its protagonist, an astronomer named Astra. The astronomer is traveling east to the Frozen Lake through the snow-filled forest to find a star and keep an unnamed promise.
As I walk through the forest, it seems to breathe. When I cease to move, the camera drifts slowly up and down as if to replicate the motion of someone’s or something’s breathing. I pondered whose eyes I was looking through, exactly. Mae’s perhaps? I didn’t have wonder long before I was told the trees themselves were alive. Suddenly things took on a “Watchers in the Wood” feel, and the tone struck a spookier chord. This wasn’t meant to be an entirely pleasant jaunt over the river and through the wood, after all. The trees were malicious, would attempt to lead me astray and bury me beneath the snow.
With a new understanding of the forest, I proceeded cautiously east now, over the mounds of snow, until I came to a house. Inside, warming by a fire, was a coffin-maker. The coffin-maker tried to strike me a deal for a coffin, promising to find my body and bury it if I never made it out of the woods. Unless buried, I was told, my body would remain under the snow, and my soul would be trapped and unable to move on. Pausing a moment to reflect on the peaceful rolling hills of snow I’d been walking over, it hit me: I’ve been trekking over dead bodies. And not just dead bodies, but trapped souls. These woods aren’t just creepy, they’re limbo. I was now, I realized, surrounded by a brush and bramble that refused exit of any kind. At least, unless I could locate forest god and beg for passage out.
To find the forest god, I must first discover how to pray to it. To do so, I must give the trapped souls bodies through which to speak. To give the souls these bodies I…build snowman out of the relics of their lives: those items which they named, which gave them names, and which formed connections between them. Thus, building the snowman becomes a maudlin, albeit fun, activity. If my soul were attached to a horn, would I want it for a nose? a mouth? an arm? a hat? Who died desperately clinging to a lock and key, and what did the lock once protect? These reverent thoughts mingle with more traditional snowman building thoughts as I stick carrots and sticks and lumps of coal into snowballs, perhaps making a mohawk or a six-armed monster.
As I waver between the construction of the snowman and the reconstruction of souls, the astronomer’s thoughts are in yet another place: once they’re able to talk, the astronomer questions where the souls have been, and what lies beyond. Initially, I pass this off as the preoccupation of an astronomer – one used to looking out and beyond and into the deep black unknown – but, by the end of the journey, I come to understand these exchanges differently.
Yet, at the level of utility, as I construct the snowman, I also construct an entourage and the clues necessary to find the forest god. When I arrive at the god’s location, I discover it is ill. My quest to escape the forest is derailed again. The forest god is not responsible for obstructing my way out of the forest. The entity responsible is, instead, the dreaded Huncher.
Waylaid again from exiting the wood, I must now find the Huncher. Though I must do something unsavory to find the Huncher, her own circumstance is even more unsavory. Beyond causing the god’s illness, the Huncher’s ultimate betrayal is the destruction of something far more dear to her. By uncovering her dark and painful secret, however, I also uncover the way out from the wood.
If the wood is the maze, the labyrinth, or the underworld the hero must face on the journey to truth, the lake that lies east of it is the clarity that comes with victory. At the lake the astronomer finds answers. Not just about the placement of stars in the sky, but to the deeper question of what lies beyond them. The cost of these truths, however, is having to miss something anew. That something, though, is “pretty amazing,” and worth the cost. That something retroactively changes your understanding of the journey and why Astra headed east to begin with. It’s that something that can change a scary experience into something truly beautiful.