Choice Game Review: The Wayhaven Chronicles, Book One by Mishka Jenkins
The Wayhaven Chronicles: Book One by Mishka Jenkins is an “interactive fantasy novel” that reads very much like playing a video game, but there are no graphics or sound because it’s a narrative choice game! You read the story and make selections about your physical appearance, your actions and reactions to others, and your past and current relationships with the folks of Wayhaven and the Agency:
Your first case as a detective is forcing you to open your eyes to a world bigger than you thought. But maybe it’s better to keep them closed. Knowing too much doesn’t help anyone sleep at night! Seems the supernatural didn’t get the memo that nothing exciting ever happens in the little town of Wayhaven.
Experience the big and small moments with a host of characters throughout this exciting twist on the usual supernatural tale—a story which will take you through heart-pounding romance, smile-filled friendships, and shiver-inducing drama.
– Play as female, male, or non-binary—with options to be straight, gay, or bisexual.
– Discover the start of distinct and lasting romances with the vampires of Unit Bravo.
– Define and refine relationships with a variety of characters-from friends, family, exes, and enemies.
– Decide how you will fulfill the job of detective, through Deduction, Combat, Science, or People skills.
– Discover the truth of what awaits in Wayhaven in a playstyle that suits your personality.
– Indulge in true moments of romance, friendship, drama, and fun!
The Wayhaven Chronicles: Book One choice game is a fun, linear story that is not only a supernatural mystery but one hell of a slow burn. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t read a lot of choose your own adventure type books (or games or apps), but the few I have read have been pretty straight forward with very few choice options to make, and most of them often leading to an untimely death and a “game over, try again” title screen. Wayhaven immediately pulled me into the story because at almost every page in the beginning I was making some sort of choice – from dialogue responses, to my appearance, my pronouns, determining my player character’s past relationships with other characters. All of these choices affected the present-day “me” in-game. It immediately pulls the reader into the story, giving it more a personal stake as the plot begins the thicken.
I love that this particular story is following your player character, who is a newly promoted police detective of Wayhaven, a small town, trying to solve a murder. It’s decently written, starts in action that immediately sucks you in, and it has some very distinct characters. There are the individuals at your local precinct that you work with, the four Agents of Unit Bravo, your mother, and a foreboding antagonist looming in the shadows.
After getting into the bulk of the story, it lost some of its immediate charm and allure but was still fine to read. It reads very much like a cookie-cutter preternatural detective novel with a sprinkling of romantic intrigue. There wasn’t anything narratively that surprised me, but it was still an enjoyable read on the first read-through. The story did lack quite a bit of tension, however, because the reader gets perspectives from not only the player character, but occasionally Unit Bravo members, and the antagonist himself. It feels like Jenkins tried to rely more heavily on the underlying romance than the current murder investigation to provide the tension to the story until the climactic ending scene. And that didn’t work for me personally as a reader.
One frustration I had with the choice game was that there were a few points where specific options simply weren’t available – I know an author can’t think of absolutely everything a reader may think of as a response, but the available options were extremely limited in favor of the linear story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it – it was like reading a book with being able to custom tailor my protagonist and love interest, which was neat. But in something that you’re actively supposed to make choices for, it felt like a lot of the choices had too many options for super simple things or not nearly enough for more significant moments. For instance, in the end fight scene: You’re fighting a seemingly unbeatable antagonist, but you know exactly how they gained their extra strength. You and the agents struggle through the fight but at no point are you given the option to have the agents take the same thing that made the antagonist hellishly powerful. To me, that would have been a choice that would have had a lot more consequence, could have created some more tension to explore leading into the second book, and depending on who you’d give it to would have made a statement about that relationship.
Speaking of the relationships, there are four agents, who in turn, are the detective’s romance-able options for the story. Their genders are determined by the detective’s sexual orientation (if you’re only into women, all four are women, if you’re bisexual, it’s a random 50/50 split, and if you’re only into men, all four are men). Their names are Nat/Nate, Ava/Adam, Farah/Felix, and Morgan/Mason. All four characters have solid characterizations: N is kind, gentle, and strives to be honest with you whenever possible; A is militaristically unapproachable, un-trusting, and would rather be in complete control over the case and leave you in the dark; F is juvenile, almost too laid back, and always has a sarcastic comment to add or makes humorous commentary at the expense of the other agents, verging on being outright obnoxious at times; and M is pretty much a perpetually smoking shadow that exists in corners when they aren’t actively glowering at you. (I’ll use the female names and pronouns moving forward, as I played only romancing them as women.)
I thoroughly enjoyed Nat’s character. Since she was my first “romance,” I thought that all of the dialogue she had with my detective was because I was actively flirting with her. She was kind, informative, genuinely cared about my detective’s well being, and often was the person who diffused tense situations between the detective and Ava, Unit Bravo’s team leader. And even though I “romanced” Nat in my first playthrough, it became apparent in my second read through that Nat felt like the default choice of the game. Nat was the only agent who was actively friendly without ulterior motives, she is more cooperative with you, and encourages unit bravo to be more collaborative with you to help you solve the case. The second time through, I attempted to romance Ava, and it felt like no matter what I did, we were going to hate each other. The narrative had more moments that weren’t controllable by the reader, where the detective reacts negatively to how Ava speaks, yells, and/or walks out. In contrast, narratively Nat is always sweet and often has more dialogue with you because she’s the information specialist and is more vocal about wanting to share the secretive nature of the Agency than any other Agent.
Now, regardless of who you “romance” in the story, nothing develops past glances and simple touches. The app boasts that it is “440,000 words long” (which includes the code used to transform the narrative into a choice game, I’m told), but it’s still a long story. The romance feels like two people who are developing a crush and coming to terms with it, nothing more. Which is fine. Romance doesn’t have to be the point of the story. But because the romantic relationship is so central to the tension of this story, I as a reader needed more from it. Because long looks, blushing, and fluttering glances are not enough to hold me over for a 100k+ words of prose, especially when the plot itself doesn’t provide additional satiating tension. I’m all for a slow burn romance, but usually there is something at the end of the book that the burn ignites into. In Wayhaven Chronicles, it’s just a little simmering burn that is barely even lit by the end. There are several situations where you as the detective can try and be forward, indicating you want certain physical things to happen between you and your romance option, but the romanceable character always pulls away or declines. Immediately after declining there are often scenes from that character’s perspective saying how much they are starting to feel for the detective and how much they wanted to do things, but won’t… without giving any real reason as to why. And I’m all for a slow burn. I really am. But slow burns need reasons why things can’t happen or need to wait, or the narrative needs to actively interfere with them getting close, keeping them apart to create palpable tension.
As I’ve mentioned, I have read through this several times. Three times to be exact. I was hoping that the tension would be different or fixed when I started subsequent play-throughs. On all of my play-throughs, I made active and conscious choices to pick options that I hadn’t selected before and played different personality types and varied sexual orientations. But regardless of how my detective acted, it didn’t affect the story much at all. There was one major breakaway scene, and some minor scenes that differ depending on what line of evidence you follow, but other than that, the scenes all play out the same (with the exception of scene between you and one other agent, those are always slightly different based on the agent you pick to have the scene with, but the outcome is still the same). Replaying the game made me feel like it being a choice game is simply for its categorization, as nothing I did seemed to affect how the main story of solving the case panned out. It was extremely linear. And, as I stated before, initially I liked that because it felt like reading a book custom tailored for me. But as soon as I tried to have a different experience with the story, it left me underwhelmed and unsatisfied. The more I read it, the more I began to dislike it.
Along with issues of lack of tension keeping the reader interested, there were a few other things that a round or two more of edits might have helped with. There were several instances where words were repeated and funky grammar that another round of edits would have caught or details that could have been omitted because they weren’t crucial to the story. The other thing that another edit could have helped with would be modifying scenes that simply didn’t have a resolution. There is a scene where your detective is specifically with M where you’re checking out a neighborhood for intel on your current investigation. You then get a phone call from a fellow police officer about leaving the office for the weekend and lets you know that you have a missed call from a reporter, and then the scene ends. The reader gets no conclusion from the outing to this place or whether or not any information was gathered or if it is helpful. The scene just ends before it starts. This scene is the most noticeable one, but other scenes had abrupt endings that could have yielded more but instead cut to later that day or the next chapter.
In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t gone through and re-read Wayhaven more than once. On my first read-through, I genuinely enjoyed the experience of the story, the drastically different characters, and the ability to have a custom-tailored protagonist in a linear story and the ability to pick the romance option I wanted in the narrative. The first read-through still suffered from inconsistent tension, but that didn’t prevent it from being a fun read with a unique enough twist to a formulaic plot mechanic. My general disappointment came from attempting to re-read/replay the story and lack of actual substantial changes to the plot.
Choice Game Rating:
2 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Fans of supernatural stories or people wanting to dip their toes into the world of choice game/books. Individuals who are looking to read through a story once and not trying to see all the available options first hand.
The game is available on Steam, the Apple App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store!