Beneath the planet’s surface, you have to cast aside your assumptions. Darkness is not your enemy, but Light’s army is about to reduce your town to ash. In this 2D interactive narrative, take the role of Raven, an eleven year old girl, who learns that she is the key piece in stopping the inevitable destruction of her town. Now, she has to understand the unfolding events, struggle to solve the challenges facing her, and define herself through difficult choices that will have far-reaching consequences.
As Raven, you will interact with multiple interesting characters, explore a beautiful fantasy world, make lasting decisions, learn Dark magic, and, if you are clever enough, gain infinite power.
What We Think
Girl with a Heart Of starts off with an interesting premise. You play as Raven, a young girl who is learning about the roles of her family members as well as the little microcosm of her town of darkness. It is a place that has herethereto given you most necessities that you would want for as a growing child, but it risks being invaded by the Light armies, a natural enemy to you and your kind. This is an interactive story game that orbits around a coming-of-age tale. It subverts the symbolic association that darkness suppresses life, but instead makes it an environment and element where friendship, duty, and honour can flourish.
To that extent, Girl with a Heart Of plays off of the motif of darkness and shadows for this race of magical humans through both storytelling and the playful art style. You find out that the Dark towns are subterranean, and that, the further down in levels, the healthier it is for the Dark race, and therefore all the affluent clusters are there.
However, one cannot dig too deeply into the core of the earth, for it shall lead to a destabilization of the upper levels. This sense of ambiguity between rampant development and sustainability is one of the high points of the narrative experience: It’s a subtle point, one that the developers wisely did not shove down our throats. Instead, it loosely ties into the concerns of the Dark denizens and how they look after their own survival, and their histories with the external threat of the Light race.
However, the depth of fictional engagement can also be threadbare in other contexts. Unfortunately, this is related to themes that are arguably even more central to the development of the story and the choice system within the game. One of the most interesting people you’ll meet is your magical tutor, who tells you about the motivations behind skirmishes and attacks on the Dark town. However often that he emphasizes that the Light is not necessarily bad people, we never get to see this as an example, much less have it presented in shades of grey, or with some moral ambiguity.
This makes it hard to really engage with the urgency of having to protect the Dark against the Light army, and the hows of the approach. For example: Do I agree with the notion of return retaliation against the Light, or keep silent about potentially larger threats from the Light so that my townspeople can rebuild and heal from previous skirmishes? I don’t know, since my sources for understanding the Light is so limited.
The epithet of “show, don’t tell” needs to be utilized much more often in the game: Oftentimes, Raven must listen to other person’s experiences and take it as fact. You never really feel like you are uncovering something for yourself. In other words, you feel like you are being led around – literally, by other people’s words – without a sense of discovery, or the satisfaction of completing a quest. One can claim that the quests are people’s quests: the NPCs’. They successfully tell Raven something in the manner in which they want to obfuscate, tell the truth, ignore, and so forth, and Raven would then take it as gospel.
Another important question arises: How does Raven act and behave that makes her a uniquely female viewpoint, since the title of the game brings it so strongly to my attention? After some introspection, I find that there’s little beyond naming certain game mechanics as “heart”, “love”, “truth”, and so forth that makes it appear feminine.
There is no moment in the game that stood out to me as relating to girl empowerment particularly. A boy child can be substituted in without breaking a sweat, which renders gender an unnecessary emphasis. Raven merely obediently learns from a few authority figures in order to help change the course of the town’s fate. For me, that just breaks the suspension of disbelief that dialogue options actually have any lasting affect on the outcome, and the narrative world just doesn’t have this “lived-in” feel that an insular town should provide.
The first playthrough still offers some compelling narrative exploration. However, by the time I have sensed that I am near the end of the game, I felt that Girl with a Heart Of didn’t live up to its initial promise. Although the fictional world’s premise is initially exciting, its uneven narrative makes the turning point of the story unrewarding and estranged its development.