Developer: Bent Spoon Games
The title alone should be enough to warn you that we're deep in experimental Indie territory here. Girl With A Heart Of is quite unlike anything I've ever played before: an interactive parable that thrives on social interaction and emotional fallout rather than action.
Players adopt the role of a Raven, a young girl growing up in the subterranean village of Underfoot. The citadel and its inhabitants thrives on darkness, but is under siege by the forces of the light. After being exposed to a dangerous amount of light in a probing attack and separated from her parents, she discovers that her heart is uniquely capable of channelling dark magic - becoming the only hope for saving Underfoot and its people from certain destruction. Her choices, even the smallest conversations, have the most far-reaching and unexpected of consequences.
Throughout this review, please note that my hands are somewhat tied because discovery is the key to Girl With A Heart Of. The more I tell you about the premise and characters, the less rewarding the experience will become... so be aware that I'll have to dance around the specifics.
Raven only has a few days in which to save her town - and you'll spend that time conversing and interacting with Underfoot's inhabitants. You'll need to talk to anyone and everyone in order to work out how you fit into the storyline, as well as to put them at ease or discover more about the backstory. Performing certain actions - or failing to do so - also allows you to bolster Raven's heart with surprising new characteristics, though you'll have to find that out for yourself. The 2D presentation is vaguely reminiscent of classic adventure games, but the execution plays out more like an ancient text-based title. Words, not visuals, are the most important part of the game.
Since Raven is a young child, you'll need to completely change the way you think about games, how you typically interact with people and how you see the world itself. Do you confront your dying mother about shielding you from the stark reality of her situation? Coddle her or skirt the issue with little white lies? Or ignore her while learning how to save Underfoot in as little time as possible... breaking her heart in the process? As Raven experiences more of the town, she becomes more insightful and adept at manipulation, and picking different dialogue options leads to profoundly different results in each playthrough. Some of the characters and issues will shake all but the most hardened and cynical players to the very core - it will force you to feel something beyond the thrill of the kill or levelling up. Girl With A Heart Of may be essentially a text adventure, but will move you more than any big-budget blockbuster.
Unfortunately, while maintaining a consistently high standard, the writing occasionally falls down. Raven is clearly well-educated, but is frequently provided with incongruously mature dialogue. Putting yourself into her tiny shoes will be difficult enough for most players by itself, let alone having to suspend disbelief yet further. For the most part, though, you'll feel thoroughly connected to the cast of characters - and feel a real sense of urgency as the deadline approaches.
What happens after that is surpriningly abrupt. Girl With A Heart Of ends at the exact moment you expect the grand finale, rewarding you with an explanation of how the consequences of your actions affects the overarching storyline. It's disappointing at first, but it hammers home the fact that Girl With A Heart Of isn't about epic adventure or rollicking action. It's about a young girl and her choices, and how social interaction can be more devastating than swords and magic. Multiple endings and varied conversation options are designed to provide completely different playthroughs , encouraging players to go experiment with new options each time.
Whether you'll want to, however, comes down to how patient you are. Selecting conversation options is a bit fiddly, and more to the point, you'll have to go through the same early game each time you start a new playthrough. The drive for "recursive self-improvement" will keep many hooked, but the lack of variety may aggravate, confuse and deter.
Girl With A Heart Of has a very inconsistent presentation. Tiny text (even when enlarged) and crude animations stand out in stark, uncomfortable contrast with the unique film negative art design that replaces light sources with darkness. It's an exciting and eyecatching aesthetic that ultimately won us over despite the shortcomings. The music is atmospheric enough, but fails to loop when you've been in the same room for a long time, leading to long and embarrassing silences.
- Utterly unique
- Powerful and thought-provoking
- Creates an emotional reaction... like all good artwork
- Short and incredibly divisive
- Multiple playthroughs limited by some 'samey' options
- A few issues with presentation and mechanics
Summary: Girl With A Heart Of is unique, compelling and enriching. It wrenches you out of your comfort zone and throws you, screaming, into the unknown. It challenges you to consider each word, the implications of each action and how a young girl can affect, not just the world, but the fates and emotions of everyone she meets. Only the patient need apply, but they'll be rewarded with one of the most thought-provoking experiences of the year for a negligible price.
On the other hand, you might absolutely hate it... and that's fine. As with all works of art, you'll either love or despise Girl With A Heart Of. There's no middle ground whatsoever, and there's no right answer.