It's tough to make yourself known for adventure games. There's an expected higher standard in the genre's writing and gameplay. One of the few companies that have defied these odds is Inkle, mostly known for their hit game 80 Days along with the video game adaption of the Sorcery! series. It seems like they're looking to strike gold again, this time with Heaven's Vault, an adventure game that sees you translating mysterious languages to try and discover the fate of a missing man. I got a chance to play two hours of the game, and I came away extremely impressed.
You'll take the role of Aliya, a woman who works for a college by translating an old lost language. One of the professors tasks her with finding a man who sent a mysterious broach to her before he went missing. So Aliya, joined by her robotic companion Six, begin to sail the stars and hop along moons searching for any sign of their missing person. Along the way, they discover what appears to be an interstellar mystery. The foundation is all here for one extremely interesting mystery adventure. I quickly became hooked, wanting to learn where this man had vanished to. Had the same fate befallen the emperor who disappeared without a trace hundreds of years ago?
You're not just figuring out these big mysteries either. Every moon I visited evoked a ton of little questions. One, a farming center focused mostly on rice, was one of the only places allowed to have a shrine. Why? What purpose could this shrine serve? And who is it for anyway? What sort of relevance could it hold? This is another mystery that needed exploring. To do so I dove into the game's language mechanics. Whenever Aliya came across any sort of writing she could try her hand at translating it. For a while, you don't really have any sort of accurate guides though, and the best you can do is guess based on past words you've picked, the context of what you're translating, and what looks similar.
This leads to some really interesting moments. For example, early on I got a brooch and there were two words on it. I recognized similar words thanks to how they were written, eventually determining that the brooch was valuable. The solution I came up with? The brooch directly translated 'friend beloved' or, more likely when localized, 'beloved friend'. As such, the characters assumed this was a gift from one friend to another. The way you choose to translate things will affect how characters consider the past as well. At one point, I read a passage in a book, coming to the conclusion that an empress was burying robots in the walls of a college. Was she really? I'm not sure, and likely won't know unless I find some more writing to further my knowledge of the language.
It won't just be your translations the characters remember either. As you play Heaven's Vault you'll be having tons of conversations with many characters. Each time, you get several options on what you want to say, and it seems like the characters all remember even the most minute details. One conversation saw me pretending to be someone else. Afterward, I worried about spending the rest of the game backing up that lie or paying for it. In addition to this, while you're just out and exploring, Aliya and Six will have random conversations with each other, and at any time you can hit a button to reply with either a statement or a question. These conversations will factor into the story just as much as anything else, and it's a neat way to learn more about the two characters.
It helps that the entire game has a striking art style that makes it impressive to behold. Each scene and character looks like a constantly shifting painting. It's a unique and sharp look to be sure. There's also a really neat half medieval half sci-fi setting that manages to look unique and assist the art in standing out. A nice soundtrack backs this up, pleasant to listen to as I was translating scripts and exploring villages.
Near the end of my demo, there was a conversation that really caught me off guard. Aliya asked Six if robots felt hope. Six responded that robots, by calculation the odds, knows which outcomes should be possible. As such, taken to its logical conclusion, hope is a mathematical certainty. Conversations like this are why I could quickly become attached to Heaven's Vault and its cast of characters. If there's one mathematical certainty here, I believe it will be my enjoyment when the full release comes around.
TechRaptor previewed Heaven's Vault on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer. The game will be available for PC and PlayStation 4 sometime in Spring.