Ocean's Heart Review

01/21/2021 - 10:00 | By: Tyler Chancey
Developer
Max Mraz
Publisher
Max Mraz
Release Date
January 21, 2021
Platforms
PC
Purchase (Some links may be affiliated)
Steam
What if Zelda Was A Girl?

Ocean's Heart is the kind of game that proudly wears its inspiration on its sleeve. A fantasy adventure on a smattering of islands across the sea that borrows heavily from top-down adventure titles with some welcome modern touches. Aside from narrative hiccups and some questionable pacing issues, the game manages to be an enjoyable ride even when it bucks certain tropes and ideas.

Tilia reading a note in her bedroom
Oh no, she's in a video game, that means this peace isn't gonna last.

Dealing With Pirates

You play as Tilia, a young woman who helps her family run a modest saloon on a small island. This peace doesn't last as pirates raid her village, causing her father to go missing. Tilia picks up a sword and journeys out into the world to find her father, and unravel the plot by the pirates to unearth an ancient (possibly cursed) treasure that may threaten the world as she knows it.

When it comes to imitating the look and feel of a mid-2000s Game Boy Advance title, Ocean's Heart pulls it off really well. Character sprites are animated well, the various enemy and boss designs are impressive, and the entire world balances a playful and campy tone against some more sinister stuff in the margins. Some of the dialogue can be a little too rambly and scattershot in some scenes, but everyone in the cast does stay in character.

This kind of dialogue and character interaction will be happening a lot due to the main story. Simply put, Ocean's Heart's plot can feel repetitive since it relies on the same bread crumb trail: looking for Tilia's father. There are story turns about the pirates goals including going to ancient areas of power and a magical sword, but all of it is in service of one plot thread that doesn't really resolve until the end. It feels like a minor complaint compared to the worldbuilding that goes on, but when an undercooked parent search plot keeps pushing away interesting worldbuilding details, it can make the whole adventure feel uneven.

 
 
Tilia fighting a pirate brute in a room full of cannonballs
Wow, a pushover boss fight and a form of exposition.

While the main quest is framed as a race against the clock, Ocean's Heart is packed with surprisingly in-depth side quests.

Legend of Souls

This is even felt as you explore the various islands in Ocean's Heart. You'll be spending your time traveling through villages, navigating dangerous areas full of monsters, and solving environmental puzzles. As you progress through the main path, you'll go through several dungeons and collect new weapons and items which will slowly open up the map. Fans of the Legend of Zelda series will be right at home here.

Overall, these pillars of gameplay are solid. Combat can feel inconsistent at times. Tilia has a wide arc with her sword slashes and the various weapons she gets does help against certain enemy types. But fights can feel like a chore or cheap due to small quirks that keep popping up. Enemy bees spawning from hives that were destroyed half a second ago, environmental effects hurting certain monsters but not others, shielded enemies having pixel perfect blocking until they open themselves up with an attack, the list goes on. Boss battles also feel underwhelming; being little more than health sponges with sweeping attack patterns rather than a final exam for the dungeon they're fought in.

Furthermore, some of the game's crafting and RPG mechanics feel underdeveloped. For example you get a magic gauge, something the game reminds you to watch carefully – there's even potions you can make to refill it – but it refills instantly. I was never worried about running out of magic no matter how many spells or magic items I used. As for RPG elements, you can improve your sword, bow, and armor by bringing materials to a blacksmith. In theory it helps smooth over the quirks in the combat system, but in practice it helps you flatten any threat in seconds.

A villager mentioning a squid vigilante to Tilia
Well I was looking for my dad but this sounds much more interesting...

Thankfully, the dungeons and the overworld are quite nice. The environmental challenges are clever and consistently reward you for savvy spatial awareness. The puzzles themselves aren't too difficult, simple levers, button pressing, and key hunting make up the lion's share of these challenges, but they kept me engaged nonetheless.

The odd thing is that while the main quest is framed as a race against the clock, Ocean's Heart is packed with surprisingly in-depth side quests. At first, these seemed to be minor challenges, the earliest ones being a variation on “go here, beat this monster, get some money,” but those slowly gave way to unexpected depth. Without wishing to spoil, there are side quests that include entirely optional dungeons and areas filled with items and abilities you don't actually need to finish the game. Truly challenging dungeons and boss encounters that help add texture and atmosphere to the game's world. It was a legitimate surprise to see so much effort and energy put into content that can be completely missed. While the main adventure can be handled in about seven to eight hours, all of this optional content can easily double that runtime.

It wasn't until I did some digging that these design decisions started to make sense. The director for Ocean's Heart was Max Mraz, a programmer made famous for his retro de-make of Bloodborne, called Yarntown on itch.io. It was a very impressive recreation of a Soulslike, and a lot of its DNA can be found in this game as well. The self-contained puzzle challenges, the deceptively absorbing optional deviations, and the barebones main plot can be traced back to the challenges and lessons learned from this initial project.

 

It's that kind of passionate energy that helped me continue playing Ocean's Heart. While parts of it are rough and irritating, there were equal parts of creative imagination and savvy design on display. When cheap enemy attacks or a string of missteps would lead to my death, the game's checkpoint system would temper that irritation. When I get lost navigating the more labrynthine sections or lose track of objectives, the main menu has notes and updates on every single adventure I had taken on.

Tilia Finding a health upgrade in a lit cavern
Well that was worth jumping through some zany hoops.

Ocean's Heart | Final Thoughts

Despite having a few questionable design choices, Ocean's Heart is an ultimately pleasant experience. If you want to experience a retro-inspired adventure that you can finish over the weekend, this is the game to check out. Just don't be surprised if you'd rather get lost in the world than follow the main story.


TechRaptor reviewed Ocean's Heart on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game will be available January 21st.

Review Summary

7.0
When it isn't going through the motions with its main story, Ocean's Heart is an imaginative retro adventure worth your time.

Pros

  • Solid Puzzle and Overworld Design
  • Great Side Quests and Optional Content
  • Good Checkpoints and UX Elements

Cons

  • Slightly Unpolished Combat
  • Serviceable But Forgettable Main Quest

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Staff Writer

Born in 1990, Tyler Chancey's earliest memories were of an NES controller in his hands, and with it a passion that continued into his adulthood. He's written for multiple sites, has podcasted, and has continued to shape and encourage new talent to greater heights.