The bullet-hell with Zelda-like overworld ITTA came from a development tale of personal struggle. Jacob Williams, a.k.a. Glass Revolver, began work on the game at a low point in life. The very development process of the game helped Jacob cope and build himself anew. He infused his work with themes of despair and hope and thus, from development to actual in-game themes, ITTA demonstrates that a positive force can rebound from darkness.
The game's story begins with a heavy sight. When you first assume control of titular player character Itta, you see her family's dead bodies lying around you. This includes Itta’s father and sibling—her mother is further on. Itta’s desire to learn what happened, where she is, and what’s become of her mother launches the game’s main quest. Thus, after a dark start, Itta enters a world whose very essence is ruin and decay.
A Fallen World in ITTA
The overworld is a story of ruin. Crumbled structures and featureless corpses are integrated into the landscape. The living NPCs speak of spirits and loved ones who need help or who have already met their end. Even the bosses, in death, inspire sorrow. When you, as Itta, defeat one of the bosses, Itta bemoans the difficulty in killing something. Most bosses are cursed forms of once-upright people. After defeating one boss, I spoke to an NPC right outside where the battle took place. He asked about the fight, and I wondered at his curiosity. Then I found out the boss had been his mother.
I play the game with a continual awareness at the fragility of mortal life and the constant threat of loss. Everywhere in the game is the reinforcement that bodies and structures crumble and that reality rests primarily with spirits—or whatever inner force drives us.
Even The Statues and Structures Had Life
Where ITTA goes one step further is by giving life to its ruins and statues. An unsettling, consistent visual effect in the game is when a cracked and crumbling monument appears to be bleeding and crying. One of the earliest ruins in the game looks like a decayed face—the beginnings of a skull.
Some of the statues talk to Itta. Others are boss battles. Some of them are related to one another like family: one statue holding up a bridge tasked me with the grim quest of killing his cursed father. Once done, he was no longer held back and could connect the bridge so I could cross. But still—what a price.
You’ll also come across mechanical structures that saw better days. One of them dangles from a kind of gooey substance off a ledge and says to Itta: “I’ve been hanging here for so long that I don’t really mind anymore.” This land was once a great place but a catastrophe has made it a land of loss. There’s references to conflict between Mono, a god, and a royal family. Whatever happened in this once happy world between those two forces, things fell apart. Even the buildings bleed—you’ll literally see blood pouring out from certain structures.
Another chilling sight was dozens of small statues crowded in one location. There was almost an army of them. Had these statues once been alive, too? What happened to them? So much in this world now stands still, stopped in time.
The bodies of humans and animals lay intertwined with the ground, almost a natural feature. Several of the living are broken, too: I encountered at least two people who were blinded. In one area the bodies of sheep are strewn about, flies buzzing around. I found this sight particularly gruesome as I had just met a shepherd and his living flock.
Your NPC companion is the ghost of the family cat. It can take different forms, depending on certain objects you activate, but all of them spirit. There is hardly anything fully alive and whole in ITTA. This is a world where the living and the dead intermingle. Images of death and hardship are carved into the very land and all the foundations. But Itta presses on, the one sign of movement and advancement.
Bound to Fate
The most striking moments come when you realize that others, like Itta, have explored this land on a similar quest but failed. The man referenced above, whose mother had become one of the bosses you fight, said to Itta that she had been on the same quest: “I know you’re not going to stop,” he tells Itta. “So just… go all the way, okay?” He further implies that his mother had come up short, thus leading to her corrupted state, and implies that Itta’s triumphs may free all the souls suffering here. But nothing is certain; Itta could end up like the rest of them.
Additionally, most NPCs are surprised to see that Itta is a child. Children don’t often pass through here. One key character in the game comments that Itta is different from the others because she refuses to give in. Thus, she may be the only hope for the all the broken trapped here.
I have not completed ITTA so cannot comment on the full story. But it’s clear that its setting is a land of suffering and, in conquering bosses, Itta is hopefully moving towards freeing the lost and tormented. There are a lot of unanswered questions where I’m at in the game, but the ruined, decaying landscape makes clear that despair dominates. It's written in the very foundations.