HEARTBEAT

I heard a lot of people praising this game as a unique twist on the jRPG formula with a lot of UnderTale inspiration and great female characters. Then I heard that the developers were TERFs, which just made me even more curious while also killing my desire to give these people any money. So I pirated it.

The game is. Bad. So, so bad. Trying to understand it sends me into a brain-killing fever. But let’s try.

So remember when I reviewed The Tenth Line I said, “I routinely found myself getting lost from line to line in cutscenes, because nothing anyone said or did made the slightest bit of sense.”

BOY HOWDY did I not realize how much worse it could get. HEARTBEAT actually has many of the exact same exposition problems as The Tenth Line, but ramped up to 11. I could at least follow the overall plot of TTL; I can make no such claims about this disaster.

Okay. So.

I brought a few expectations with me when I started the game. I had heard that it had an all-female main cast and had great representation for lesbians, but also that it was made by TERFs, so I was on the lookout for anything gender-related. I was also told that it “had a lot of refreshing takes on the jRPG genre” and was inspired by UnderTale. Additionally, I was told this was a mons game. (It isn’t in the sense of gameplay, but is in the sense of story.)

The opening narration is as follows:

In this world roam both Humans and Mogwai. One born of the stars, one born from the earth.

Two forces fought to stake claim of the land until a Human Ambassador stepped forth.

The Mogwai, moved by kindness, agreed to compromise with the Humans.

Since then, Mogwai sought for distinct humans akin to the old Ambassador to become Conjurers.

A Conjurer and their Mogwai partner. Can this camaraderie withstand the test of time?

So, the very first thing in the story is establishing that there are racial tensions here. Humans and mogwai fought a war, and only ended it with a “compromise”.

We proceed to get introduced to the main character, Eve, getting woken up by her mogwai, a cat creature named Klein. Eve proceeds to stumble around the scene like a stoned teenager and has to be constantly reminded by Klein how to do basic tasks. This is clearly done to convey exposition to the audience, but also makes our ostensible protagonist look like a complete idiot.

We’re then told Eve is twenty-two.

I am completely baffled by this. Eve is consistently drawn and written as a young teenager through the entire game, to the point it’s a running gag that several characters assume she’s a kid, but every time they just insist she’s really 22 no we swear. I assumed this was to make her of viable Tumblr-approved romancing age, except she actually doesn’t end up in any romantic relationship and honestly has very little romantic chemistry with anyone — largely because she acts like a child, and thus gives off “little sister” vibes in every interaction that could conceivably be romantic. So I’m left with no idea why this was done.

Next, Eve runs off to… go grocery shopping for her grandpa. She is warned by Klein that “You know how ferals can get.” As soon as she steps into the long grass outside town, we get that confirmed that “feral” means “feral mogwai”. It… does not attack her, but just steals her cupcakes. “We have to teach it a lesson,” Klein says. The “feral” proceeds to do absolutely nothing but politely wait around for Eve to finish her battle tutorial.

After I’ve finished beating the snot out of this evil “feral”, Klein helpfully informs me: “As you know, ferals can attack humans any time. Us Mogwai are creatures of emotion, after all. Simple words and reason are ignored by angry Mogwai. And thus, at times, using force is necessary. Mogwai do not stop fighting until one gives up.”

Eve responds that she feels bad for the by all appearances fully sapient person we just beat up, and Klein responds by guilt-tripping her:

KLEIN: Don’t feel so glum. You know what that does to me. Besides, that was a feral Mogwai! Would you rather have it attack a villager?

EVE: I guess not…

KLEIN: It’s your duty as Conjurer, after all. You must defend your town!

EVE: That’s true, but do we really have to hurt ’em like that?

KLEIN: Us Mogwai are hardy! It’ll take more than a brief spar to “hurt” us. Think of it like those human wrestling matches you fancy on the glowing box at home!

Despite this, mogwai who “surrender” disappear from the map, and if my party gets knocked out I get a game over instead of waking up in a safe location like in Pokemon, the game where you really were fighting wild animals. They also drop money and items like regular RPG enemies, with Klein even outright saying it’s good that we can “pocket a bit of money from ferals”.

So, when people said this was “like Undertale”, what they meant was it was for people who did the genocide run but didn’t want to feel bad about it.

It’s at this point that Farla decided Klein has lobotomized Eve to go along with anything she says because she understands Eve’s only purpose is to be her battery. This explains just about every inconsistency in their characters and is never explicitly contradicted, so I’ve decided it’s canon.

As our heroes continue their trek, they run into a human photographer who is harassing a mogwai for pictures. “Are you okay, Miss?” asks Eve, completely ignoring the innocent mogwai she’s harassing. The photographer immediately proceeds to objectify Klein and call her a “prissy little kitty” when she objects to getting manhandled. When Klein insists she has a name, the photographer asks if her Conjurer named her; Klein says that’s absurd and humans don’t name mogwai, so WHY WOULD ANYONE ASSUME THAT? “We’re partners… it’s not like I own Klein or anything like that. That’d be weird,” Eve says, while completely ignoring the other mogwai who this person has captured against its will. (It will, however, beg you for help if you poke it after the cutscene, which goes completely ignored by Eve.)

Then in the next screen… Hoo boy. I’m just gonna transcribe this straight.

EVE: Hold on, there’s something weird about that Mogwai over there. Doesn’t look like any of the Tanuki from earlier!

KLEIN: Good eye, Eve! She is definitely a Den Tanuki. Master pranksters and swindlers, all of them. […] We have to make sure she’s not causing trouble for passing humans!

SHOPKEEP: G’morning, human! Having fun bullyin’ my cousins on this beautiful day?

EVE: W-what! Those were your cousins? Is this a boss fight or–

SHOPKEEP: Ha ha, what? You’re funny!

KLEIN: Eve, remember what I told you about Tanuki and their pranks? Den Tanuki are no different!

EVE: I don’t wanna assume like that! I mean, she’s not even feral…

Those sure are some words a real person really wrote.

You can literally just replace every instance of “tanuki” with “Black” in that passage and not a word would sound out of place. The tanuki even talks in low-class slang to complete the image.

Klein continues to be a frothing racist for the entire rest of the conversation, and is never called on it at any point even after the shopkeeper becomes a major recurring character who is never anything but helpful. As the game continued, I found that this was a theme: The game shows frighteningly accurate depictions of racism, down to the exact behaviors of appeasement demonstrated by helpless minorities, but not once does it seem to realize what it’s depicting or that it’s bad. The story will eventually go on to reveal there is an entire nation of humans who hunt mogwai for sport, and this is never acknowledged as anything more than an inconvenient obstacle for the heroes to pass through.

After this, a whole bunch of incoherent wheel-spinning happens, so I’m going to lay out the rest of the plot in a logical order and not the one actually given by the game.

The backstory is: Humans wrecked the planet with climate change etc., so they escaped on spaceships to find another habitable world. They ran into evil aliens that drove them back, and when they returned to Earth they discovered that nature spirits (mogwai) had populated it in their absence and returned the planet to some semblance of life. Humans then killed a whole bunch of mogwai, captured and performed horrific experiments on more, and started a war that wrecked the planet all over again, forcing most of the mogwai to retreat underground (or another dimension, I’m not entirely clear on that) into “the Den”. Centuries (?) later, some mogwai left the Den and integrated with human society with the help of conjurers.

Did that sound like it might be relevant? Haha, nope! None of this has anything to do with the plot of the game and is only explained in a few lore scraps in an optional postgame dungeon. The real plot is… No, wait, sorry, I forgot something, we’re not done yet.

Mogwai can only bond with conjurers who are the same gender as them. Female mogs have “yin auras” and male mogs have “yang auras”, and they can only bond like to like because the writers apparently don’t know anything about Yin-Yang symbology other than that they have something to do with gender. This means that mogs are naturally homoromantic in an inversion of humans. Okay, sure, fantasy is a great opportunity for promoting the gay agenda —

Okay except Eve’s great-grandmother was a super awesome conjurer who had a super special trait that made her gender aura glitch out, and apparently mogs think androgyny is the hottest thing ever because it meant she could bond with anyone. So, she bonds with a male mogwai, who then proceeds to seduce the mogwai king who is in a miserable loveless heterosexual marriage and cuckold the queen. Instead of directly punishing any of the people actually involved, the queen tries to bribe Klein into assassinating the conjurer, but Klein has a change of heart and betrays the queen instead. At this point, the queen just sics the guards on all of them (she didn’t do this from the start because…?) and Klein escapes with her conjurer, leaving the other mogwai to be captured and tortured. Also, at some point the king runs off with his kid and gets immediately murdered by the aforementioned mogwai hunters, who for some reason do not kill the kid and instead raise her to hunt her own kind. (You’d think the horror of this would get addressed in any way whatsoever, but lolnope.) For some reason everyone involved in this mess, including Klein herself, blames Klein for all of this and not the dude who actually caused all the problems.

You only learn this about halfway through the game after running in circles doing stupid fetch quests, because Klein refuses to tell anyone anything.

The main plot of the game, such that it is, is that the original conjurer’s other mogwai has escaped prison and is working on a plan to save Sir Can’t-Keep-It-In-His-Pants (who the queen possessed instead of killing, because…?) by ripping chunks out of mogs’ souls and mashing it together into an artificial soul that he can jump to. You only learn this near the end, but fortunately mogs have been chucking pieces of their souls at you the whole game because ~friendship~, so conveniently they can do that without hurting anyone. Then you barge into the mog capital, beat the snot out of Sir Can’t-Keep-It-In-His-Pants, and then you get a puzzle boss where you can either save him or kill him to get a bad ending, which I guess is why people say this game is anything like UnderTale. Then the queen attempts to possess the protagonist next, and either she succeeds and kills everyone, leading to a “bad” ending, or if you’ve done all the sidequests, a random item you get as a reward for one of them deflects the possession and you fight an exhaustingly long boss battle against the queen instead. Then everyone tells the queen she needs to let bygones be bygones and be nice to the people who destroyed her planet and repeatedly betrayed her, and so she does. ~The end.~

Oh, did I mention that the mogwai queen was bound to the conjurer who started the first human-mogwai war and she was abused so horribly that her elemental affinity changed from “all” to “none”? No, I didn’t, because it’s only vaguely alluded to in one sidequest and then never brought up again, because why would that be relevant?

HNNNNGGH

The impression I get from all of… this is that the writers spent way too much time making the world and not enough telling stories in it. Vitally relevant worldbuilding details, like everything about the war, is exclusively told through offhand NPC dialogue, as if you’re supposed to already be familiar with it. This is a fantasy story that does the only thing worse than over-expositing, which is under-expositing. Even after finishing the game, I have barely any idea how anything works or why. When the queen says she wants to destroy all humans, is she actually justified in that? What exactly happened during the war? Why was it started? What even are mogwai in the first place? Tell me how your world works.

So if the story is a cryptofascist dumpster fire, surely the gameplay must be good for the game to be this popular, right?

Oh dear God.

I honestly don’t know if the writing or gameplay is worse, which is saying something. This is yet another RPG that should have been a visual novel — the gameplay elements add absolutely nothing to the story and if anything work against the love & peace message. But at least most RPGs do something with their unnecessary gameplay; this doesn’t. Battles are so incoherently and inconsistently balanced I honestly have to wonder if the game underwent any balance testing at all. Even regular enemies can KO characters in only a few hits, or a single turn if they all gang up on one person.

There are a ridiculous number of elements, but the elemental matchup system is incredibly simple, with every element having only one strength and weakness, and every single monster using the exact same rules. If you can figure out the element of a monster, you don’t have to do any more thinking; the game will never trip you up with any unusual elemental rules, it’s exactly the same for every monster through the whole game. Despite this, the game gives you almost no means to actually interact with this system, because your party is always fixed by the story. You only ever have access to at most three elements at a time, and the game makes no attempt to pair enemies to interact with your current party at all. All through the game I was encountering enemies I had no elemental interactions with at all — no way to exploit their weakness and no attacks that would be affected by their strengths. It made the few enemies that did have interactions look totally random rather than purposeful — and given there seems to have been no attempt to balance the fact that certain enemies make battles 10x harder because they’re supereffective against your sole healer, I’m not inclined to give the devs any benefit of the doubt in that regard.

Despite all of this, the game is actually boringly easy. Enemies die just as fast as your characters and your characters are fully healed when they level up (which they do constantly), so you can frequently beat encounters just by spamming the attack command. Even in boss battles, all that’s required is that you chuck some heal/buff spells around occasionally. With exactly two exceptions, every character is limited to one element (including on their regular attacks), so there is absolutely no strategy to be had even if they’re up against a disadvantage — you just gotta keep attacking.

So the story is a cryptofascist dumpster fire and the gameplay is a completely extraneous waste of time. BUT THE ART’S GOOD, RIGHT?

To answer that, I’ll show you Klein’s portrait:

“Wait,” you say, “where’s the kitty cat? Behind the butch lady?” No, that’s Klein’s human form. You see, when the developers said this was a game about monsters, what they actually meant was monster girls. All mogwai can turn into human forms, and all the mogwai who join your party do so, thus immediately assassinating the one remaining point of interest I had in this game. TURN BACK, KLEIN, YOU WERE BETTER AS A KITTY CAT.

And I can only assume this was done for horny reasons, because, uh…

I have to say, if nothing else it is at least novel in what a gender inversion this is. The men are all uncomfortably and anatomically improbably sexualized with giant pecs bulging underneath skintight suits when they bother to wear shirts at all, while the women are all incredibly sexless and flat-chested. It accomplishes what Journey to Northpass could not, completely by accident.

Oh, and since the developers are TERFs, I just feel the need to mention this:

This character is female. She has a mane. Accidental trans rep, ho!

You may have noticed in those screenshots, if you could tear your eyes away from those shrink-wrapped pecs, that the tilesets are very… blank. I honestly think they might actually be worse than the default graphics, something I never thought I’d say about RPG Maker. They made unique tilesets, but for some unfathomable reason they made it in the godawful block style of RMVX:

HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THAT AND THINK IT IS ACCEPTABLE. HOW. How did any artist look at RMVX’s graphics and say, “You know what this needs? LESS DETAIL. EVERYTHING ELSE IS FINE.”

SOMEONE SPENT TIME ON THIS. SOMEONE SPENT TIME MAKING CUBE BEACH HELL BECAUSE THE DEFAULT CUBE BEACH HELL WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM.

I’m not even an art person and this is making me cry. Why. Why.

This game is a dumpster fire in all aspects. I am genuinely shocked that people paid money for this, and I am even more shocked that critics think there is anything remotely innovative or noteworthy in its execution. Do not buy this game, do not give it any attention, let it rot like it deserves.

13 Comments

  1. Actislazyandwontlogin says:

    Honestly if I saw those quotes with no context I would have assumed that Klein was evil and the twist was going to be she was trying to turn the protag into a racist on purpose, because wow wtf

    1. *she, but yes, that was Farla’s other running theory. Alas, we did not realize that the racism was only set dressing and not something we were supposed to care about.

        1. Honestly, I had a lot of trouble remembering Klein’s gender, because she’s the only main character who stays nonhuman for most of the story and I’ve been primed by other media to read her patronizing, lecturing, controlling behavior as masculine.

          Klein isn’t even the only one like that. To go off on a tangent, I am still really baffled that TERFs could come up with character designs like this:

          This is a woman. Yes, really. If I knew nothing about the creators, I would have assumed that half the cast was non-binary and they were making a statement about gender presentation. Knowing that they apparently love extremely masculine cis women but hate trans women is just… the amount of doublethink it must take to walk that line.

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    2. Farla says:

      Your mogs also repeatedly say mogs are an inferior race because they’re too emotional compared to humans! And refer to many of them as “vermin” and say they need to be exterminated from the area! Even though humans are actually living in mog-built towns and cities except for one single town humans decided to build just to prove they could or something.

      And there’s this great scene where you run into the helpful tanuki again transformed to look like a human in the middle of a human city and everyone starts going “HEY WHY ARE YOU TRANSFORMED THIS IS A MOG-FRIENDLY CITY YOU DON’T NEED TO BE TRANSFORMED BECAUSE IT’S SO FRIENDLY NO ONE CARES YOU’RE A MOG YOU MOG” as the tanuki begs you to shut up and you just keep shouting.

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  2. illhousen says:

    Wow, what a trainwreck on all levels.

    “Undertale-inspired” just means “retro-ish graphic” as far as marketing is concerned.

    Here, there is also a world populated by people humans and monsters, so it actually has more in common with Undertale than a lot of other “Undertale-inspired” games, except in the worst way possible as it just invites comparisons to a story that actually knew what it was doing.

    1. Act says:

      Honestly “inspired by Undertale” has very quickly become a buzzphrase I’ve learned means “absolute crap,” which is probably not what the Undertale team was hoping for.

  3. illhousen says:

    Also, the casual racism is honestly not surprising coming from TERFs. People are rarely if ever just one kind of bigot. It’s a package deal.

    1. What’s bizarre is that they do seem to agree that racism is bad in a general sense, it’s just weird liberal both-sidesism where everyone needs to stop fighting and get along. Which I suppose is actually pretty consistent with people who are conservative in all but one aspect.

      1. Roarke says:

        ‘Bigotry is bad, but we shouldn’t fight it because fighting is also bad’ is basically what qualifies as centrism these days.

        1. Farla says:

          Except you definitely should fight, because the entire game is about beating everyone  except your fellow humans, including the ones who think the only good mog is a dead mog, and the final boss fight is beating an abused wife until she agrees you’re not abusive.

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          1. Roarke says:

            Delightful. I’m going to continue contentedly ignoring everything that has to do with this game.

  4. Addendum: I understand this is insignificant compared to everything else in this mess, but what in the world were the writers trying to do with Yorshk? I kept expecting her to be the final boss; she’s built up as this super scary villain you fight multiple times over the course of the story, but then literally on the final boss’ doorstep she just runs off and the characters just… let it happen? Do you think maybe we should do something about the person who tortured your best friend in an attempt to kill everyone and usurp the throne, Eve? No? We have to beat up the abused wife instead? Okay then.

    I think we’d need, like, a deep brain scan of the writers to understand what anything in this game was supposed to mean.

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