Where The Heart Leads is a surreal narrative-based game that will take players on a journey filled with emotional highs and lows.
It is no secret that narrative-based video games have shot in popularity over the recent years. While solid gameplay and mechanics still play a crucial role in these types of games, the quality of the story remains the most critical element, which is the case in Armature Studio’s latest title, Where The Heart Leads.
First announced at PlayStation’s Indie Day last March, Where The Heart Leads (formerly titled Where The Heart Is) puts players in control of a family man named Whit, who is transported into a journey through time. The game is similar to other choice-heavy titles such as Heavy Rain where players make decisions that can have a significant impact on the story.
Where The Heart Leads kicks off on a fateful stormy night, where a giant sinkhole opens in the middle of Whit Anderson’s farm. Due to the heavy rain and rumbling thunder, The Anderson’s family dog named Casey ventures too close to the sinkhole and falls in. In an attempt to save the dog, Whit bravely descends into the darkness, where he finds himself trapped in a surreal world.
Upon further exploration, Whit soon discovers that he is being transported throughout pivotal moments in his life. Here, players will make important decisions that will affect Whit’s relationship with his overbearing parents, his misunderstood brother, his childhood sweetheart, and other important figures that shaped his life.
While the story of Where The Heart Leads leans on the heavy side, which is expected of most narrative-based games, there are still some light moments, especially during the development of Whit’s relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Rene. Players should also expect to face tons of decisions throughout the game, leading to about a dozen different endings. Of course, the choices player makes during his journey through time will shape the narrative players will experience, giving them the power to drive the story and ending in whichever way they want.
The varied choices and many consequences boost Where The Heart Leads’ replayability value. Players may find themselves reloading a save to reverse or change a decision they made. Luckily, the save mechanic is pretty well thought out in Where The Heart Leads, given that players can save their progress at any point in the game. Autosaves will also help players have a fallback, especially when crucial decisions take them by surprise. Some players may find that after reloading a save, they cannot remember what has transpired in their last session. Thankfully, pressing the L2 button on the controller brings up the last conversation players had with an NPC.
Each character also opens unique storylines for Whit to fix, and most of these side stories are interconnected with other characters. Although each story is different, all of them eventually affect Whit and influence how other characters and the world perceive him.
While the game is divided into several chapters, players can explore each level as they please and talk to any character they like. However, it is worth noting that talking to a character can lead to a major decision that players must make on the spot, so it is advisable for players to explore as much as they can at first, especially since items scattered in a level could provide clues as to the struggles and problems each character is facing.
Due to its narrative-based gameplay, players will spend most of their time talking to various NPCs. According to Armature Studio, the game features a 600,000-word script, so players should expect tons of reading given that the game does not include any voiced dialog. Given that the bulk of Where the Heart Leads consists of players conversing with other characters, the gameplay can sometimes feel repetitive. It would have been nice if Where the Heart Leads featured voiceovers, especially in crucial moments, to give players a break from reading so much text. However, players should note that while the story’s pace is a tad slow at first, it picks up towards the middle of the game, offering players a varied and exciting experience.
Overall, Where the Heart Leads is visually appealing thanks to its gorgeous graphics, reminiscent of a watercolor painting. However, there are some parts where assets such as trees and buildings made it difficult to see where the player is or where they are going. There are also moments that the prompt that would initiate a conversation with an NPC wouldn’t trigger at the right time, and players may find themselves circling a character just to start a conversation.
Apart from these minor issues, the game is really gorgeous to look at. It can be bright and cheery when it needs to be, or it can be dark and gloomy when the story calls for it. Where the Heart Leads’ soundtrack blends perfectly in the game – it isn’t loud and overbearing and comes in at the right times, highlighting the emotional highs and lows that the characters face.
Despite not having any similarities with Armature’s previous games, such as ReCore and Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, Where the Heart Leads checks all the boxes for a great narrative-based game. Its story is deep and interesting, and players should expect an uplifting yet gut-wrenching experience. Throughout its long campaign, players can expect to traverse a vividly beautiful world filled with watercolor-inspired artwork and a soundtrack that fits the story well. While there are minor performance issues, especially with the game’s environment and interactivity, these are few and far between and can easily be fixed with an update expected to drop on launch day. Despite its shortcomings, Where The Heart Leads offers an amazing and emotional experience with many endings that would rival games with the best replay value. The game will surely satisfy and maybe even inspire players to reflect on their choices in real life and the consequences it entailed on their loved ones.