Visual Novel Review: Heaven Will Be Mine
Despite my often-well-earned reputation, I do make mistakes.
A few years ago, I reviewed a little title called We Know the Devil. Due to my Southern Christian upbringing, the games theme of youths challenging the thumb of religion they were pinned under was a warning sign roughly the size of the Brooklyn Bridge: especially when I played it and realized it wasn’t all that good. So, I decided to take some precautions to separate the inherent emotions of the theme from the actual quality of the game. I went above and beyond to find any positives I could to have something good to talk about, I put up a warning before the review essentially summarizing the entire thing and have answered every question I could on the review when asked of me.
What good did it do? None good. Zero. Nil.
Unfortunately, despite my best attempts, the main thing I was trying to avoid happened anyway. For that, I can only blame myself. It’s like trying to avoid tripping when you’ve already started stumbling: you’ll only make your fall that much worse. Ergo, this time around, I see no point in pulling my punches. If the fans of Aevee Bee and her motley crew take it the wrong way: so be it. Might as well be despised for fully saying what I think than watering down the message and catching flack anyway.
So, lesson learned. This is Heaven Will Be Mine.
- Genre: Science Fantasy
- Release Date: July 25, 2018
- Developer: Worst Girl Games
- Publisher: Pillow Fight
- Language: English
- Platform: PC, iOS, Android
- Website: Itch.Io | Steam
Oh, and before we go a step further if I see one more person say this is has any inspiration from the Gundam franchise, I will projectile vomit. ‘iT hAs GianT ROboTS jp, sO IT mUST bE GUNDaM’. Don’t be lazy, people. HWBM’s influence are obvious enough that the only comparison I’ll allow it to have to one of the most storied franchises in all of media is that it may, MAY have taken some ideas from Gundam SEED: literally one of the worst anime series of all time. Yay.
So then, if HWBM isn’t influenced by Gundam, what are its influences? Interstellar, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Christine Love’s body of work are the biggest influences here. You don’t have to know any of this media right now to understand how it influenced this work. All you need to understand for the moment is that this developer does have influences and themes they use, but not to comment on, or explore, or subvert. Really, it’s used more as a shield at best. At worst? We’ll get to it.
Okay, with that pedantic fanboy moment out of the way, let’s just dive into it.
I toyed with the idea of discussing the plot: at the very least, discuss the parody it wants to be. The problem with that is that in order to discuss the plot, you must admit that there isn’t one: or, rather, that the developers don’t want there to be one. A ‘plot’ refers to a sense of both structure and direction: this game has neither. That isn’t a bad thing on its own as you can still do great fiction without narrative structure or direction said the fan of Samuel Beckett’s writing. But, even then, it comes down to the story you want to tell. And if the story you want to tell isn’t what you are telling, it will show.
The passionate moments when it comes to the story it really wants to tell: The World versus those The World consider ‘other’. Outside of that, nothing sticks. While there is a metric butt ton of lore and background information, it feels like it was all included as a distraction: like a child who won’t shut up about their day to avoid talking about how they got in trouble. The developers know this on some level, which is why so much of this information is off to the side for the people who want to know it but isn’t supplemental or necessary to play the game.
Unfortunately, only a massive shift in narrative vision could have made any of the background noise something more than noise. The story of the Memorial Foundation, the lie that served as their casus belli, and the internal split on what to do as the Earth calls for them to return home should be the more than enough for narrative tension. Yet, instead, the developers chose to try and subvert the superficial conflicts it set up. No matter what you think about conflict in fiction, you need in a war story. Without it, there is no emotional investment to form an effective subversion or even a parody. It’s especially important if you’re trying to, God help you, write a romantic arc involving the characters involved in said fraud war.
As for our main trio, Saturn, Luna-Terra and Pluto are, essentially, the same character. All three are the special for their respective organization. All three have a desire to rebel or actively rebel against ‘The World’ and are allowed to do so because they are The Special of their respective organization. All three have the option of joining forces with one another after realizing that they were being set up as humanity’s new enemy….and to get laid which is really the most important thing here. And the game is hoping you want to see all three end up together after they inevitably force The World to change.
It is arguably an extension of the tropes scattered between the three mains of WKTD. However, this one is executed much worse thanks largely to its setting. At bare minimum, there was conflict between the three main protagonists of WKTD, they had distinctive view points they brought into the scenario and they were placed in a scenario that naturally allowed for those characteristics to develop. That game repeatedly flushed opportunities to develop its characters, but I won’t go into things I’ve already reviewed.
Beyond that, WKTD fairs far better with character development because WKTD was a riff on the horror genre: a genre that excels at sticking a handful of characters in an enclosed space and turning up the pressure to see who cracks and who survives. Outside of that genre, that approach collapses entirely. The Mecha genre simply does not provide the same settings and themes that, essentially, gives writers an Easy Mode option. If you want character development for something like HWBM, you must do it yourself and not hope following tropes will do it for you and the game is not interested in developing them.
Now they do try to remedy this issue, but the cure is worse than the sickness. It’s a toxic combination of third-party character development and narrative validation. The characters essentially develop the other characters by shouting what we need to know about said character to us. You want to know why any of the three main characters are amazing? Give it ten minutes and one of them will tell you everything you need to know about the other one. This is punctuated with a reminder from the narrator just how awesome they all are. They are truly amazing, and the entire world needs to know just how amazing they are all.
Crap, now I’m about to projectile vomit again.
The problem with this is that, again, it’s a cop out. Logically speaking, there is no need to write scenes that flesh out these characters if you can just have someone tell us outright, which means there is no reasons to build on said character knowledge after the saccharine monologue is over. No time is taken to build on anything; which ironically makes the most sense of any of the writing so far. After all, as far as the game ins concerned, these characters are fine as they are and it’s the rest of the world trying to pressure them in changing that’s wrong. So, there’s no need for them to go through anything that makes them reconsidered their choices or makes them change. Between that and the cold reality that this entire game could’ve happened with a single lead, it hamstrings emotional investment in the game.
The romance? Well, the overall conceit of the game is treated as a joke, the narrative is tension-less and the characters we’re supposed to be the most invested in are all essentially the same person. So, imagine when you get to the parts were, they finally start ‘flirting’ with one another? If you said it was bad, congrats: you’re starting to get the underlying context of this review.
It’s a near perfect crash of logical narrative behavior. The story needs conflict and tension to amp up the emotions of those involved in the conflict and tension which leads to the search for an outlet for said conflict and tension. By removing the conflict and narrative tension, it never feels like any of them hooking up or making out with one another is a natural outcome: just what they’re supposed to be doing at that particular moment because the script says so. This affects the choices and overall narrative later, since it never feels like a choice in the first place. Kind of liking using the bathroom or yawning: two other functions that don’t require anything other than a pulse. It’s a shame and, unlike my usual snark, I really do mean that. A genuine romantic angle between actual enemies during an actual war could have fixed a lot of the narrative problems here.
So, what do we take away from this game’s attempt at a story beyond all its failures? Well, the desire to change the world. This is probably the most fascinating thing about the game and the reason why I decided to review it beyond just looking at its abundant issues in the naïve hope that other developers don’t mimic these mistakes. As I’ve said earlier in this review, the true theme of the game is about a group of ‘Other’ (here the stand-in for LGBTQ folks) young people fighting against the status quo of their world and changing it for the better of those who fit into said Other category.
WKTD did something similar with its True Ending which I ripped apart enough in my review of that game. Here, the end goal is the same: the world is the problem and it has to be forced to change. What’s interesting, at least for me, is that theme is the opposite extreme, or possibly the response to the work of one Christine Love. I did a commentary on the narrative arcs Love used once and the usual major theme of her work usually is if The World decides you’re different, The World is going to break you somehow. It is a consistent narrative thread running from the start of her work to her most recent title. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum you have Aevee Bee here taking that same narrative thread, but turning it so that The World loses and the Others win.
As a critic, I find this conversation between the two fascinating on a few different levels, but that should be saved for another forum. For now, the biggest takeaway from the story is that it’s a total mess. Unless you are dialed in with the developer’s grievances against The World, whatever that term manifests as for you, then all you have is a continually pretentious, often vapid charisma vacuum featuring a bunch of characters who ‘matter’. It’s literally the gaming equivalent of the rich girl in high school who would rebel against authority out of boredom.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation for Heaven Will Be Mine is bad. Really bad. JESUS TAP-DANCING CHRIST THAT FELT SO GOOD TO SAY OUT LOUD.
Here’s the thing: I have read some of my contemporary’s takes on this game and one of the constant points of praise is that the character art look very good. I found that interesting to read because there’s more to a game than the individual character art. The character profile pics are not bad, though there are some artistic weakness specifically in their expressions. Different people express different emotions differently (duh), and good character art keeps this in mind by trying to make character expressions feeling natural to the character. That doesn’t mean they do 1,000 different emotional variations, but a smile from, say, Rosa in Cupid and a smile from Catherine denotes the same emotion but clearly expresses who they are as characters.
Most of the characters’ expressions tend to bleed together as if they’re coming from the same person. The only two characters that seemingly escape this trend are Pluto and Mars and that’s just barely since they seemingly share a lot of the same emotional expressions as well. With one of my chief criticisms of the game being that we could’ve pulled this off with a singular protagonist, anything that furthers that feeling isn’t good news. But to be fair to the artist, this is a huge step up from the art of WKTD so slow progress is still good.
The rest of the game looks horrible. The color scheme is garish and vomits (I’m using the allusion of vomiting a lot today) on the rest of the backgrounds, giving HWBM this disoriented, almost nightmarish quality. The setting also doesn’t give enough of a surreal vibe to work in harmony with the artwork. Then there are the mech designs which make some of the most outlandish mech designs look sane. Forgoing the fact that they all look like they were scribbled onto construction paper with a marker, the only one of the three that looks like a mech that one could actually pilot without breaking every bone in their bodies trying to TURN LEFT is the Mare Crisium. And even then, more sensible mech designs were pulled off with G Gundam and they had a damn Sailor Moon Gundam on that show.
And yes, I understand the allegorical nature of the mechs, here dubbed ‘Ship Selves’. I know what it is supposed to represent and the fantastical nature fueling their designs. But here’s the rub: IF these things are supposed to be a representation of the true nature of the characters, shouldn’t we be able to, I dunno, see them clearly and get a sense of how they work? Wouldn’t that help us better understand the characters and differentiate them beyond how cool they are all and how much Saturn wants to smash them all? Maybe I’m still being pedantic with my desire for visual clarity and sensible designs: I dunno.
The game is jarring to look at and probably why the biggest takeaway was how the cast looks. It’s the only think designed well. The music also gets a shout-out, but it’s a backhanded compliment at best. I don’t feel like repeating myself on this one, because what I said about this composer and their work for WKTD still holds true now, It’s a case of a big fish swimming in a little pond. There are a lot of excellent tracks here that, again, outpaces the game it was written for. It’s a nice mixing of traditional, science fiction-inspired tracks from say 2001 or, Hell, Interstellar and electronica. I cannot say it’s the best I’ve heard this year, but it is good on its own which is a small victory in and of itself so check it out at your leisure.
Usually at this time I talk about the technical aspects of the game: the programming and functions. However, while we will discuss this, I want to take the opportunity to discuss another technical aspect of visual novels that I don’t normally: the writing. No, not the story: the writing. Follow me on this one.
In a typical narrative, no matter how it branches off or deviates from accepted narrative structures and direction, all feed into one another to keep one or more plot threads going. Christopher Nolan is known for his non-linear storytelling, however the story he is telling is consistent throughout. He just finds ways to tell it out of order. Aevee Bee’s style of writing is, well, tricky. She favors a vignette style of writing: relying on short scenes that, more often than not, self-contained. The thing is, vignettes aren’t supposed to be a writing style. The website Literary Devices describes it thus,
Vignette is a small impressionistic scene, an illustration, a descriptive passage, a short essay, a fiction or nonfiction work focusing on one particular moment; or giving an impression about an idea, character, setting, mood, aspect, or object. Vignette is neither a plot nor a full narrative description, but a carefully crafted verbal sketch that might be part of some larger work, or a complete description in itself.
The larger point is that trying to bend the device of vignettes into a narrative style is, well, the open mouth of insanity. It’s simply not conducive to writing anything more what we’ve seen so far from this developer: short scenes that push an underlying theme, but not a cohesive narrative. Then you tie in the over-reliance on the purplest of prose and the problem spirals.
I don’t know how one would even begin to change their style of writing, but something does have to change here in order to give the developer an opportunity to fully flesh out a story. We can go back and forth on the themes all day, but if those themes can only be barely expressed because of the author’s style, it’s time to reconsider the style.
As for the technical programming parts of the game, HWBM employs an interesting interface lay out that, frankly, deserves to be in a better game. You have essentially a home screen at the start of each day that allows you to look at Communications (the backstory of the game), or Messages between the character and one of their overseers for their respective organizations. Finally, you have the Mission screen for starting one of the vignettes. It’s a very smooth interface to be sure, but when you consider what it is built for then we have a problem.
The Messages are mostly used for comedic asides that show, if you don’t already known, that these girls are both snarky and awesome (and identical, but let’s not belabor that point). The lore runs into all of the issues previously stated: if the game treats it like window dressing why should we take it seriously. But it’s the Mission tab that really gets under-utilized here. There is a great idea here that allows for the players to skip vignettes entirely, fully choose the direction they want to go and the game forced to reconcile the storyline with the player not reading every single thing put in the game for them to read.
Nope. This one stays locked on rails. It isn’t a bad choice, just not an innovative one. This layout and UI could certainly lead to something more interesting down the road, but for now it’s purely aesthetic.
……………………..Well if we must.
A single playthrough of Heaven Will Be Mine took me about ten hours with all three routes clocking in somewhere between twenty-eight and thirty hours. Now, this may not be reflective of everyone’s experience. I read every communication and text message for all three characters; hence the longer time. The different endings also leave little to be desired. There is no real reward for getting through to each of the characters’ endings that you cannot get from a singular main character.
So, even if you’re some kind of true believer and want to play this one, you’ll get everything you need in one go.
You know what would have saved this game? Female Muslim Mech Pilots. They could been the relatives of the Muslim Magical Girls that the Earth sends in to stop this latest batch of worst girls from ruining everything. Just saying.
As I played through Heaven Will Be Mine for the last time, I was struck by juvenile it is. Considering this is a genre known and mocked for its reliance on telling stories set in high school, that’s saying something. But here it’s more pronounced: more defiantly juvenile. Not only are the characters more juvenile, but also the approach to developing and producing the game. This is down to its marrow: down to the tone it was written in. Again, when the narration feels like its a fangirl describing her favorite piece of media to you after a hyper-active binge watch instead of a force trying to pull you into a larger tale, that means you’re a bystander to the developers, well, getting off on their own ideas for lack of better imagery.
It’s a often times a rambling mess that lacks the focus and maturity of a seasoned writer and developer. The worst of the year? Probably not. I cannot say that with confidence right now. But, at the same time, at some point this developer has to stand on their own feet and not rely on tropes, or nostalgia, or the sheer will of their audience, or anyone other than themselves to deliver a good story. But as of Heaven Will Be Mine, they are not and they have not.
Heaven Will Be Mine fails on nearly level. Narratively hollow and artistically tedious, this stands as one of the most pretentious pieces of work I’ve seen in any medium.