Heaven’s Vault is a story about an archaeologist who is sent off to a vast open world in search of a missing person. Navigate the depths of the Nebula as Aliya, the young archeologist, and her robot friend Six, to decipher an ancient language and discover the mystery of what happened to Janini, a missing roboticist. Heaven’s Vault will take you on a journey to uncover an ancient language, explore the ruins of a lost era, and slowly peel away the secrets that surround the enigma of the past.
The game plays like a mix between a visual novel and an open-world exploration style genre, with a heavy emphasis on discovery. There is no introduction to controls, so there is a learning curve. However, after an hour I found myself immersed in the story. The beautiful visuals and sounds certainly helped. I’ll unpack this further in the sections below.
The mechanics are unique, and there’s a few things I need to touch on here.
First, I need to dig into the artstyle because it does impact the mechanics. Heaven’s Vault features a mix of 2D and 3D graphics, and this is both good and bad. The good is that the graphics are intriguing, and they look quite nice on the Switch— beautiful, even. In fact, I was very impressed with each new area of the game, especially with the semi-open world aspects. You could move around most areas in third person, and “interact” with certain buildings, things, or people. By interact, this means mostly expanding your commentary to Six or discovering some kind of script/artifact to decipher.
The bad is that this art style could at times lead to awkward mechanics. Occasionally, I was left with a blocked field of view while moving or talking with another character. Moving through narrow spaces feels clunky as well.
The other gameplay feature here is the language deciphering. This is mostly a trial and error process. Discovering artifacts throughout your journey is central to the game. You will find that you need to translate inscriptions on these artifacts; all this means is that you are essentially selecting words that might fit the translation. Even if the word selection you choose is wrong at the time, you will come back to it later when the translation is more relevant to the story, so you have a chance to re-select a new translation for the word.
Finally, we also have the moon sailing. There isn’t really much to this feature besides following dialogue and occasionally using the L and R buttons to drift a certain direction. Usually, you can choose to skip the manual moon sailing and opt for a fast-travel style feature instead. Unless you are really invested in the dialogue, the moon sailing can feel tedious. There’s no real gameplay interaction with it, and it feels largely automated.
It’s worth noting that certain cutscenes are fully-voiced as Aliya. They read like a story, and help give more context to the world and your character. This was a great feature that gave life to the story, and added to the overall immersive atmosphere.
More than that, the soundtrack for this title is outstanding. Beautifully cohesive with each scene and the atmosphere overall. I would describe it as mysterious and enchanting, reminiscent of an ancient history waiting to be discovered. It captured the essence of the game perfectly, and I fell in love with the way it tied each scene together.
The dialogue, on the other hand, is another story. Between engaging plot-moving dialogue is several lines of “filler” script. Some of the dialogue choices felt borderline pointless as well.
Otherwise, it was actually quite distracting due to the way it appears in the middle of the screen. What makes this worse is that it also disappears rather quickly, so you need to immediately read it if you want to follow the dialogue. I found this frustrating. While trying to enjoy the art of the game, I was constantly distracted by the non-stop banter between Aliya and Six. I couldn’t even finish reading some of the selectable dialogue options before they disappeared altogether. I would suggest either fewer interactions, a voice-over to the dialogue, or that it appears at the bottom of the screen, so the player can choose to follow along without feeling pressured to. This might not seem like a major issue, but it was persistent throughout my playthrough.
Heaven’s Vault is meant to be played with patience. It has an atmospheric element reminiscent of a title like Outer Wilds, but with a unique exploration based on language deciphering. This slowly expands the story and context of the world, making each new discovery feel valuable.
This is a great title for those who want to delve deep into a mystery, and challenge themselves with questioning and exploring the enchanting world. It requires patience, but also entices the player to think for themselves about each new piece of information. As the story progresses, everything starts to click together like pieces in a puzzle. The deeper you get, the more enjoyable this title becomes. It’s a journey that spans across space and time with an unraveling mystery.
You can find Heaven’s Vault on the eShop now.
Special Thanks to Inkle for the review code.