When The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past released in 1991 it was a pivotal moment for gaming. Nintendo developed a rich world for players to explore, an arsenal of weapons to collect, and a variety of enemies to fight few had seen up to that point. 29 years later Max Mraz has created PC title Ocean’s Heart, a game that is looking to recapture that magic. I got to play this indie title and my thoughts can be found in the Ocean’s Heart review below.
A Fun But Flawed 90s Experience
You begin Ocean’s Heart taking control of the main protagonist Tilia on an island called Limestone. On Limestone Tilia works in the family tavern. After a spoiler related event occurs Tilia must leave home. This departure places her on a path to unravel a plot involving pirates, spirits, and the fabled Ocean’s Heart.
While the main story in the game is nothing genre-defining, it does a decent job of holding interest across what is a 7 hour playthrough. Story is told through speaking to NPCs you meet on your journey and in cutscenes. Many of these NPCs have a surprising amount of dialogue that is sometimes informative and sometimes funny. Tilia has her own dialogue which makes her more dynamic as a character and is a welcome addition.
When not talking to townsfolk players are free to explore the different islands that make up the world. These islands are full of things to do. There’s traditional dungeons you would expect and a variety of side quests to complete. These sides quest include their own stories like turmoil within a town’s mercantile club and warring brewers. There are also a number of secrets to find which adds a bit of mystery to each location. Over my 7+ hour playthrough I barely scratched the surface on the side experiences there are each of the islands.
Across the various islands there are a number of dungeons for players to complete both for main story and side story progression. These dungeons range from small to medium in size and contain a variety of puzzles to solve. These puzzles are a good mix of difficulty from simple to more difficult to solve. To solve many of the puzzles you need to find items that will help in the dungeon and the overworld. These items have a variety of usages from gloves that allow you to lift heavy objects to magic arrows that allow you to teleport when shot. The mix of puzzles and using items to solve worked well and showed serious planning. Definitely a bright spot for me.
While much of the dungeon designs are fun experiences there are a few hangups I experienced that took away from my overall enjoyment. One of the more infuriating is that there are a number rooms that are frustrating to deal with due to unforgiving timing and controls that can be a bit wonky at times. Each death in these room whether warranted or not typically returns you to the start of the dungeon which means making a sometimes long trek back to the spot you died at which can get a bit frustrating.
Another aspect of the dungeons which was a letdown to me is the end bosses. Like other games in the genre each dungeon ends with a boss fight. These bosses should be more tough and interesting to deal with than the normal enemies you face in the dungeon and on the overworld. Unfortunately I found it to be almost the exact opposite. Barring the final boss fight none of the dungeon bosses offer any sort of challenge. This is especially true if you do side missions that reward you with upgrades for armor, health and weapons. Given the uniqueness of the items you collect I hoped for a bit more fun and interesting designs for the dungeon bosses.
Controls and a Commitment to 90s Design
Ocean’s Heart commitment to capturing the 90s RPG feel is found in its control scheme. I played the game on both keyboard and controller and found both to be competent. There is one caveat to this of course with that being that the game is tough to play using the joystick for character movement on controller. Instead of joystick you basically have to use the d-pad on your controller. This strict d-pad control scheme may be a dealbreaker for some so it does deserve a mention.
Further commitment to capturing the 90s RPG feel can be seen in other aspects of the game besides control. Menus have a very 90s RPG feel with users scrolling left to right to access the different inventory and map screens. The Character and world design also captures the feel of the time fairly well with the game looking like something out of the era. The only aspect of the committed design I didn’t like was the music. While it is charming at first some of the songs do get fairly repetitive and they seem to constantly play.
Overall I enjoyed my time playing Ocean’s Heart. There are a few aspects of the game I found to be frustrating, but the complete experience was a positive one. The game does a good job capturing the spirit of RPGs from the 90s through fairly dungeons, a solid story with interesting NPCs, and a commitment to design that harkens back to early gaming. There is also a ton of content to explore which means this game has much to offer at a reasonable price tag.