It’s no secret that narrative-based video games have exploded in popularity in recent years. While solid gameplay and mechanics still play a vital role in these types of games, the quality of the story is still the most critical factor, and that’s the case with Armature, the latest from the Studio, Where The Heart Leads .
First announced on PlayStation’s Independence Day last March, Where The Heart Leads (formerly Where The Heart Is) puts players in control of a family man named Whit who is transported on a journey through time and space. The game is similar to other choice-heavy titles such as Heavy Rain, where the decisions the player makes can have a major impact on the story.
Where The Heart Leads begins on one fateful stormy night with a massive sinkhole in the middle of Whit Anderson’s farm. Anderson’s family dog, Kathy, ventured too close to the sinkhole due to heavy rain and rumbling thunder. In order to save the dog, Whit bravely dived into the darkness and found himself trapped in a surreal world.
Upon further exploration, Whit soon discovered that he was passing through a pivotal moment 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 significant figures. The character that shaped his life.
While Where The Heart Leads’ story leans heavily on what you’d expect from most narrative games, there are some lighthearted moments, especially as Whit’s relationship with childhood friend Rene develops. Players should also expect to face a plethora of decisions throughout the game, leading to about a dozen different endings. Of course, the choices players make during their journey through time will shape the narrative players will experience, giving them the power to drive the story forward and end the way they want.
The variety of choices and many consequences increases the replayability value of Where the Heart Goes. Players may find themselves reloading saves to override or change decisions they’ve made. Fortunately, the save mechanism is well thought out in Where The Heart Leads, given that players can save their progress at any point in the game. Autosave will also help players back up, especially when critical decisions catch them off guard. Some players may find that, after reloading a save, they cannot remember what happened in their last session. Thankfully, pressing the L2 button on the controller will bring up the last conversation the player had with the NPC.
Each character also opens up a unique storyline for Whit to fix, most of these side stories interlinked with other characters. While each story is different, they all ultimately affect Whit and how other characters and the world perceive him.
Although the game is divided into chapters, players can explore each level as much as they want and talk to any character they like. It’s worth noting, however, that talking to characters may result in the player having to make big decisions on the spot, so it’s recommended that players explore as much as possible at first, especially since the items scattered throughout the levels can provide insight into what each character is facing. Clues to struggles and problems.
Due to its narrative-based gameplay, players will spend most of their time talking to various NPCs. According to Armature Studio, the game has a script of 600,000 words, so given that the game doesn’t contain any spoken dialogue, players should expect a lot of reading. It can feel repetitive at times. It would be nice if “Where the Heart Leads” had voice acting, especially at key moments, to relieve the player from reading so much text. However, players should be aware that while the pace of the story starts off a little slow, it picks up gradually halfway through the game, providing players with a varied and exciting experience.
Overall, Where the Heart Leads is visually appealing due to its gorgeous graphics, reminiscent of watercolor paintings. However, in some parts, assets such as trees and buildings make it difficult to see where the player is or where they are going. There are also times when the prompt to start a conversation with an NPC doesn’t trigger at the correct time, and players may find themselves circling a character just to start a conversation.
Other than these niggles, the game looks really nice. It can be bright and cheerful when it needs to be, or it can be dark and gloomy when the story needs it. Heart Leads’ soundtrack fits perfectly in the game – it’s neither loud nor overbearing, and it hits at just the right time, highlighting the emotional highs and lows the characters face.
Where the Heart Leads ticks all the boxes for a great narrative game, despite bearing no resemblance to Armature’s previous titles such as ReCore and Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. Its story is deep and intriguing, and players should expect an exhilarating yet harrowing experience. Throughout the lengthy campaign, players can look forward to traversing a vividly beautiful world filled with watercolor-inspired artwork and a soundtrack that complements the story. While there have been some minor performance issues, especially with the game’s environments and interactivity, these are rare and easily fixed with updates expected to arrive on launch day. Despite its shortcomings, Where The Heart Leads offers a stunningly emotional experience and plenty of endings to rival games with the best replay value. It’s a game that’s sure to please players, and might even inspire them to reflect on their real-life choices and the consequences it has on their loved ones.
Heart Leads will launch on PS4 on July 12, 2021, and will be playable on PS5 via backwards compatibility. Game Rant obtained the PS4 code for this review.