Indie Wonderland: Heaven Will Be Mine

I reviewed We Know The Devil (by Worst Girls Games) way back in the winter of 2016, when I lived halfway across the world and the world was only somewhat smoldering instead of outright on fire. I thought it was an excellent game, one that I thought about all the time and talked about a whole lot — significantly strengthening at least one friendship over it. So when the creators (one of whom I follow on Twitter) announced their next game, Heaven Will Be Mine, I reacted the exact same way I did to We Know The Devil: Studiously avoiding any and all mentions of it, but keeping a sharp eye for the eventual release date.

Turns out: That date is now.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

Heaven Will Be Mine, Or: A Series Of Bad Decisions Led To These Moments

So, here’s a thing: I did a full two-page my-style review of We Know The Devil because I had no idea what kind of game it was, which lead to a first blow-by-blow page full of (low-grade) spoilers and the creeping realization I was playing something that merited a more focused approach. I could do the same thing for Heaven Will Be Mine, but it honestly wouldn’t be that interesting. Here, this is what that would be like:

Hey, character selections!

Hey, weird lore!

Hey, missions!

Hey, space gays!

Repeat the above until you run out of breath.

Let’s instead talk about what makes Heaven Will Be Mine worth talking about.

It’s very tempting to immediately start drawing comparisons to We Know The Devil. There are obvious surface similarities to tempt the idea: After all, We Know The Devil is a game about three bad girls thrown together by circumstance, trying to resist the destructive influence of a harsh world they didn’t choose to make. Meanwhile, Heaven Will Be Mine is a game about three bad girls thrown together, etcetera, etcetera, you get where this joke is going.

Obviously they’re not exactly the same game, or this review would be over at this point. For instance, one crucial difference is that Heaven Will Be Mine takes place in space.

Deep space, in both the literal and figurative senses.

The overall tone is markedly different too. We Know The Devil was grey, oppressive, washed-out, small-feeling. A gloomy summer camp with no spark or soul in the middle of nowhere, where the only fire to be found was in the throes of actual damnation. Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune were similarly ‘nobody’ — they were great characters and I love them to this day, but they weren’t anyone special from the outside. Just three more souls to be ground down by the world, same as everyone else (until suddenly they weren’t).

In contrast, Heaven Will Be Mine is bright and expansive and colourful and full of mystery and promise. It takes place during a spaceborne war for the solar system, with the sights and the variety that sort of setting suggests. And our three girls this time aren’t accidental-heroine bit actors, but major movers and shakers from the word go. There’s Luna-Terra, or Luna-T or LT, the Memorial Foundation’s twice-traitor untouchable ace. Pluto, Cradle’s Graces’ lab-girl princess of power, the mother of stars and all-encompassing kindness. And Saturn, Celestial Mechanics’ prototype star pilot (sort-of, kind-of) who follows no rules but her own — if even those. The difference is night and day.

Similarly, Heaven Will Be Mine is not the story of the three against the world so much as it is the three against each other. Which might still be another shape of the three against the world — listen, it’s a complicated thing. This different approach is reflected in the gameplay organization: You pick one girl and associated organization to follow at the start of the game, and that one’s your focus for that ‘story’, instead of focusing on all three. The story still revolves around the three, but the perspective you pick determines which emails you read, which side characters you talk to, what information you get to see, how that information is characterized…

It’s the difference between Pluto’s calm, but bafflingly red opening…

…Saturn’s Internet Spelling attempted joyride…

…and Luna-Terra’s solitary rage against the machine.

There’s more to talk about here, but before I dive into narrative things I want to dive into the biggest difference between Heaven Will Be Mine and We Know The Devil, which is style. We Know The Devil, for the most part, felt like a grounded summer camp story. With supernatural elements, yes, but it built itself up slow and steady on a grounded framework. There was a sense of hidden world-building and a slow reveal of the more fantastical elements, but delivered in a way that made everything make an internal sort of linear sense.

Heaven Will Be Mine feels more like a dream.

No, for different reasons.

Heaven Will Be Mine feels like the transcription of a dream scenario. Or rather, several overlapping dream scenarios, possibly dreamed up by different people. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen a VN come to being an impressionist piece of art. I appreciate that this description isn’t clarifying, like, anything.

It’s not that things in Heaven Will Be Mine are never well-defined, or clear, or internally logical. I could summarize the outline of the setting in a handful of sentences. Here we go: Mankind went to space, where they discovered, or defined, or interpreted, that what’s necessary for humans to live is not only gravity — the force that binds individual atoms together into coherent mass — but also Culture, capital-C — the force that binds individual humans together into clear ideas of what it does and does not mean to be human. Without the two, life beyond Earth falls apart. So with Earth as the source of gravity and Culture both, terraforming of the solar system started. Then the Existential Threat arrived, the irredeemably non-human alien, and humans chose to fight it. They created Ship-Selves, humanoid spaceships made of plastic and tides and desire, each equipped with the personal gravity and Culture necessary for their human pilots to exist in space, and then sent the lost and confused and the strange children of Earth to pilot them. The Ship-Self pilots fought the Existential Threat and won, handily, time and again, wiping them out entirely when the largest most powerful Ship-Self was finally deployed against them. Then… things went a little sour. Earth’s humanity decided that these events meant there was no place for humanity in space, and that all humans currently living in space should come home, to Terra. Some space-borne humans agreed with that philosophy. Some decided to reject it, and to try and convince the Earth-bound humans of their mistake, by force if necessary. And a third faction wondered that, if living in space meant they were seen as ‘less than human’, just how much ‘less’ they could get.

As tends to be the case with humans, conflict was inevitable.

When I call Heaven Will Be Mine ‘dreamlike’, what I mean is that the presentation puts me in the mindset of dream logic. It builds a mostly-consistent world, with setup and established elements and payoff, but it isn’t actually interested in exploring the nitty-gritty of how everything works in detail. What it’s interested in is exploring the relationships between the three main girls, which is expressed in the missions you’re offered — always a 1-on-1 between your current girl and one of the other two. It doesn’t even tremendously care about how those missions come into existence, how they fit inside the larger war efforts, or any of that boring setup. It cares about two things: Telling you specifically about those elements of the world it actually deems interesting, and telling you about the girls.

This means that, for instance, a mission where Pluto is sent to destroy a Celestial Mechanics fleet while Saturn is deployed to stop her doesn’t necessarily take place anywhere near that fleet, and doesn’t establish the fleet in any detail or either of the two’s arrival. It starts with the two girls in their ships beneath the waves of the Oxygen Ocean. A mission where Luna-T attempts to snipe Pluto starts in medias res, after Luna-T already hesitated on the shot five times running. A duel between Luna-T and Saturn can open either on a distant exchange of barbs and gunfire, or on an up-close-and-personal throwdown, depending on how you decided the scene should play out.

And if you imagine it’ll actually *show* you the *fight*, you have another thing coming.

I worry I’m not telling this right.

The thing is, Ship-Selves aren’t made for ‘real’ combat, the kind of war-fighting where people really get hurt and bleed and die. They’re made to fight that way that humans do, fighting in motion and fighting in words and fighting in ideas and ideals, the kind where the line between fighting and loving doesn’t so much blur as never exist in the first place. And that’s the sort of fighting these girls do. They’re not interested in hurting each other, or following orders for the sake of following orders, or even all too much about ‘winning’ this ‘war’. What they’re interested in is fighting. Spending time together, getting to know each other, flirting, punching, pushing and pulling on each other’s behaviours and convictions: Maybe I’m in the right in this case, maybe you’re in the right here, maybe our ideas mesh together more than we think. And because that’s what they’re interested in, these are the sorts of vignettes Heaven Will Be Mine will give you.

To call Heaven Will Be Mine a linear game is to fundamentally misunderstand this idea. Yes, Luna-T and Saturn’s first encounter will always end with Luna-T cutting Saturn loose and letting her go. There’s no changing that outcome. What matters is how it happens. Does Luna-T convince Saturn to trust her, leading to some embarrassing realizations for the latter? Or does Saturn convince Luna-T to keep their guards up, getting the upper hand in the conversation because she’s better at that sort of stuff?

It might seem similar, but it represents worlds of difference.

There are actual numerical game mechanics at play here, in a sense that feels similar to We Know The Devil. It’s even more overt this time around, actually: Selecting outcomes associated with certain factions favours that faction’s weight in space-time, leading to their preferred ending. All the same, while these things definitely matter, they don’t matter as much as you might think.

Any ending is just a new beginning in disguise, after all.

Heaven Will Be Mine is dreamlike because it’s unclear and uncertain. It’s dreamlike because it focuses, razor-sharp, on the things it cares about, letting everything else fall by the wayside. It’s dreamlike because it doesn’t matter that what it tells you is made-up weirdness that makes no sense — what matters is that it tells you, and by virtue of that telling it comes important and real.

There’s even a layer of meta-narrative going on, or almost even meta-meta-narrative, where the story almost tells itself as itself, with the characters as influential actors on all levels. If that makes any sense. Pluto is the encompassing presence, someone whose presence can be felt throughout whenever she is anything approximating ‘nearby’ and who influences the story through sheer presence, whether she wants to or not. Luna-T is the ghost in the tale, the uncatchable character if she herself doesn’t want to be caught, always just not in the place where the story would expect her to be. Saturn is the reader, the editor, the ink spilling over the lines, the one who can read the push and pull of the narrative like an open book and adapt and change and cheat accordingly.

This is text rather than subtext on several occasions.

You can see why I’m worried I’m not telling this right.

And I haven’t even talked in any depth about the characters themselves. Not as roles, but as people. I shouldn’t, honestly: Getting to know these nerds organically is part of the fun of getting into Heaven Will Be Mine. It’s hard to even talk about them in terms that don’t already give them away. Pluto, Cradle’s Graces’ powerful princess who carries the weight of the world at the cost of ignoring her own. Luna-T, the ace, who prefers nothing more than not having to make the hard choices. Saturn, the self-perceived second choice, not as good as the rest, who oh-so-little is willing to cut herself a break despite constantly exceeding. And those are just the main characters! Every side has a small cast of side characters that I always enjoyed getting to spend my limited tie with. Like Europa, the Foundation’s space mom, Mars, who has the unenviable job of making Pluto care about herself, and Mercury, The Best Boy In Space.

The best boy with the worst possible job.

Though Mars’ job isn’t that far behind.

And the artwork, god. Look at how crisp and expressive and cool these portraits continue to be. It’s almost cool enough to make me forget to also praise the incredible soundtrack.

Luna-T has the best expressions. This is fact and I’ll hear no more on it.

It’s…

Listen, here’s the thing: At this point in time, I either have you on-board with Heaven Will Be Mine or I don’t. If my description of Heaven Will Be Mine makes it sound like a weird, hard-to-follow story about the inscrutable personal interactions of three gay space robot pilots against the backdrop of vague space war, well, that is what it is. I’m not gonna judge you if that isn’t your jam. To your face. But if any individual bit of what I just said has piqued your interest — the Existential Threats, the nature of gravity and Culture, just why Luna-T has such a hardass reputation, why everyone’s not-so-secretly afraid of Pluto, the how and why of this almost entirely gay space mission — you should probably just get this game for yourself. Sink a few hours in, spend some time with the girls. It runs you fifteen Steambucks, which is frankly a steal.

One aspect of living in a world where We Know The Devil exists is that I don’t know if any similar follow-up game could grab me as much as We Know The Devil does. I think Worst Girls Games know this too, you can’t get that same experience twice. So Heaven Will Be Mine doesn’t try to, overtly doesn’t go for the same tone or vibe or experience. It goes for something wildly different: Exploring what it means what it means to be human, or what it means to be everything that human is not, in a setting where all assumptions about shared humanity and all mental shortcuts are explicitly thrown out the airlock. Where all you have to define your humanity is how you interact with the people around you. By talking, by fighting, by fucking; by pretending there’s any difference between those things. If you had the time and the energy for just one of the two I’d still recommend We Know The Devil, but now I’m fabricating a conflict that doesn’t exist: In no universe is there not time and space and energy to play both, and honestly, you really should. They’re games like no other. Afford yourself that experience.

from HEAVEN WILL BE MINE, to YOU:

Jarenth is not a robot spaceship, but he’d play one on TV if asked. Follow him on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam, even though this stinger is lighter than usual in compelling reasons why. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?

One comment

  1. Hmmm…I tried to like We Know the Devil, but like many visual novels, the value its creators placed on concision was…low. I feel bad about criticizing a game which tries to explore such a sensitive subject, but there it is. I felt you could cut 80% of those words and have basically the same experience, which kinda gave me a slow-burn sense of irritation. On the other hand, it has way more subtext than any visual novel I’ve seen. Like, some as opposed to none. This game, though, I hadn’t heard of, so thanks for writing about it!

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