Indie games often don’t get a lot of clout but are most commonly the games that explore things that AAA companies (big gaming developers) are unwilling to tackle. With the current climate (Late May, early June 2020) I felt a strong urge to celebrate indie games developed by the least represented group in the gaming industry.
According to a 2016 survey, 2.5% of the entire industry identifies as Black or Pacific Islander. The industry doesn’t do enough to celebrate this small percentage of developers, and because of this, many potential developers may never get their ideas out here.
I decided to shelve my original plans for writings in May and June, instead concentrate on games developed by our Black community. I started off by researching games developed by either Black lead developers, or teams. The first game I found was the demo to a game releasing in 2021 called She Dreams Elsewhere. I downloaded and played the demo, it’s about 45 minutes long, but in those 45 minutes, I fell in love with the game and characters.
This is what the Steam page explains:
SHE DREAMS ELSEWHERE is a surreal adventure RPG about dreams and the extent to which they mirror reality. You play as Thalia, an anxiety-ridden, comatose woman on a journey to confront the nightmares preventing her from awakening, while also finding out how exactly this mess happened in the first place.
But some nightmares are harder to confront than others…
Combat in the game is turn-based and very smooth. The enemies have a symbol below them that indicates their weakness which you can use strategically in battle. Each different skill move has what I am going to call a spell type. However, the enemy weakness isn’t revealed until you discover it by using the skill. You have hit points and SP (I didn’t see an official definition of SP though it’s likely Skill Points or Spell Points).
The game also introduces you to Thalia’s friends Amia and Oliver, who also become party members during the demo. Where Thalia has what seems to be a bit more magic based skills like freeze, shock, and her starting skill, roast, Amia has skills that are more verbal or physical, with insult, gauge, and STFU. Oliver on the other hand seems capable of being more support oriented, though he does have some good attacks.
The game is mostly black, white, and blue with other colors for certain backgrounds and fights.
There are two things that stuck out to me. The narrative was very accurate to the thoughts of someone suffering depression and anxiety. Thalia at many points has very self-destructive thoughts, arguing with herself and many times telling herself that the people around her don’t care about her and don’t want her around. As the player, you can tell that the people around her care, but people with these kinds of thoughts often are unable to see that for themselves.
The enemies is where the narrative really gets real. The artwork for the enemies is very abstract, but once you compare some of the artwork with the names of the enemies you can really see the meanings. One winged angel like enemies called Chariss, monolith like enemies called No Romance, human shaped enemies that have a very noticeable heart-shaped hole in their chest called No Heart. There are other enemies in the demo, but I want you to go play the demo so I’ll say no more on it.
This game promises a rich narrative exploring very real subjects of anxiety, depression, and overcoming those things. The game has a disclaimer before you start playing that does indicate very strong language and handles subject matters that some may be uncomfortable with.
I was able to get a brief questionnaire with the developer Davionne about the game, and he had the following to say on the game:
What can you tell me about Thalia and her life up to this point? Is this something we’ll be exploring through the story?
Thalia is a witty, lonely, anxious, self-deprecating screenwriter-to-be and is kinda struggling with the whole “being an adult” thing. She’s had a lot of ups and downs, and mentally she’s not in a very good state at the moment. How she wound up in her coma and how it ties into her mental state is absolutely one of the main focuses of the game. One of the benefits of working on this for so long is that I was really able to dig deep into Thalia’s character and who she is as a person, so I hope players look forward to following her journey.
What inspired you and your team to develop this game?
I’ve always been a big fan of dreams and what they can reflect about you as a person. It’s a really great arena to explore and allows for a ton of experimenting and weirdness that I love to mess around with. Much of the game is also drawn from my own experiences with mental health, so overall it’s a pretty intimate and personal story to me.
One of my favorite characters from the demo was Amia, and I was thrilled to see her show up as a party member along with Oliver. Does she have a sub-story that we can explore along with what I’m assuming is going to be an important part of the main story?
Absolutely! I love Amia and she’s actually one of my favorite characters as well, I love writing her dialogue. A key component of the game are the “Connections”, which are exactly as you said – little side stories that focus on one of Thalia’s friends and their own personal experience. To what extent it relates to Thalia directly and her mental state, well… stay tuned. 😉
Lastly, anxiety is a very important topic to talk about and from the demo, I felt like you and your team really captured the essence of it. In tackling anxiety, is Thalia going to have any run ins with any concepts of faith, regardless of religion?
For sure. Ultimately She Dreams Elsewhere is a game about how it’s okay to not be okay, and keeping up hope even as it gets harder to do so. I believe it’s something that we can all relate to, especially with this current mess known as 2020.
This game is a game I am looking forward to the full release of. Excellent work to Davionne Gooden and his team at Studio Zevere.