I went into She Dreams Elsewhere’s demo skeptical. To be honest, I had just came out of YIIK feeling pretty burned by the experience, and my patience for modern-set, Earthbound-style RPGs was pretty low after that experience. But I really shouldn’t have worried, because Studio Zevere’s She Dreams Elsewhere gave me an absolute knockout of a demo, aesthetically and textually.
She Dreams Elsewhere is about a woman, Thalia, who is plagued with nightmares that seem to keep sending her into another, labyrinthine world where she is hunted by a mysterious malevolent entity. In traditional RPG fashion, this dream world, Oblivion, is haunted by spectres that you can engage in turn-based combat with.
Where She Dreams Elsewhere had me feeling like it really was something special starts in its battle system, which has a combo and weakening system evocative of Persona—hit an enemy with an ability that they’re weak too and they’ll be staggered for a turn, allowing for follow-up attacks. An ever-present battle timeline in the top right of combat screens keeps you aware of whose turns are coming up next, and helps orient your moves accordingly. Combat in She Dreams Elsewhere feels tactical and fluid, with low-level battles fast enough to not be bothersome but varied enough to keep me interested.
But it’s the characters that really allow She Dreams Elsewhere to shine. In the real world, Thalia lives in a crowded apartment building along with her friends throughout the floors, and the moment of first entrance into Oblivion is prompted by a house party. The various denizens of the apartment building feel real, interesting, funny—they’re the type of folks that reminded me of those I’d see at college parties or house shows.
The writing is on-point, and the characters are (wonderfully) mostly not white. It’s trite at this point to say that finding games with diverse characters is hard, but finding games with majority black characters is like finding water in a desert. She Dreams Elsewhere is a refreshing look at modern millennial young adult-ness that doesn’t feel overdone or cheesy, just comfortable. Thalia, the main character, is more introverted and quiet, and thus clashes at the louder and more exuberant Amia, and the soft, caring Oliver. It just felt nice to watch the various characters banter and joke with each other.
Visually, the game is sparse but effective. Most environments in the dream-world Oblivion are simple three-color pixel art complemented by lush, kaleidoscopic background visuals to maintain the sense of unreality. Battle sprites and character portrait art is gorgeously detailed, breaking with the simplistic aesthetic palette to look like real people. It’s a good combination, and along with the inventive nature of enemy designs, kept me looking forward to each new interaction or battle for the visual flourishes alone.
While we can’t say if the rest of the game is going to necessarily maintain the same level of quality, the hour-long demo—which is available for free now—gave me a lot of confidence in the game so far. It’s certainly an indie RPG to look forward to in 2019.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.