Indiewatch – She Dreams Elsewhere is a combination of the most stylish games in existence
This Indiewatch started as a way to spotlight an up and coming black indie developer… and it ended with me throwing my wallet at my monitor and screaming “TAKE MY MONEY!” Thanks Davionne Gooden and Studio Zevere. Now I need to buy a new monitor AND your game.
The game I’m talking about is She Dreams Elsewhere. It’s an indie RPG whose ethos is STYLE. It’s essentially a fusion of some of the most stylistic games of the last… well ever.
Davionne seems to take clear influences from:
- Yume Nikki
Heck, I even saw a bit of Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass in there. In other words, this game was laser targeted to satisfy a traditional JRPG nerd and indie-buff like me.
Also, it has a cosplayer willing to spend $9,000 on a costume. Respect.
She Dreams Elsewhere puts you in the shoes of Thalia, a girl stuck in a dream that she can’t seem to wake up from. Half of this dream is just her replaying social interactions with her friends and loved ones, while the other is wandering through a broken and shattered subconscious as abstract horrors attack her from all sides.
Seeing the influence yet?
It’s a dark story. The alpha version that I played only included about an hour of plot, but it deals with depression, anxiety, the feelings of being a social outcast, and the pain your own intrusive thoughts can cause you. There was a scene where Thalia ends up having a panic attack at a party and it was all too real. It almost gave me a panic attack.
It’s not entirely clear, but it feels like there’s a social game going on here, also reminiscent of Persona. There are tons of NPCs that Thalia can have conversations with and tons of options that Thalia can choose which makes them either like or dislike her. These are the same NPCs that eventually join your party. Once again, I only played an alpha build so the effects of these choices weren’t necessarily apparent, but I can imagine them somehow affecting your battle prowess in the final game.
Speaking of battles, they take place from a head-on perspective, similar to Earthbound. However, the battle system itself is kind of a combination of Persona and Final Fantasy X of all things. You can see the turn order in the upper right-hand corner, and your abilities allow you to push enemy turns back, or push your turns ahead. Even if you don’t have an ability that can stun or slow the enemy, you can make them skip their turn by knocking them down, which you accomplish by hitting them with an element they are weak to.
Knocked down enemies take extra damage from subsequent attacks, and are more easily inflicted with status elements, so battle tends to come down to either knocking down an enemy and dogpiling him or knocking down all enemies to trigger a “link up” attack. Oh, and for good measure you have limit breaks that you can trigger after you take enough damage.
Frankly, She Dreams Elsewhere looks amazing. The world is largely black and white, which might seem like retro beyond retro, but there’s a reason for this. Characters, enemies, screwed up fever dreams in the environment, all of these are fully colored. So as soon as your eye catches a splash of color, you know it’s going to be important, or at the very least terrifying.
This small little aesthetic trick extends to things like menu elements and text boxes. Color seems out of place, and so it takes on a different meaning whenever you see it. Dark purples feel sinister while light blues feel relieving and safe. Meanwhile, the psychedelic rainbowscape of the map and battle backgrounds really do make the game feel dreamlike, especially since you can’t see them at all whenever you are in the “real” world.
Now, instead of talking about how She Dreams Elsewhere is derivative, let’s talk about what makes it unique.
First, the cast is completely made up of people of color. Heroes, villains, inner voices, all people of color. That just hasn’t been done much in games, indie or otherwise.
Second, the soundtrack, which is amazing, is full of fully produced hip-hop tracks complete with lyrics. Yes, this does feel a little Persona-like, since they also use background tracks with lyrics, but Persona’s vibe is more jazz than hip-hop. It’s a very different aesthetic.
Third, the… well… aesthetic. I’ve been throwing around that word a lot, but there’s just a sort of vibe to She Dreams Elsewhere that makes it feel unique. The enemies, for example, simultaneously look like abstract mental horrors and like street art in their design, like stuff you might have seen on an overpass wall that seeped into your subconscious. The menus have the aesthetic, the strange distortion of the background music has the aesthetic. There was one point where the thumping background beat of a hip-hop track faded into a heartbeat, and that was worthy of a chef’s finger kiss.
I actually feel guilty for not knowing about this game before. It’s everything I want from an indie title. It mixes the new and the old. It has amazing character art mixed with a retro sprite look. It has deep systems and a dark plot. Heck, it even has accessible control schemes. You can play this whole thing with just your mouse if you want.
In short, I’m happy that I checked out She Dreams Elsewhere and you should too. Its alpha demo is out on Steam right now and you can download it for free. It certainly got me to put it on my wishlist.