From the first moments of Heartbound’s demo, you can tell that all isn’t right with Lore, its protagonist. He’s no Chrono, leaping out of bed and eager to join the day’s adventures. He drags himself out of bed in the darkness, pulls on a hoodie and heads out with all the enthusiasm of the condemned — and the day doesn’t get much better from there.
It can’t be easy to create an RPG about a boy and his depression, but that’s what developer Jason Thor Hall and his team at Pirate Software have set out to do according to an interview with IGN.
“The biggest inspirations for me were things that I personally went through in my life,” explains Jason Thor Hall, Game Director at Pirate Software, and lead programmer on the project. “Seeing how people deal with trauma and mental issues was a big factor and just learning how to gamify those topics in a way that’s relatable but not overbearing.”
That effort shows in small ways. Lore talks to his father, a shadowy figure whom he obviously fears, and hears what should be a simple request — “Hey kiddo, the kitchen trash is overflowing. Go take it out, will you?” — become something more sinister: “Hey moron, the kitchen trash is overflowing. Go take it out.”
Small interactions with the world promise to reshape the story. Do you feed Lore’s dog, Barron? Do you indulge your curiosity and click on that bookshelf? Heartbound’s developers promise that those simple, mundane choices will impact the story as you go, just like our everyday choices shape our realities.
Heartbound has already drawn comparisons to Undertale, with promises like that, a mini-game style battle system, and a cast of characters whose fears and relationships need to be addressed. Its Kickstarter, which is already fully funded, also lists a few features you probably won’t find anywhere else, like cryptographic puzzles to be solved by the community, “that awful feeling when you do something terrible to someone who loves you,” and “more crying and advanced sadness.”
While it doesn’t always seem like it, depression is a journey. Heartbound will show us how that journey unfolds for Lore, and may well tell a story that doesn’t often get told in the process.