The Void Rains Upon Her Heart – Early Access PC Review

CrimsonMomongaSSS

CrimsonMomongaSSS

Crims sometimes does things, things which may include baking, ballroom dance, or a relentless stream of puns. He's a fan of RPGs and has a special love for good audio and strong stories. Often described as a classy lumberjack, he occasionally works at pop-up maid cafes. He has not watched Overlord.
CrimsonMomongaSSS

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Genre: Bullet Hell, Rogue-lite, Action, Indie
Developer: Veyeral Games
Publisher: The Hidden Levels
Release Date: Feb 14, 2018

I’ll start this out by saying that I’m not much of a shoot-’em-up aficionado. I’ve played a number of titles in the genre, from classics like Galaga to entries as silly as the Chicken Invaders series, or to the bullet-hells of the Touhou and DonPachi games (with mixed results). The thing is, I never felt particularly invested in the games; I’d play ’em to fill the time, sure, but I never really wanted to go out of my way to get back to them. So, when I looked on Steam and saw The Void Rains Upon Her Heart (TVRUHH) by Veyeral Games, I thought it looked like an aesthetically pleasing time-filler, but I didn’t really expect any more than that. I must say though, after playing through the Early Access version for a while, I was pleasantly surprised.

I am a Luvdisc. Those are big zappy beams.  …this was a mistake.

TVRUHH doesn’t really have much of an overt narrative to it, or at least not in the story mode. Your character has a goal to achieve, and there are certain themes recurring throughout the game. Now, if you know me, then you know I’m big on story elements, but I feel like this is honestly enough for a shoot-’em-up, or shmup. All you really need is a basic premise for your blasting, and then it’s time to let the shots do the talking. In TVRUHH you play as a lonely alien girl who just wants to leave her cave and find some companions. Problem is, there’s a buncha monsters in her way. Through determination and liberal usage of non-metaphorical love bullets, your mission is to “love” the monsters into submission and face down her doubts. Love is one of those recurring themes I mentioned before, and it takes up a good bit of the dialogue, but the other theme seems a fair bit darker. Through certain scenes and supplementary item / enemy descriptions, you can uncover bits of an overarching narrative with heavy themes of self-doubt, inadequacy, and anxiety. It’s not thrust upon you, but rather hinted at for you to pursue further if you’re so inclined, and I enjoyed that feeling of putting the pieces together.

Getting the item perks me up, but reading the description? Not so much.

Since the gameplay is the main appeal of this sorta thing, I’ll be spending a bit more time going over that. TVRUHH is a boss-rush bullet-hell horizontal shooter with some rogue-lite elements. That’s a lot of descriptors right there, so lets unpack it a bit. If you didn’t know, the premise of a shooter / shmup is to, well, shoot your targets until they’re not there anymore. In this case, you’re a flying heart that blasts monsters into pieces with love. Supposedly that makes ’em like you, even while they’re exploding. The “horizontal” mainly means that your threats will predominantly come from the left or right, and your character only faces and shoots straight to the right (at least, by default). You can freely move around the screen, however, so positioning is key for both aiming and evading. That second bit, evading, is also pretty important because of the whole bullet-hell thing. As the name implies, there can be an absurd number of projectiles coming at you to duck and weave around. You do have a limited number of “Panic Attacks”, functioning as a projectile-removing bomb and doing AOE damage, but you can’t rely on them to carry you unless you somehow stack up a massive number of ’em. Now, you may get it in your head to just save them up for boss fights, but there’s a bit of a snag with that plan: every fight is a boss fight.

Little red more-than-friendliness pellets.

Unlike many bullet-hells that have you face waves of cannon-fodder enemies interspersed with level bosses, TVRUHH consists entirely of battles with bosses. Story mode pits you against 9 variable bosses and a predetermined final boss if you make it that far. The bosses themselves are generally pretty impressive. Based on fears and anxieties, the bosses have an appreciable amount of variation in appearance, themes, and behavior. Aside from that, there are two aspects of the bosses that I feel were especially well done. The first is the matter of cues and patterns: bosses do tend to follow certain patterns with their attacks, which you can learn and exploit, but they don’t follow a fixed routine every battle, making each encounter unique. While this does increase the difficulty somewhat, the attacks are telegraphed very well by visual (and sometimes auditory) cues, so the fights are more a matter of perception and reaction time than one of RNG and no attacks feel cheap or unfair.

Alright, maybe the “splits into smaller bosses” boss isn’t the most original one around.

The other aspect I really liked was how the game handled difficulty. Rather than an overarching difficulty setting, each boss you can encounter has a range of potential difficulty levels, currently spanning from 1 to 11, that determines the relative difficulty of that boss. A boss may be more or less durable depending on its level, but increased difficulty isn’t just a matter of numbers here; higher difficulties result in more complex variations of attack patterns, more combinations, and more aggressive behavior. This is the type of difficulty curve I appreciate. The levels system also plays nicely with another quirk of the game: the option to choose what you fight. Before every round in story mode you’re presented with a selection of possible opponents to pick from, though you’ll have to face a boss at least once in order to identify it beforehand. Whether you’ve identified the boss or not, you’ll still be told its level, so you can choose an easier or harder boss to suit your needs, or try to avoid one that you have trouble with. Another important note is that even though boss levels tend to increase as you progress, choosing to fight a weaker or stronger boss will make the next round of bosses weaker or stronger respectively. What this means is that the player has a large amount of control over how hard their run ends up being.

Yeah, I think I’d rather fight the blob than that electric ninja-star over there.

Not only can you choose your opponent based on your comfort level, but also based on the power-ups you can get as a reward for beating them. Rather than bosses having specific drop lists (thereby forcing you to fight one if you wanted a particular item), each instance of a boss is randomly assigned a selection of “Gifts” to reward you with for that particular fight. You may not know what the gifts are beforehand, but you are told how many of them are being offered and how potent they are. Some may be locked behind additional challenges, like getting a certain score or not getting hit too many times during the battle, but you can check these before choosing a fight. The options you get are somewhat RNG based, but even then the game tries to give you some more control through a Karma system. Fight well and get Karma points. Have higher Karma and you get more boss options as well as more and better Gifts. It doesn’t let you have total control, but does let you influence your character’s fate.

Oh no. The most terrifying challenge of all… MATH.

This is also where the rogue-lite elements come into play. The central part of that is the element of permadeath: if your character dies, which is bound to happen, you start over without any items. No save points or anything. Of course, since a single run only consists of 10 battles, that doesn’t set you back all that far, but it can be a bit disheartening to have to start from zero after every loss. That’s what often puts me off from other shmups. Fortunately, this game doesn’t take everything away from you; there’s a sort of rolling progression, with cumulative achievements and milestones across runs, as well as a record of the bosses you’ve faced and Gifts you’ve received. Beyond just record-keeping, hitting certain benchmarks unlocks new items, an additional boss, and another character, with more to come in future updates. This sort of rolling progression helps to make it feel like you’re accomplishing something even if you die partway through a run.

If you’ve played The Binding of Isaac, the achievement-reward system may feel a bit familiar to you.

There’s also a sort of in-game currency called Tetrads that you earn from defeating bosses. There’s six different types, each gained from a particular category of boss, and you don’t need to complete a run to keep them. Instead of being spent to unlock items or characters, combinations of Tetrads are spent to unlock information about bosses and Gifts. For bosses, this provides you with a bit of lore as well as combat tips and information about the boss’s strengths and weaknesses. It may not seem like much at first, but those little tips can make a world of difference. When used on gifts, you get a piece of the narrative and a more detailed breakdown of the item’s effects. Also, any Gift that you’ve used Tetrads on is automatically identified for you before battles in Story-mode; do this enough times, and you’ll know exactly what rewards each boss is offering you and whether a challenge is worth the effort. When you start out in the game, the bosses and rewards you get seem almost entirely up to chance, but plug a little bit of time into it and you’ll have full knowledge of what you’re facing, how your weapons stack up, and what you stand to gain. After the initial “get to know the game” phase, it becomes a matter of knowing your strengths, play-style, and priorities (speed, raw damage, AOE coverage, durability, etc) and judging whether the reward is worth the risk.

♫ What is “Love”~? Just don’t get hurt twice, and then you’ll find out. ♫

There is one other benefit of using Tetrads: any boss or gift that you’ve spent Tetrads on becomes available in the Quickplay mode. Quickplay lets you face off against any available boss at any possible level with the option of equipping some hand-picked gifts. You do need to unlock higher difficulties and item capacities in Quickplay, so it isn’t exactly a sandbox mode, but it does let you experiment with item combinations, practice against bosses, and farm for more Tetrads. Or you can just try to get high-scores if that’s your thing.

Boxed in by the beetle-bots.

The visuals in the game are vibrantly colored and have a pixelated quality to them that gives a bit of a retro feel. Backgrounds are pleasant, there’s a nice variety in the appearance of enemies and projectiles, and the game runs smoothly. Since this is a bullet-hell, it’s good to see that the bosses and attacks are easily distinguishable from the rest of the screen. There is some mild non-sexual nudity in the game – mainly during scenes and on a few Gifts – but there is an option to toggle censor-mist over it before the game even starts. The only other thing that may be of concern to some folks is that there’s a lot of rapid flashing effects. They don’t usually take up too much of the screen at once, but they’re present through the majority of gameplay, so keep that in mind if you’re playing or streaming the game (just tossing this out there for those with photosensitive epilepsy). Overall, the graphics are attractive: not too overdone, but still displaying enough complexity to keep things interesting.

These sly septic saws snuck up and surrounded me.

I was also pleased by the audio design in this game. Again, there’s a bit of that retro feel with the music, and it hits that sweet spot where it’s simple enough to not be distracting but still got enough going on to merit replays. The menu and scene music is chill enough that I’ve just left it looping at times, and the main menu even provides its own rain sounds to add to the experience. On the other hand, boss themes mix some heavier metal influences in to really pump things up. The battle sound effects are satisfying as well, and actually serve as very good audio cues for the battle. The sound alone can tell you when the enemy’s attacking, how rapidly it’s firing, if it’s charging up for an attack, whether your current target is actually taking damage or not, and even what element the incoming attacks are. It’s not necessary to pay attention to these, as the visual cues are more than enough, but it certainly makes things easier. Satisfying, functional, and well done all around.

Definitely my favorite boss right here. Always gets me pumped.

Honestly, I wouldn’t say any single feature of the game is outright spectacular by today’s standards, but instead there’s a lot of pretty darn well done features that come together to make this so enjoyable. There’s a simple but meaningful set of elemental attacks, weaknesses, and resistances, and based on those parameters, your character has a health bar rather than a specific number of hits she can take. You get a detailed stats screen visible at any time to give you a breakdown of DPS, fire-rate, movements speed, and all the good stuff. Your hitbox is clearly visible from the start, and the tutorials are thorough without dragging on. Controls can be remapped, but are already good from the start. All the core elements and nice-to-haves come together for a great overall presentation. I don’t really feel that screenshots alone do this game justice, so here’s a gameplay clip against a level 10 to show you how it plays. The game is still in early access, so there’s more to be added, but I love it already.

I wonder if that emptiness is a metaphor for the features yet to be implemented.

Overall, The Void Rains Upon Her Heart is a charming little game that I enjoyed far more than I expected to. It’s not finished yet, but there seems to be a clear vision of what the game is striving to be, and it does what it tries to do well. There’s a good mix of creativity, accessibility, and replayability packed into this bullet-hell that should make it enjoyable for players regardless of previous experience with the genre. It may feel a tad too easy to some right now, but there’s still higher optional difficulties to be implemented. I can’t give it a final score since it’s still in Early Access, but considering its genre and value I’d easily give it a 9/10 for what it’s shown so far.

Pros:

  • Vibrant visuals
  • Simple yet enticing soundtrack
  • Strong sense of atmosphere
  • Boss rush format that lets you choose your opponent from a set
  • Unique bosses based on fears or anxieties
  • Emphasis on Risk vs. Reward decision making via challenges and Gift selection
  • Flexible difficulty levels; accessible to newcomers, but still fun for the experienced
  • Difficulty correlates with increasingly complex attack patterns, not just increased parameters
  • Quickplay mode for practice, experimentation, and high-scores
  • Unlock system makes even losses feel worthwhile
  • Detailed view of combat statistics available
  • Competently made, controls well

Cons:

  • Early Access, so it’s not complete yet (literally my only “complaint”)

Mileage May Vary:

  • Sheer quantity of love-talk may be overwhelming for some
  • Scattered hints towards dark tones that may be upsetting for some
  • Bit of a retro aesthetic with the music and graphic style
  • Mild non-sexual nudity with toggleable censor-mist
  • Permadeath w/ achievements and items unlocking cumulatively across multiple runs
  • Much of the background story is inferred from gift descriptions rather than the core gameplay
  • Can only shoot straight ahead (to the right) before getting power-ups; some may find this challenging to deal with

At its current price of $7.99 USD on Steam, I wholeheartedly recommend The Void Rains Upon Her Heart to anyone interested in bullet-hell shoot ’em ups, whether new to the genre or a veteran. Honestly, even if you aren’t all that into the genre I’d still recommend giving it a shot; it’s a charming game at a low price. The only caveat I have is that there are some darker tones within, such as fear and anxiety, so you may want to pass it by if you’re particularly sensitive to those.

Note: This review was originally written on February 27, 2018 and the game has received additional content between then and the posting of this review.