When 2018 started, I didn't predict it would be the year of mechs. I thought it'd be more like the year of hell (though it has), or the year of battle royale games (which it also has... if we're just talking Fortnite). Yet somehow, against the odds, it's been the year of mechs too.
Gundam's getting a live-action movie from Legendary, as was revealed earlier this month. Pacific Rim's lackluster sequel released. The next installment of the Neon Genesis Evangelion rebuild series has been teased. And on the video game front, Into the Breach and BattleTech have captured the hearts and pilot-capable minds of players across the world, both making our list of the 12 Best Games of 2018 So Far. And now, another game has joined the fray.
It's Heaven Will Be Mine, a new visual novel that leans heavily into the mech anime genre conventions laid before it. Only there's a catch: instead of being woefully hetero, it's an unabashedly gay game about battling your exes from giant robots they're physically and emotionally plugged into (better known as, duh, mechs). It's from the same creators of the cult hit We Know the Devil, but Heaven Will Be Mine ups the ante in its structure. It's more ambitious, more colorful, and very anime-inspired.
What I've found most striking about it in my one and a half playthroughs so far is its vibe, driven heavily by its pulsing music, UI, and art design. My favorite UI design in games is when it feels like a part of the world itself, or has enough personality to have a life of its own. From Persona 5's victory screens making me feel like the coolest bitch of any JRPG dungeon to the contextual menus of Nier: Automata, eye-catching UI can make or break a game experience. For Heaven Will Be Mine, it makes it.
From the outset of my playthrough as Luna-Terra, a stubborn pilot whose pledged loyalties to organizations are wishy-washy, I'm reading error logs for what appears to be a pilot and her mech. It takes a few minutes to get into the main hub, where I can read emails, message what seems to be my handler of sorts (think Misato from Evangelion), and then choose whichever mission I want to embark on.
This being a visual novel, missions are resigned to descriptions and subtle animations with a flirtatious and basically masochistic twist. Choices are reserved for deciding whether to betray or be loyal to three specific organizations. Even just loading a save towards the ending after getting one ending gave me another, making me think of the many possible different choices earlier in the game that could have altered things further. Luckily, it's relatively short at a little over an hour, making it prime for replaying to see different scenarios and outcomes.
Heaven Will Be Mine doesn't dwell on formalities either, never really letting you in on what's going on. It just thrusts you into the action; into its world with no explanation. It's a familiar set-up to a lot of mech anime, where some minor conflict gets in the way of a cast of characters. Usually a new transfer student or something enters the fray to shake shit up, getting the plot rolling. Only in Heaven Will Be Mine, it's almost like a pilot episode until the final act. A series with just a beginning and an end.
It's all a bit too obtuse, as much as it feels right up my alley when it comes to my personal tastes. It's ambitious to a fault, where the characters fall away as the world and its gravity-dependent ways take prominence, overshadowing the human earnestness at its center.
By the end of one playthrough, loading an old save to see a different ending, and starting another playthrough with a new pilot, what's really pulling me along is its particular stylish atmosphere. That tone that's sustained by drowned synthesizers, monochrome and pastels clashing, by its sci-fi world's bonkers jargon. In We Know the Devil, it was the characters that hooked me along for its journey. In Heaven Will Be Mine, it's more like everything else. I don't know if its hooks will ever sink into me on a personal level like We Know the Devil's did, but in the meantime, I'll still happily take a mech for another joyride or two.