At first, I was actually a little put off by Heaven’s Vault. I expected the game to mostly be about translation, with maybe a bit of clicking to select options, but somehow the controls ended up being surprisingly fiddly when I was first getting used to them? (Somehow I was always hitting the wrong button while browsing the timeline.) And then I was confronted more than once with dialogue choices where I didn’t like any of the options, and at least once with a dialogue choice where what my character ended up saying wasn’t at all what I intended.

Eventually, I got used to it, though: the game doesn’t have you play yourself, but I got used to the character I was playing, and that character started mellowing out a bit. And, of course, the character you play isn’t the hook for the game: it’s the translation mechanic.


And the translation is fun! It doesn’t feel like a realistic depiction in the slightest of figuring out a language, it gives you way too narrow a set of choices. But that’s okay, it’s a game, and it’s a pleasant puzzle to think about. And, from my point of view, well judged in difficulty: I usually had to think at least a little about choices, I got my translations right a significant majority of the time, but I got it wrong enough to keep me on my toes.

And there’s more depth there, if you want it. It’s basically a simplified ideographic writing system, so you can try to figure out what the meaning is of the different visual constituents of the words. The game doesn’t shove that at you super hard, but it’s there if you want to spend time thinking about that.

Though that’s also another area where the game’s interface could be significantly better. When you’re choosing the translation for a given word, the game shows you a collection of four related words, words whose components are similar. But if you want more than four comparisons, you’re out of luck. Or, more annoyingly, if it’s a word that you’ve seen before, but that the game either hasn’t told you is correct or has told you isn’t correct, there’s no way to see the previous phrases where you’ve seen the word (other than, I guess, tediously scrolling through every single phrase the game offers you): frustrating.


At any rate: a core mechanic that I like. And the basic plot is fine, and I enjoyed the character interactions more as the game progressed. There’s even a “chat with your companion while traveling” mechanic that reminded me a little bit of the last part of Shenmue II; not as good, and I have mixed opinions about the traveling in the game in general, but it did help in building connections.

But the flip side is that I was hoping for more than I saw…

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