Desta: The Memories Between Review
26 Apr, 2023
Check out our review of Desta: The Memories Between to learn what we thought about mending personal relationships by playing dodgeball.
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Desta: The Memories Between presents a pitch that you might only find in an indie game. We have before us a physics-based strategy roguelite… which doubles as an exploration of mending old social bonds.
It’s might seem like a lot to handle, and yet, it’s all as simple as tossing balls at people.
Desta, a young person who left behind their hometown of Hargate, is now returning there before their childhood house gets sold. Desta’s relationship with their mother is frayed, and Desta also fears what their friends in Hargate might think of them now.
As they sleep in their childhood room, they find themselves dreaming of a fractured and surreal version of Hargate, where they encounter a variety of old contacts – from Desta’s closest friend Fran to their arts teacher Miss Kowalski, and several more.
Old relationships are unearthed and with them, so are old conflicts and old wounds. Desta’s chosen method to deal with the situation proves to be unusual, yet effective: to play ball.
The turn-based dodgeball gameplay of Desta: The Memories Between might sound like a strange choice, but it’s explained that this is how Desta’s father taught them to resolve frustrations: by tossing a ball back and forth and talking it out. It’s a simple and sensible metaphor, and it’s only the beginning of how the game conveys its ideas – but we’ll get to that in a bit.
The strategy gameplay plays out in square-shaped arenas, where players divided in two teams take turns to pick up balls and then either throw them at their opponents, or pass them over to teammates. Once you knock out the other team’s HP, or remove their boss from the field, and you’re done with that memory.
Desta’s emotionally charged dreams, however, involve quite a bit more thought than that.
A thrown ball is far from a bullet or an arrow, which are the more usual projectiles you’d find in strategy games. Even if the ball hits your opponent, it’s going to land somewhere near them, which means that they can use the same ball against you.
Again, simple and sensible, but tricky nevertheless. So will you pursue the aggressive strategy of running for the nearest ball and tossing it at your nearest opponent? Or you could also divide your forces and take the time to launch a coordinated strike. A clean strike could leave you wide open for a counter-hit, and you must also consider that an opportune hit might end up giving the opposing team too many balls in their area. These factors were constantly on my mind as I came up with strategies over the course of the game.
Further building on these strategies, the game also drip-feeds you a wide variety of powerful special abilities. You obtain these abilities in roguelite fashion, so that if your party is wiped out, you lose the ability you had. As you get back dreaming with another game, you get to pick one of two unlocked abilities, but there’s no guarantee they will be abilities you like.
In play, these special abilities are absolutely critical, and your opponents will certainly not shy away from using theirs. My favourite ability allowed Desta to launch their ball into the air and send it divebombing on any target of their choice – a very effective move in cover-heavy arenas.
I also appreciate how the abilities are often associated with the characters Desta encounters in the game. An early opponent, for instance, is so prone to deflecting conversations that his ability is to deflect some of the damage he takes. Once again, simple and sensible.
The world of Desta: The Memories Between is further fleshed out with details that glimmer through the pastel aesthetic. A paint-stained apron, a couple of concert tickets, a vacuum cleaner, a pair of car keys – these might all seem like mundane items with which to populate a suburban RPG, but in Desta’s world, each item has a distinct story significance. Every gameplay tool is taken as an opportunity to bring more soul into the world, to enrich this young life we’re so closely examining.
Desta’s adventures in their dreams last eight chapters, and the game culminates in a perfectly conceptualized final boss match (I hesitate to call it a battle). This final match conveys an entire experience by having the player come up with it as a strategy, which I thought was a stupendous achievement.
At the end of all the dreaming, Desta’s real test is yet to begin; but with your help, they have conquered the most distressing demons of all – the ones that are in their head, feeding them anxieties about their friends and family.
Desta: The Memories Between was made with touch-enabled platforms in mind, and this is made all the clearer by its one-button control scheme. As a PC player, this control scheme was my chiefest annoyance with the game. Misclicks were common, and I found it particularly cumbersome to acquire the perfect perspective or to aim with precision. These are not dealbreakers for me, as the game is quite forgiving in its difficulty to begin with, and no encounter feels unfair.
The PC version of Desta: The Memories Between I played also featured a higher-difficulty ‘Nightmare’ mode, along with a set of curated gameplay challenges which rewards you with new characters to use in the main story. If, like me, you wanted more turn-based ball, then you won’t find yourself going unchallenged.
Desta: The Memories Between is a game full of hope and heart, which assures the player that the toughest battles are in our heads, and that resolving them is a matter of forgiveness and sympathy.
I’ll be taking that lesson to heart, so pass the ball on to me.
Developer: Ustwo Games
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Publisher: Ustwo Games
Release Date: April 26, 2023 (PC, Switch)
This review of Desta: The Memories Between is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher. The PC version of Desta: The Memories Between (Dream Team Edition) was played for this review.
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