The Armature studio, former members of Retro Studios and creators of ReCore, return with their most intimate and personal work. But, as you will see in the analysis of Where the Hearts Leads, it is not without some shortcomings and rhythm problems.
The other day, in fact, he was talking about manners in modern narratives. I don’t really know why, but I’m a great advocate for Once upon a time in Hollywood. And I say this because I have almost always needed good traditional structural mechanisms for a story to work for me. That is to say, go somewhere and encompass a clear topic. But, every time I see Tarantino’s last one, I forget all this and simply enjoy: I find the entire Hollywood environment that it recreates, the situations that take place and, above all, its suggestive characters fascinating.
I say all this as an attempt, I hope not frivolous, to say that games like Where the Hearts Leads interest me. Almost two years ago I brought here Mutazione who has a similar premise much better carried out. And yet with the new personal work of Armature Studio, the thing has not worked with me. I’ve been tempted to skip dialogue on more occasions than I can count, which is the equivalent of skipping paragraphs in a book when you realize that it isn’t convincing you, but, for some strange reason, you can’t decide to quit.
The main problem I see with Where the Hearts Leads is that it is too long and too wide. He wants to cover so much of the life of his protagonist, Whit Anderson, that he can fall into boredom. Where a Dickensian novel is capable of carrying a common thread, even if it tells you the entire life of its protagonist, here there does not seem to be a specific topic that is addressed. Yes, you could say that this game is about life, or family, but, instead of trying to expand each of the fringes of a person’s life, sometimes I think it would be better to specify a little more.
The premise is interesting. It is development that failsAnd me too, so let’s start at the beginning: Whit Anderson is a father of a family on a ranch in rural America, who one fine day, or one good night, witnesses an unusual event: a huge hole opens in his lands and, while trying to rescue his dog, he falls into it. This ends up being a mere pretext to live a series of memories of Whit throughout his life. During different scenes, we are shown the interactions with the characters that surround his life and us we can choose the course of events through a series of decisions that will drastically change history.
Yes, the premise is interesting. It is development that fails. I personally think that in too many areas. From the slow pace of the work, going through a somewhat poor narrative and lack of inspiration (it is literally said that “they all had the same problem, that they weren’t you”), with endless dialogues that sometimes don’t contribute anything; and a perspective of the situation, with a camera very far from the character and semi-translucent NPCs, which do not help at all to involve you in the situations we live in.
Aperture of sights
If I had to highlight a problem, it would be the lack of concentration on a specific topic. Throughout Whit’s life, we discover the problems with his parents, with his brother Sege, with his girlfriend and future wife and even with her parents. The goal is too ambitious, trying to show small and large very disparate problems around the family. This is something that, in good fiction series, and Two Meters Under Earth now comes to mind, can be treated well. But even in the Alan Ball series their feet were planted on the ground (pun intended) around a more concrete theme: death. Where the Heart Leads approaches rural American manners from an optics so open that it is not capable of transmitting specific and accurate emotions. And once this break with the player happens, it’s hard to get back on track and connect with their characters.
You can see the attempt, there is no doubt, by Armature Studio to do something different here. Both in perspective and in ambition. From being a developer founded by ex-Metroid Prime developers, who created ReCore and helped with various ports of great games, this is noticeable as a completely different work in scale and objectives. Technically, there are also problems: very neglected and full of popping scenarios that, although they are striking especially in their colors, they do not finish taking care of their animations and transitions that they use so much; and some characters that would have benefited from having voices (and bodies) to reinforce the interpretations.
But above all, I think Where the Heart Leads would have been a rounder work if I had tried to cover less. 10-12 hours of pure dialogue in a game of these characteristics is something that only visual novels that have very clear ideas and in which you connect with the plot and characters are capable of sustaining; Y I think it would have worked better to keep a smaller and more focused scale. Still, what works best is that branching of decisions that allows us to choose where Whit’s life will go. Bottom line: I guess the value of Tarantino’s latest film is appreciating the difficult art of transmitting emotions when it seems that nothing is happening.