The debut game from Occult Triangle Lab, Black Heaven: A Necromantic Dating Sim opens on a world in ruins, destroyed by a mysterious magical cancer. When you’re found passed out by the mysterious No-Eyes, he offers you a chance to live forever in your memories. It comes at a price, however.
A review for this game was requested through the VN Game Den review request form. It’s currently in a demo state featuring the first six chapters.
Complex and Moody Art
The aesthetic starts off strong with deep, moody colors and a handful of elaborate backgrounds. Not all the assets are in yet, but what’s there is complex and full of depth. The library shown at the beginning in particular is phenomenal, spiraling all the way back into whatever world exists beyond the depth of the screen. It’s only a shame they didn’t have more backgrounds available before putting out each round of demos, because the placeholder is a bit disconcerting to keep having to stare at.
For the sprite work, they chose what feels like a more cutesy, almost neon-inspired approach. As they currently stand, the sprites aren’t terribly expressive, but the designs are cute and pleasing to look at. They don’t mesh well, though, with the backgrounds and the rest of the aesthetic cues. They feel like they belong in a much lighter, softer game than this one seems like it’s trying to be. So while all the individual assets are wonderful, the aesthetic cohesion is a little lacking.
The writing is very dynamic in the nature of its content. It switches back and forth between two different sorts of drama: the dark end-of-the-world of the “present” and the lighter, more slice-of-life “past.” It does so effortlessly, with smooth transitions between reality and memory. The characters are interesting with strong voices. The main character easily walks that line between being a character in his own right and enough of an everyman to sympathize with. Considering what he’s done, what’s he’s doing, and his internal reactions to some of the events of the story, it would be very easy for him to be an unlikable character. He’s written to be very relatable, though. You sort of understand why he did the things he did, even if they’re objectively awful. Ostensibly, he’s not a good guy, but he’s aware of that. He laments and regrets that he was this person, so it’s easy to find yourself rooting for him to have that redemption arc.
Not Quite Sure What to Do with Itself
Despite having a very compelling overarching premise, though, it does feel like the central narrative design is a little underdeveloped. When you meet No-Eyes, he makes a big deal about making choices, even implementing the save feature as a diagetic element of the story and the magic being used in-world. The game also describes itself as a “dating sim.” Those things combined would imply to me, if not a stat-raising or time-management system, at least a lot of choices spread through the story. There aren’t. After the first batch of background setting choices, you sit through a mostly linear story for a good long time before you get to make conversational choices. So while that’s obviously a perfectly acceptable format, it just implies that maybe there are some development elements that aren’t quite in tune with each other.
It is a fascinating, complex world with a rich lore. The story is just now sort of finding its feet at the end of the demo, but if it can deliver on its promises, it’s going to be great. The modularity of the accessibility present in the UI even suggests a lot of thought was put into player interaction at a mechanical level. It feels like maybe they just weren’t quite sure how they wanted to deliver all these parts to the player before they started.
All the individual parts of Black Heaven are fantastic. Its assets are great and it’s an interesting read. It just struggles a little bit from a holistic viewpoint, and some of the seams where things are stitched together are a bit rough. When it’s completed, however, if these rough edges can get sanded down a little, I expect a great game and a wonderful experience.
Download the demo now on itch.io, and get ready for the Kickstarter launching April 30th.