From developer Nemlei, Better Half follows the story of Thiu, a man in the throes of severe depression and mental illness. A trip to a less-than-reliable mage to solve his health issues results in a rather unusual solution: his brain being split into two bodies. Join him in a “miserable comedy about self-loathing” as he literally battles with himself through every new mental health breakdown. Can he find the magic to fix this? Does he want to?
A review for this game was requested via social media recruiting and engagement.
The writing is sharp and exquisite. It’s dark. It’s aggressive. It’s grim. It’s funny. It’s not a comedy by any means, but it’s laden with that special kind of humor that’s almost painful in its familiarity if you’ve been through the kinds of things the main character has. Where other media that sells itself on a level of edginess might push more into grimdark, the writing here is elegantly balanced. For every self-deprecating pot-shot at depression and mental health, there’s an earnest conversation about the nature of living with it. The conceit of two bodies split from a single mind sets up a number of incredible conversations about self-care, self-harm, personhood, and identity. It’s also very appropriate to the subject matter that they’ve foregone any kind of “good” or “bad” ending dichotomy. They’re just different ways of dealing with the same terrible situation.
The art really reminds me of early-aughts edgy kids’ cartoons—in a good way. The shapes are all round and soft, but the colors simmer in these mellow, dark, desaturated blues, purples, and greens. It’s another place that strikes that perfect balance between dark comedy and sincerity. It’s also extremely kinetic and expressive. The sprites are always moving with fantastic facial and body expressions. Each character has multiple poses and multiple head angles, and they move through the space organically. It hints at a very strong sense of cinematic framing and has a lot of visual appeal.
From a broad story perspective, it can feel a little meandering at times. There’s a correlating story with the mages that feels a little disconnected from the primary story with Thiu. It kind of comes together at the end, but there are some things there that feel unresolved in that side plot. It’s a rather short game, but that really only works to its advantage. Any longer and it would feel laborious, but I think I would have liked to see a little beefier of an arc concerning Thiu coming to terms with himself. The character dynamic between the two halves is fantastic, and you can definitely see them changing each other. I can see how an even stronger contrast on either side would have only been a benefit.
Where this game truly shines, though, is in the authenticity of its portrayal of mental illness and depression. It’s raw, and it doesn’t shy away from the hard truths of living under such circumstances. At the same time it’s viscerally tearing it down and making fun of it, it’s treating it with sincerity and respect. It never punches down on those that are suffering but rather the disease itself, showing it for the real monster that it is. It very evidently comes from a place of vast experience and understanding.
Better Half takes something terrible and nuanced, and uncomplicates it through a lens of earnest human experience. It’s ghastly in its charm and horrific in how it endears you to its cast. It’s simultaneously sad and funny and heartbreaking and delightful, dipping into the darkest parts of the human mind with a deft but light touch.
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