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The world of Ocean's Heart

At first glance at the game, there’s no doubt that Ocean’s Heart takes heavy inspiration from the pixel art era of 2D Zelda games, A Link to the Past and Minish Cap in particular. Heck, the protagonist, Tilia, even looks like the sequel to Breath of the Wild’s version of Zelda with her short hair and bright blue tunic. Much like any hardcore Zelda fan, I’ve wanted a version of the game where Zelda was a playable character. Basically, Ocean’s Heart seemed like the answer to all my pleas. Except, it wasn’t quite so. Let’s find out why.

Ocean’s Heart is a top down RPG, developed by Max Mraz and published by Nordcurrent Labs. The game was initially released on 21 Jan 2021 for Microsoft Windows, with the Switch version coming out on 10 Feb 2022.

The Legend of Tilia

Ocean’s Heart starts out in Tilia’s hometown of Limestone Island. Tilia helps run her father’s tavern and has been trained in the way of the sword by him. After running off to run an errand, Tilia returns to find the island set ablaze by a group of pirates, and her best friend Hazel missing. Tilia’s father takes it upon himself to find the pirates and bring back Hazel, but six months pass with no word on his whereabouts. Determined to find her father and Hazel, Tilia sets off on her own to search for them. 

It’s a standard plot with no frills attached to it. As you progress, you’ll come to know more about Ocean Heart’s lore, but it feels like just as things get interesting Tilia decides she’s not interested and we have to resume our quest for missing persons. We’re really only given a taste of what the world out there is like and never the bigger picture which seems like a crying shame.

Tilia's father bidding her farewell

The game is rampant with side quests and interactions with some quirky NPCs which make for some interesting conversations. The dialogue gave me a good laugh every now and then, and some of the side quests can end up being pretty wacky, but Tilia always seems to be least thrilled to be taking these up. Which brings me to one of my biggest gripes, Tilia.

It’s clear Tilia isn’t meant to be a knight in shining armor, a princess with mystical powers, or the chosen one meant to bring peace to the land. Rather, she simply wants to follow in her father’s footsteps as a volunteer navy and take over the tavern, but with her less-than-friendly demeanour, that’s hard to picture. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sarcastic protagonist (à la Zagreus from Hades), but not the insufferable kind. 

Combat in Ocean's Heart

Murky Waters

Combat-wise, Ocean’s Heart plays like a Zelda-like but with less polish. You start off with your standard sword, bow, and bombs, and as you progress you’ll find more weapons such as the boomerang and spear. However, the game doesn’t give you much incentive to switch to these over your sword and switching to these has to be done from the menu rather than them being ever-present through a hotkey. 

You can upgrade your weapon through the armory with the right amount of money and materials. The game also includes crafting through which you can use the items you’ve foraged to make potions or items to use in combat. It’s a simple enough system that adds a dash intuitiveness to the game.

Crafting in Ocean's Heart

There’s tons of secret areas scattered across the map and little shortcuts from one area to another, making it a real joy when you come across these little details. Dungeons also consist of the same puzzle solving that’s standard of 2D Zelda games, but some of the boss fights, especially those of side quests, are pretty underwhelming. Instead of using creativity or strategy to defeat them, my go to tactic was mashing the A button. 

The controls also require far too much precision for my liking. Tilia’s sword only hits enemies in the direction in which she’s facing, rather than the entire area in which her sword swings. Ledges are an outlet for Tilia to fall into the water or an abyss. Since rolling and interacting with an object or character requires a press of the A button, you have to make sure you’re standing close enough or else you’ll somersault right past. 

Art-wise, Ocean’s Heart is very reminiscent of Minish Cap, with its vibrant pixel art, slight bird’s eye-view perspective, and detailed backgrounds. The soundtrack also has a jaunty vibe to it and is a pleasant listen. 

Real Talk

Ocean’s Heart feels like a mixed bag for a number of reasons. It has some great dialogue and side quests, but features a lackluster protagonist and a world brimming with unexplored potential. It riffs off of 2D Zelda combat, but fails to execute it nearly as well. While it borrows elements from the classics, it doesn’t always stick the landing. It feels so close yet so far to being a great top-down RPG, but overall leaves a lot to be desired.


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