Ocean’s Heart is an action RPG adventure that nestles between nostalgia and joy. Exploration, saving, and witty dialog stand out strongest. Developed by Max Mraz, the game’s writing combines sass and common adventure tropes that drive the plot forward. This blend allows for a familiar, but not derivative, story with some bonus puns. Side quests are balanced well and help to emphasize exploration in Ocean’s Heart. The Zelda style mechanics further encourages exploration. Being able to save anywhere is always appreciated.
The world opens at Limestone, a mostly peaceful archipelago island. Then explosive pirate attack kicks off events. Playing as Tilia, the starting goal is to rescue her friend Hazel while finding her father Mallow who had set out earlier. Her only starting clue is the pirate’s flag, a white hourglass. During her quest Tilia finds out about the world, the pirate council, and Black Beard’s mad quest for the Ocean’s Heart. This mythical relic allows the holder to control the ocean.
It is sometimes easy to dismiss a games story and instead favor mechanics alone. However, Ocean’s Heart’s overarching story gives just enough narrative to stand on its own without being overbearing. The story is also original enough to not come across as a retelling of another tale. Yes, there are hints of tropes like rescue the damsel, bad guys are bad, and the hero needs to save the day. It’s the execution of those elements, character personalities, and their reactions that set them apart. Not every damsel needs saving after all.
Ocean’s Heart lets dialog and exploration fill in information gaps and aid suspension of disbelief. Use of symbolism and foreshadowing, intended or not, is apparent from the beginning. Take the flag from Tilia’s first clue. Time being short, or running out, ties into the meaning of a white hourglass pirate flag. The player learns of the Ocean’s Heart when it’s close to being found by the baddies and time is pressing to swoop in and save the day. Alcohol is another. Alcohol references fit with the caricature of pirates and reminds players of Tilia’s origin. Tilia’s family runs a tavern. Together, visiting bars and meaderies make sense in the grand scheme of things. These are some of the small details that help give depth to the game world.
Ocean’s Heart divides the story into quests: main storyline quests and side quests. As players follow main quests they learn about the world outside of Tilia’s Limestone. While side quests help round out world building. A rumor here, finding a cool rock and wanting to learn more or maybe take out a nest of hornets. There’s a very natural feeling of unfolding information fitting for an adventurer. Players can rush from point A to point B, skipping most side objectives. Nothing wrong with it, especially if speed running is the goal. Doing so will result in missing a lot of fun details, secret shenanigans, and helpful upgrades.
Ocean’s Heart timewise isn’t too long with an average playthrough of fifteen hours. Exploration is truly a highlight in Ocean’s Heart. It’s a bit difficult to express as it’s reminiscent of different RPG playthroughs and the divulging of spoilers that are better left to be found by the player instead. So take time to enjoy exploring. Talk to NPCs. Be sassed while hearing out their rumors and antics. Read random books, investigate suspicious areas, try out random shop items and crafting.
While there is some guidance on where to go no mini map is needed here. Objectives are found the good old fashioned way, wandering about and trying to not get lost. Now, story is linear and some advancement is hinged upon quest completion or having the right items. Despite that, the world has a very open feel. It is easy to meander about the map, stumble into secrets, or uncover side quests in the wild. Area maps, most dungeons too, have just enough puzzle to keep play interesting. Granted, there is some doubling back to revisit areas.
Most side quests require returning to the quest giver, new access to blocked parts, that sort of thing. There is a fast travel sail option to reduce tedium after Tilia rescues a delivery person and their ever so convenient boat. Toggling selection of sail points can be annoying, cycling to the right location but may be a personal level of nuisance. Tilia also needs to find and unlock these spots during her exploration.
Wandering can lead to areas with tougher enemies, but grinding isn’t going to help out. There is no experience based leveling system. Gear and weapon upgrades are simplistic and permanent, getting them relies on finding power ups and buying improvements. Battles are action based, not turned based, so players can attempt to run away or with thoughtful use of items push forward. Of course players can grind a bit for monster drops and coin, both which can feel a bit low in early game.
While the text and dialog imply getting new equipment, gear does not appear in the inventory. Inventory is kept to one menu screen, crafting items and loot presorted to one side, and usable items to the other. The most fiddly part of inventory was swapping out usable weapon items tied to the x and y buttons. While the sword is always equipped things like the bow and bomb need to be swapped out. Usable items could also use better instructions on how to use them. Neither are quite annoying or a flaw but it’s worth mentioning. It pays homage to its retro inspiration, but taking advantage of more modern button mapping would be nice. Regardless of that and the ship toggle nuisance, controls are well suited for the Switch. The UI and menu pages are simple and easy to read on the Switch in either docked or handheld mode.
One caveat of Ocean’s Heart is that its fabulous time management feature is also a biggest hurdle for some. Being able to save anywhere can feel too easy. Dying in game is relatively forgiving as well. Continuing never sets players back too far or causes major time loss unlike other older RPGs where forgetting to save can cost hours of progress. Players still need to actively pay attention to harder fights. Players need to manage their items and it’s great not restarting a dungeon after falling off the world with low health. The trade off is a more casual experience. A chill with the soundtrack type of play through. The game is respectful of time and is not the same grueling, grindy, challenge other games can be. There is no unlocking of a hardcore mode.
Ocean’s Heart is overall the action adventure RPG it promises itself to be. It has a fun story with so many secrets to uncover and is thoughtfully puzzling. Also toss toss in a bit of monster murder. It’s not perfect but it is a good time with nice music.
Ocean’s Heart Review
Ocean's Heart Review
Ocean's Heart is a charmingly sassy action adventure RPG. There are pirates, mysterious ruins, exploration, and monsters along the way. It embraces the Zelda style for an engaging yet casual experience.