PC, Nintendo Switch
April 26, 2023
Desta: The Memories Between is a remarkable and heartfelt journey through anxiety, grief, and regret. Through rich and emotional dialogue delivered alongside turn-based tactical gameplay, Desta offers a reflective take on the genre. With only your bed to keep you company and the memories under your pillow, Desta asks you to do two things: To dream and throw a ball.
Desta has come home and now wrestles with all the responsibilities of rekindling friendships and healing old wounds. After losing touch with everyone following the loss of their father, Desta’s return is surrounded by anxiety. Overwhelmed, Desta locks themselves away in their room and isolates themselves from everyone including their mother. So they sleep and dream, and this is where the story lies.
Set entirely within the dreams of the main character, Desta is confronted with projections of their regret and anxiety. These emotions present in twisted manifestations of old relationships that they left behind. And it’s through Desta’s memories and the relationship with their father that they heals these twisted memories. Their father told them that throwing a ball was how to work through problems. So it’s with a ball that Desta heals. From the very beginning, Desta: The Memories Between shows its heart.
It’s these heartfelt moments of emotional depth which make this a great game. These are emotions that all of us can relate to and understand, and Desta is unafraid to speak to us about these emotions. Desta is unafraid to say that the emotions that someone feels are valid, and that they change and shape us. With this emotionally charged exploration into the heart, the game invites the player to reflect while taking turns throwing a ball.
Through turn-based movement over a grid, conflicts are resolved through these tactical ball-fights. The gameplay is simple and accessible. You throw the ball at enemies until their health hits zero. The best part? The ball bounces and can rebound off both enemies and obstacles allowing for trick shots.
Nothing is more satisfying than using a well-placed corner to rebound the ball at an enemy, and then watching the ball hit two more. Angles, trick-shots, and rebounds. Factor in some special abilities to create distractions, block attacks, and more, and you have the dodgeball you wish you played in school.
However, I found the core mechanic, aiming, messy and unintuitive. Every time that you aim, you have a line that indicates where your ball will hit and what it will bounce off. Unfortunately, I found that the mouse did not always follow where I was aiming and I spent far too long trying to correct that dead-zone. This coalesced in the characters visually spinning around on screen. Funny, but annoying. That being said, the game moves at a fairly brisk pace and I never found myself getting overly frustrated with its mechanics.
Desta: The Memories Between is separated into chapters. Each chapter has a few levels where you toss some balls at enemies, and eventually, you fight a boss. Take care of a boss and you get one more teammate to accompany Desta through the dreams. Although they are bosses, I never found any of the encounters difficult except for one boss halfway through the game.
The gameplay strategy ultimately boils down to throwing a ball, and I found success even when I forgot to use any abilities. This is accessible to those wanting a more relaxing tactical game, but fans of the genre may find this too simplistic.
However, not every outcome can be good and a few game-overs were experienced along the way. This is where the game shows its rogue-like side. With every game over, you are thrown back to the main menu with the option “Start Dreaming” waiting to be clicked. From there, you are thrown back to the beginning of the game and given a choice to take a shortcut to the chapter where you last failed. It’s from trying and trying again that these characters get stronger and you become more strategically equipped.
Although you may become more equipped, the game lacks the mechanical depth of titles such as XCOM. This strategy game instead feels meditative. That’s the point. While Desta meditates on their past relationships, I found myself meditating on my relationships. With each toss of the ball set to the calming, drifting music, I couldn’t help but reflect.
While ultimately the game feels meditative, the story is a hard-hitting reflection of grief and loss. Throughout the dreams, Desta dialogues with their teammates of all the fond memories they shared. While all the dialogue is unique and wonderfully voiced with rich emotional direction, there is one common thread. Desta’s Father.
Desta is constantly struggling with how the loss of their father caused them to eventually abandon all the people closest to them. They regret the things they’ve said or they haven’t said. All the while, Desta’s own subconscious creates a safe space for them to say the things they wish they said. Although all these people are manifestations, the game makes them feel real. That’s the biggest strength of Desta: The Memories Between. The Characters.
Every character is fully realised, with backstory, ambitions, and memories. From Desta’s childhood friends to a school teacher, every character is shown to have made an impact in their life. These characters are so richly built that it shows with every memory they share with Desta. There’s one moment later on which tackles Desta’s queer identity as a Non-Binary person where they have to confront a conservative friend. This is the strongest part of the game for me, and it shows with how much care was put into it. So much care that the game presents a content warning for misgendering and asks if you wish to use alternative dialogue.
It’s the care that this game has for every topic. That throughout all the most difficult subject matter, there is an underlying warmth of care, love, and healing, and it shows throughout the whole game. It shows that Desta is healing and that the player can heal too.
- Meditative and reflective experience
- Emotionally enriched narrative
- Realistically written characters and dialogue
- Accessible gameplay
- Queer-friendly writing
- Unintuitive aiming
- Abilities often felt meaningless
Desta: The Memories Between provides a difficult narrative filled with grief and regret. However, through its meditative, albeit unintuitive gameplay, it provides a safe and reflective journey into Desta’s heart. An experience that may have the player remembering back on their own life and relationships. With this relatable and emotionally driven narrative, the game provides a safe space for the player to examine themselves and all it asks is to throw a ball. This all makes Desta: The Memories Between stand out as a great game and an incredible exploration of healing.