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Frail Hearts: A stylish game about Queer love, acceptance, and killing monsters

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Image courtesy of Ravenage
Image courtesy of Ravenage

Imagine this: you are trapped in a prison, one built inside you by the world you live in, and though you may have strained against it in the past — or not — you're too tired now, and you've found it easier to give up and try to forget about it.

Then something tears open your little piece of the world that trapped you, and though you're not sure it's a world worth saving, the ensuing chaos is the push you need to start looking for a way out. How will you do that? By solving mysteries and fighting monsters with your friends, of course.

From the mind of Nonbinary Italian game developer Fiore comes a genre blend of turn-based JRPG (Japanese role-playing game), visual novel, and Lovecraftian horror. Frail Hearts: Versicorae Domlion follows four Queer characters through a bleak 1930s urban landscape as they solve mysteries and grapple with love, acceptance, and demons both inner and worldly.

Images courtesy of Ravenage  

Hearts is rendered in grayscale, save highlights of muted color for each of the characters, and its world is all stark pixel art until the characters enter dialogue or battle. More detailed art then serves to show characters' expressions while they speak, and emphasize the full horror of the enemies they face. The soundtrack was composed by Undreamed, a folk fantasy band from Merano, Italy.

Fiore (she/her) described the development process of Hearts as "hurtful, [but] it helped me (and I hope others as well) to endure the last two years... to realize what could come after the pandemic. I really wish it will become the starting point for more stories to tell and worlds to create."

And there is no shortage of inspiration to be taken from this piece. The pain involved in making it may be evident in the enemies alone, who feel like morbid collections of bodily symbols, specific enough that each player should have no trouble gleaning their own interpretations.

Fiore's degree in etching and graphic arts and her fascination with goth aesthetics and romanticism are on full display here. She designed the enemies with imagination influenced by her toxic experiences with relatives and broader society.

As the plot of the game moves forward, a player can make choices that will not only influence the story's general end but also the characters' arcs. "Personal growth is key to the characters' adventures," said a Ravenage Games spokesperson in an email, "and sooner or later, they will be able and ready to make their choices."

Of the Queer main cast, players can expect inner turmoil, like that of Michael O'Glory, a masculine gangster who can't accept his love for his only friend, Gabriel. The inciting event for O'Glory, then, is Gabriel's death. It is the beginning of the man's search for something to fill the void; a transformation will follow, for better or for worse.

As for the rest of the cast, at least two minor characters are heterosexual, but they have the rare gift of supportive families, and they have trouble relating to the conflicts of the main characters. There's no veil of symbolism there.

Hearts was published by Ravenage, a small games company just over a year old. Fiore developed the game under the studio Sezhes, which she founded "after the desire to recreate the emotions that surprised us in our childhood: wonder, admiration, hope, but also fear towards the unknown."

"Every video game we produce can be considered as a single artwork," Fiore said. "But who knows... Putting all pieces together could create a single, greater universe."

It seems that Hearts is only the beginning.