Ocean's Heart - Switch Review


Ocean's Heart
by developer Max Mraz and publisher NordcurrentNintendo Switch review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes 


Ocean's Heart is a top-down RPG where you explore an archipelago to fight off pirates, battle corrupted beasts, and discover the secrets of the mythical Ocean's Heart. An action adventure in the same vein as games such as A Link to the Past with a more oceanic theme, Ocean's Heart is a great tale that hits a lot of the retro feel while providing a new world to explore with its own twists and takes.

Ocean's Heart tells the tale of Tilia. She and her family, her dad and sister, run a bar. One day, while she's off getting a bottle of booze for her dad to restock with, their village is attacked by pirates and her friend Hazel is kidnapped. Her dad, a member of the volunteer navy, sets out to save Hazel. After some months has passed, Tilia's father has not returned, so she sets off to discover what has happened to her father, and to get even with the pirates that ransacked her village.

Ocean's Heart plays very reminiscent of A Link to the Past, with more of a Windwaker theme, although with its own takes and twists. You control Tilia in a 2D top down view, with a sword you can swing at enemies, a combat roll, and two item slots to equip items/weapons at a time. You also have a magic bar and you can gain access to magic when you find some spells, or meet certain requirements. As you play through the game, you will explore ruins, caves, temples, and such. In these areas, you can find new weapons and items to use, health upgrades, passive upgrades, or even magic spells. You'll also find a lot of berries. Like, so many berries. Channel your inner Mumei.

So, the reason I bring up the berries is a rather simple one: you can collect a lot of stuff. You can collect crafting items, such as mandrake roots, and healing items such as apples. Each healing item will heal a set amount, such as the berries that heal half a heart, and you can carry a decent amount of them, 50 to be precise. Yeah, there may have been some boss fights where I paused the game to open my menu, and just scarfed down, like, 30 berries. Makes me think of that advert for Skyrim super special edition and the "eat ALL the cheese" thing.

Seriously though, you've got a huge inventory that you can stock full of healing items, consumable potions, consumable weapons, and more permanent weapons, as well as collectibles like the mandrake roots and coral. Coral is a little special though, as you use it to upgrade your sword and bow. Yeah, you can upgrade your gear, and you can upgrade it a lot. Same with your armour. Yup, that's right, you can reduce damage taken by upgrading your armour, usually by completing a side-quest for a reward or finding upgrades in miscellaneous caves. You'll always take at least half a heart in damage though, so be aware of that. Similarly, you can find these little light orbs that increase your maximum health in a similar manner.

So let's talk a bit about exploration and quests. While you do have a main questline you are tasked with, you can do A LOT to avoid touching it for a lot of the game. What I mean is that there are TONS of sidequests to complete, and as long as you've gotten the requisite item to enter a new area, you can go explore way past where you're supposed to be plot wise. The world of Ocean's Heart is made up of a series of mostly interconnected islands, where you will need to find thin strips of land to cross over, or rocks to hop across. The map is left blank until you first enter an area, but your location indicator actually moves with you, so you won't always appear "in the middle" of the area you're in, provided you aren't in a cave or anything, which really helps you get a feel for where you are.

One of the aspects I loved about Ocean's Heart is how much there is to do. Between finding bonus items, upgrading your gear, crying about the Exploding Chaos Flail after forgetting to change it back, the very large amount of side quests, including some that span the entire length of the game if you start them early enough, there's a lot going on, which is great. There's even a secret bonus boss to fight if you figure out where and how! It was tough, but exciting! Also, pro tip, you can actually die after beating the last boss, but without having anything technically hit you. Just a fun fact there.

Now, there are a number of departures from the standard Zelda format which allow Ocean's Heart to stand out. First of all, there's a whole crafting mechanic, which allows you to take those flowers you've been hoarding and turn them into something useful. Second, the game is tough. Not so bad that it's unbeatable or anything, just tough enough to present a decent challenge, and that's even before ringing the "make it harder" bell right outside the first non starting town you set foot in. Finally, the fact you can upgrade your gear numerous times is also a departure from the typically Zelda format. Oh, and as an added bonus you can carry things between screens, which threw me off at first.

There are a few rough points however, so let's tackle the biggest issue I had first: frame rate. Occasionally I would have periods where the game would slow right down, chugging to get through, and then all of a sudden I'd be moving at super speed for a few seconds. This tended to happen when there were a large number of moving effects on-screen, but could be resolved either by waiting it out, or saving and closing/restarting the game. Another problem I encountered was that, occasionally, there would be a small screen shake when I was moving around, depending on the layout of the area I was in and how the next room over was oriented. It's…annoying, but not debilitating. The last major issue I had was with the item inventory. While the basic inventory is fine, there are some key items that aren't shown, which I suppose is fine given that they all associate with quests, which will let you know if you've acquired the item, but is still annoying. Compound on this that you can't read descriptions for items you can't "select", and it can get a little annoying. As a final mention, in each town there should be an apothecary table you can use to make items, which I didn't realize until halfway through the game you could even do, as it isn't really explained well. The game also doesn't tell you what the item you're making does until after you make it, which is super frustrating.

I'd like to add special mention that, as far as I'm aware, there was only a single person that worked on this game. I'm not sure about porting it to other platforms, but at least the PC version I'm pretty sure was just a single person. Seriously impressive work.

Summary

Overall, I had an absolutely wonderful time with Ocean's Heart and loved it the whole way through. With that old-school Legend of Zelda vibe in both gameplay and art style, add in some unique twists and takes, and couple it with an immersive world, and you really have a recipe for success. While there were a few technical problems and design choices that I didn't agree with, most of the time it wasn't a big enough issue to truly worry about for the most part. With tons of bonus quests, caves to explore, and a secret boss, Ocean's Heart is sure to keep you well entertained!

Score: 9 / 10




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