She Dreams Elsewhere is a new member to the family of RPG Maker games. What distinguishes this entry, developed and published by Studio Zevere, from the competition are its themes: depression, isolation, teenage angst, and other mental health issues.
She Dreams Elsewhere is not the first game to approach these topics, but instead of coming from the adventure angle, its creator chose the RPG route. Thalia, the game’s protagonist, is fighting her inner demons — quite literally.
Whether or not anything we see in She Dreams Else — or its demo, to be more specific — is real remains open. The contrasting graphics in style of a PC booter game, psychedelic backgrounds and monstrous enemies are certainly not of our world. However, we have yet to learn whether Thalia just imagines the world of Oblivion, dreams of it, or perhaps is in a coma.
Oblivion is not very friendly, and filled with messages that people with mental health issues may be all too familiar with: others are better off without you, and you are worth little. That said, this is not the message that She Dreams Elsewhere sends. Right from the start, the game makes it clear that these thoughts bring nothing but suffering.
Whether or not someone with mental health issues should, or should not, play She Dreams Elsewhere is not for me to judge, but it is fair to say that this game should be approached with a certain amount of care.
World building aside, She Dreams Elsewhere is still a video game. Its combat, somewhat reminiscent of Earthbound, carries on the themes: Thalia can stand up to her inner demons and inflict status conditions of them. Being pummeled raises a character’s limit, and once it is maxed out, Thalia and her companions get access to powerful moves.
Combat is overall not very difficult. Despite She Dreams Elsewhere’s roleplaying roots, the game elegantly skips the part where the player grinds for two hours until they can finally afford marginally better equipment. That is okay; She Dreams Elsewhere was not designed around a hardcore JRPG experience.
Currently, She Dreams Elsewhere offers a free demo with a playtime of about 90 minutes. The full game is supposed to come out in early 2019. The demo alone is worth the time, and should be explored for both its message and its presentation.