Heaven’s Vault: Ending

Heaven’s Vault is a slow, quiet game, and it has a slow, quiet ending. At least, that’s what the ending I got was like. It’s clear that there’s some branching, including a last-second binary choice. I wouldn’t describe the earlier parts of the game as branching, because it’s far more free than that — it’s more like you have a whole lot of opportunities and can follow up on them as you please. But eventually you start to run out of goals to pursue, either because you’ve completed them or rendered them uncompletable, and the story funnels you towards the Vault, one way or another. And when it does, it starts to feel like you’re going down a path to inevitability, especially when you make the trip to the final destination, knowing you won’t be able to go back home until the story is complete, if ever.

Inevitability is also suggested by the way that the narrative starts near the end in a sort of flash-forward prologue, then jumps back in time to the beginning. When you land on that final site, you recognize it, and know exactly what your robot is going to say. Weirdly, though, the prologue wasn’t quite accurate in my play-through. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that my earlier choices had resulted in a visible change that the prologue didn’t reflect. Past a certain point, I felt like the game wasn’t quite anticipating that I’d do the things the way I had done them, that I was getting bits of the story out of the order the author wanted, solving problems before they were posed and finding basic explanations of concepts I was already very familiar with. Earlier parts didn’t feel like this, despite being more freeform — perhaps just because I had less personal history to get tangled up.

This feeling was largely the reason I took the final plunge past the point of no return when I did, despite still having a great many untranslated inscriptions that I probably could have resolved if I kept puttering around longer. Searching random ruins and shipwrecks while out sailing is basically this game’s version of grinding, and, as always with grinding, you eventually just have to decide you’ve done enough of it. The game did try to impel me towards the conclusion with ominous warnings about a coming darkness, but it never felt urgent. Indeed, I tended to forget about the darkness whenever it wasn’t being mentioned. It seemed a little superfluous. The prospect of learning the secrets at the heart of the world is compelling enough motivation in itself.

After completing the game, there’s a New Game+ mode, which seems very appropriate for a work so concerned with the idea that history is cyclical. In a combat-based RPG, New Game+ would typically mean starting over with the stats and/or equipment you ended the game with, but also with tougher monsters. Here, it means starting over with all your accumulated knowledge of the ancient language, but also with longer and more complicated inscriptions. This actually makes things make more sense, story-wise; the first time around, we’re told that Aliya has been studying the language, but she literally knows none of its words whatsoever. Moreover, this is a game that demands to be played multiple times. I know there are sub-plots I never even glimpsed in my first pass, as well as goals that I tried and failed to accomplish. (You can’t always revisit sites that you were forced to leave before you got what you wanted from them.) Refreshing the word-hunting in this way should help to keep replays interesting.

At any rate, it’s a lovely game, and makes me a little jealous that I didn’t get to work on it. Before moving on, there’s just one more thing I’d like to comment on, and that’s the title. Spoiler alert, because we don’t learn just what “Heaven’s Vault” really means until the very end. We’re told it’s a place, and we’re told it’s a ship, but what we ultimately learn is that the word “vault” refers to part of the ship’s functionality, that it’s “vault” not in the sense of “room for storing valuables”, or even in the sense of “chamber with arched ceiling”, but in the sense of “jump”. And that’s a step over the line into “To Serve Man” territory. “Heaven’s Vault” is a translation from the ancient language, which is made of glyphs representing semantic units, not phonemes. This particular kind of ambiguity, of words with multiple unrelated meanings, shouldn’t be possible in this writing system at all, let alone with the same specific double meanings as English. On the other hand, examining the word that gets translated as “vault” shows that the glyphs say exactly what it turns out they mean. It was always “Heaven’s Jump” all along, and you had the clues you needed to realize this. Furthermore, I don’t think anyone in the game ever actually interprets it incorrectly, however misleading it is to the player. It’s just a weird trick to pull, especially at the end of such a generally thoughtful and mature piece.

No Comments

Leave a reply