When Cameron Hawkins from DualShockers told me to keep She Dreams Elsewhere on my radar, I never knew it would hit me as hard as it did this past weekend at PAX East. Not that I doubted his taste, more so that up until he mentioned the game a few weeks prior, I was completely unaware of its existence. Tucked away in the Indie MEGABOOTH, Studio Zevere‘s She Dreams Elsewhere peeked out from behind a merch table with neon pink and blue hues, immediately grabbing my attention before I even got my hands on it.
She Dreams Elsewhere is a surreal RPG being developed by a one person team at Studio Zevere comprised of Davionne Gooden with an original soundtrack by Mimi Page. You play as Thalia Sullivan on a journey through her dreams, or well I guess nightmares, trying to uncover how you wound up where you are. In a top down pixelated RPG with turn-based combat, you solve puzzles, interact with NPCs, and battle demons on an emotional quest to recover your reality.
The combat flows like Earthbound, as well as other games from the era its visual style is paying homage to, with your characters not being visible during combat, but your blows striking the enemies on screen in flashy ways. The combat system felt balanced and fluid in the PAX East demo with a variety of attacks and options available to cater to different styles of strategy. I can see these developing further into the game as enemies and boss fights become tougher and learning weaknesses and strengths becomes more crucial to progression. On top of a leveling system, there will be a “Charm” system which allows you to customize your party allowing for deeper strategy and play-styles. When you gain other party members in the demo you are able to perform “Linked” attacks that allow all members of the party to attack foes together similar to an “all out attack” from Persona 5 both in design and, at least for me, visually as well.
Speaking of Persona, while I was playing through the demo, I kept making jokes to Mike about how She Dreams Elsewhere was giving me Persona-esque vibes through enemy design and background visuals, while somehow retaining its own identity fully. Which I think is the mark of something truly special in art. When you can see where influences may come from but aren’t blatantly that exact thing and remain something wholly unique, it’s both in reverence for the artist’s influences while a depiction of their own true art.
Besides the combat and non-combat scenarios being enjoyable and controlling smoothly, the sublime artistic choices made for the entire aesthetic of the game goes hand in hand as to how and why She Dreams Elsewhere stands out amongst the crowd. The artistic tone portrayed through the the visual choices by Davionne dancing harmoniously together with mellowing tunes from Mimi, gave me “lo-fi hip hop beats to study to” vibes while forging Thalia’s dreamscape into a perfectly crafted world. The art is deliberate but somehow manages to seem as though it was thrown together or born from sketches, capturing the fragmented feeling of being lost in reality, awake in a dream. From the glass shattering effect of enemy encounters, to the character face cut-ins during powerful attacks in battle, every ounce of She Dreams Elsewhere drips a style and energy that remain cohesive and never seem to feel like anything was out of place.
The easiest way I can describe my brief time with She Dreams Elsewhere is a cross between Undertale and Persona 5– entertaining dialogue and engaging turn-based combat, coated with mesmerizing visuals that left me wanting more as soon as I put the controller down. I can only hope that the teases of an emotional story and personal mirroring will be delved into further and resonate with me as a fulfilling voyage, as much as creating She Dreams Elsewhere must be for Davionne. She Dreams Elsewhere was a recipient of one of our Best of PAX East 2020 awards and for good reason. Here’s hoping this one lands on Switch or Xbox when it launches, tentatively, later this year.
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