This surreal RPG’s battle screens look so good

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One game which caught my eye during all of the E3 everything is one I’m apparently late to notice: surreal RPG She Dreams Elsewhere. A new trailer with mock VHS effects showed off its shopping mall level with a CGA-ish palette and sure, that was interesting enough, but then it hit a battle and WHAT HELLO THIS IS GORGEOUS.

Hold on a sec. Let’s rewind to that battle montage in the middle:

That’s lovely, that. Maybe my favourite JRPG-y battle screens since the claymation psychedelia of the Hylics games. She Dreams Elsewhere’s character art is by Yanina Nesterova, and it is great. Well into the close-up panel of eyes too. And the backgrounds. And the monsters. And the attack effects. And the rest. Yes, very nice.

She Dreams Elsewhere is about Thalia Sullivan, who’s riddled with anxiety and oh, also in a coma. Yeah, you can guess what it’s up to, but the feelings sound real and the writing good. Alice Bee and Sin Vega both praised the game before, having played a demo a year ago.

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The party in a She Dreams Elsewhere screenshot.
While the character art is what most caught my eye, I like the contrast and collage together with the quite different style of the world art.

“It doesn’t beat you over the head with it, but the subtext of this is clear,” Sin said. “When you win a fight, the celebratory text says not ‘You win!’ or ‘Victory!’, but ‘safe & sound’. The plot is kicked off when Thalia chases her dog into a nightmare world without hesitation, which I can obviously relate to. Thalia’s brief pep talk in the mirror is less a case of ‘you can do this!’ and more ‘you can’t get out of this’, and even when her friend asks her what’s wrong at the party, the option to ‘just tell her straight up’ is refused by Thalia herself with a hollow laugh. She fights intrusive thoughts and self-recrimination and constant worries that the slightest nothing must be a sign that she’s let someone down somehow. Half her struggle is hiding how much she’s struggling from the painful light of people who care. The dialogue and narration are concise but very real. I have literally said and thought some of these things.”

Love a big aesthetic combined with a big mood.

She Dreams Elsewhere is due “soon” on PC, Xboxes, Switch, and Stadia. Creative director Davionne Gooden has blogged about progress over the past year-and-a-bit, if you’re curious. You can still download that demo from Steam and, so I’m going to do just that. Bye!

E3 2021 may be over but our memories live on – see everything on our E3 hub. Many more big game showcases and streams are still to come this summer, leading up to Gamescom, so see our summer games stream schedule to stay up to date.

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