PEGBRJE: Roll+Heart and The Guilt and the Shadow
Roll+Heart is as visual novel and TTRPG simulation made by Owl Sanctuary Studios, a solo indie developer out of Australia. For this adventure, players are the new kid on the block and looking for the local board game cafe to join in on a TTRPG day with some other unknown individuals. Time for some adventure.
As the game is centred around the group playing the TTRPG, players will be splitting their time between the real world interactions with the other players and the fantasy world encounters crafted by the GM. To start, players will draft both their ‘IRL’ persona and their ‘IGL’, the latter having stats, a backstory and abilities to utilize in combat. The real world plays as one would expect a visual novel to play out, with characters interacting with each other and the player making decisions that shape how each character views them. Each decision can lead to certain characters liking the player more, which can lead to one of five romantic paths that the player can go down. Make a decision the character enjoys, and the events can unfold from there, as is tradition. ‘IGL’ however is a bit different; it mixes both the visual novel/dating simulation aspects of decision making with a simplified and streamlined version of hex-based TTRPG (feels the most similar to DnD 5E personally). Some decisions made have timers on them to encourage rapid choices and fits into the cinematic moments of playing a TTRPG. As a GM for a 5E game, I’ve done similar scenarios before with giving players a timer to make a split-second decision in harrowing moments, and I’ve received quality feedback on the style; it encourages players to not deliberate too much and go with their instincts, giving a more ‘spur of the moment’ feeling rather than the dreaded bogging down trying to come up with the optimal decision.
When combat does occur, that streamlined hex-based system kicks in. Players will control all of the characters and roll initiative. Each turn is split into two phases between Action and Movement, where the Action phase has two abilities set by the class. Once movement has been completed, players can utilize these two actions to attack enemies, or buff/heal allies in some way. The streamlining is shown as it will always show who is in range of each ability, and abilities that cannot be used due to nobody in range will state as such. Now, if the fights aren’t what players are looking for, Roll+Heart does allow players to opt out of them — I unfortunately had to utilize this feature early on due to a bizarre situation where I simply was unable to move the characters upon starting a fight.
In general, however, visual novels thrive on their characters and that’s Roll+Heart’s specialty. From the start it is obvious that the goal is to bring a sort of comfiness and inclusivity without falling into relatively tone-deaf tropes, and it accomplishes that immediately. From the character creator, players are able to choose their name, body type, hair type, and a few colour options for hair, eyes and skin tone while recognizing the need for specifying gender/sex to be irrelevant. The setting of random new players to a pick up TTRPG game allows for those of many different walks of life, such as a mother of two that was curious about the game after her eldest mentioned it. The interesting aspect for me is that the game even manages to avoid tropes associated with characters that are subverting standard tropes in the first place, if that makes sense. In a few titles that advertise that they are subverting tropes, I’ve found that many will end up introducing characters that do indeed fit the criteria, only to eventually fall into those tropes through the events that occur around them; rather than create new events that feel wholeheartedly unique to the subversion. Case and point? I don’t think I’ve ever driven a mom to a soccer game before in a visual novel.
Roll+Heart earnestly wants players to submerse themselves in the world and the almost normalcy that is created for a bunch of new players just trying to play a weekly game of TTRPG. We all have lives outside of the game, and rarely do those lives fit neatly into simple scenarios that involve ‘getting the girl’ at the end. It’s not perfect in its execution, and some may be thrown off by the art style, but the writing and relatability of the overarching scenario will be a welcoming sight to many that have been looking for a visual novel that caters to this style. If that sounds like you, make sure to try this one out.
The Guilt and the Shadow is a bleak puzzle adventure made by oophok, the indie dev that brought us Zone of Lacryma earlier on. Unlike that title, full of speed, this follows an unnamed individual within a monochromatic world, fully of unsettling whispers, imagery and sounds as we attempt to come to grips with why we are here in the first place.
Players are dropped into the world of The Guilt and the Shadow with only fragments of an understanding. There are words being spoken in many places and at different times, all seemingly connected yet discombobulated and it is up to the player to piece together what exactly means anything. While doing so, the actual goal of the title is to explore and solve relatively straight-forward puzzles within a platforming-esque environment, utilizing environmental pieces to create pathways over originally impassable terrain. The puzzles themselves are actually reminiscent of point-and-click adventure titles, where it’s focus is mostly on finding clues in other parts of the map to bring back and solve at different devices. Some may require memorizing codes, others just needing simple math or understanding of objects. It’s not meant to be tricky, but instead allows for players to get dragged throughout the map for a more clear purpose: the atmosphere.
The entire game is built in its bleakness. The handdrawn foreground and background is just terrifyingly simple, with eyes seemingly built into everything — sometimes, those things even have faces to accompany the eyes. The landscape that players interact with is a 3D interpretation of this 2D drawn style, creating this bizarre disconnect while still feeling very much in world, as if the landscape had been stretched out and laid down to accompany the player’s arrival. The audio is just covered in subtle whispers, completely outside the scope of being understandable while still feeling as if they may be saying something of value. The words that appear occasionally are set in a short sentence format, keeping things tight yet explaining little to nothing about what they wish to mean. Some give hints, such as when picking up items that can help with puzzles, while others are rambling about boats. It all adds together to create this unsettling environment that feels almost subconscious in its execution, as the world feels as if it was created and then textured over with the paper eyes and unsettling voices.
The best way to explain The Guilt and the Shadow is to simply look at the intro: “Wear Headphones” and “Play in the dark”. It knows that it wants to submit players to a dark environment not of fear, but of a sense of confusion and dread, one that needs exploration to explain but still doesn’t give out answers. To those that adore atmosphere, even if you aren’t necessarily doing things that involve a lot of action out of you, this is definitely a title to try.
Roll+Heart is a dating simulation and visual novel set within the adventures of a tabletop game group. The game…