As I sat there looking at the colorful rendering of Elk and my 100% completion save file, I wondered if my assumption was inherently American. I had these thoughts of, Give me my prize. Give me the thing again without having to work for it. Give me the chance to look at this again. I knew, looking at that menu screen, that that was not the point of Welcome to Elk. The point of Welcome to Elk is to experience a small world of stories and lives. And there’s no way to dip your toes in. Like the lovable alcoholic schoolteacher Sue, sometimes you have to just dive into those frigid waters and swim to shore.
Where the gameplay may be lacking, The Big Con makes up for with emotional stakes. I found Ali’s relationships to be engaging, funny, and heartfelt. She can call her mom and her best friend—who she’s currently on the outs with—from the road. She makes friends with recurring guests along the road, including a particularly funny Pawn Shop Broker (the game’s way of letting you sell random items for extra cash). She even has a delightful imaginary friend called Rad Ghost who serves as a helper—emotionally, and logistically with controls—throughout the game. Amid the nostalgia and time travel, there is a very tangible reflection on the transience of commercial fads as well as a love and concern for small businesses. Ali is a good kid, and getting to follow her journey, living vicariously through her as the cool ‘90s teen I never was, was worth even the most lackluster of pickpocketing opportunities.
"Boyfriend Dungeon innovates in the realm of story and character, rather than with its gameplay systems, and I think it’s to the game’s benefit. Not every action game needs to reinvent the wheel in terms of mechanics. The experience is straightforward, and allows the spotlight to be on the fun characters and energizing gameplay. [...] I hope you try it out, and when you do, tell me who your fave sword is, and I’ll tell you mine."
Where the Heart Leads fills a void after the closure of Telltale, which famously popularized interactive, combat-less games that ask for decisions to be made and for conversations to be had. I could practically see an icon twirling in the upper right hand corner, saying, Sege will remember you said that. I hope Where the Heart Leads is a sign of more games in that space. If you’re looking for a game that is quiet without being boring, philosophical but not peaceful, and sweet without being trite, then Where the Heart Leads should be in consideration for your next indie binge.