Saturday, July 13, 2024

Desta: The Memories Between Review — A heartfelt and queer tale

I think we’ve all looked back and wished we had done something different. Said no more. Reached out. Took that chance. Memories, happy ones, can often fill us with joy, yet much like us, memories can age, and what once made you smile now feels like a punch to the gut. Sometimes, the only answer at the time is to run away.

But what happens when you stop running? That is the entire concept of Desta: The Memories Between. In this team-based tactics adventure, players take on the role of the titular character Desta, a non-binary adult who returns to their small town home, Hargate, UK. They’ve returned to help their mother sell their family home, an awkward experience considering they haven’t talked to each other for a long time since their father died, and that goes for all their friends too.

Distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder either, as it’s quickly established that Desta has some real anxiety about how they left things with their friends and family. These anxieties take form through some very real dreams where Desta, wielding nothing but a ball to signify the ball games, like dodgeball, they played with their father. With a ball equipped, Desta must enter their inner psyche and challenge their negative thoughts and feelings, all while battling the ‘shadows’ of their loved ones. It’s very Persona, so fans of tactical adventures with a side of ability unlocks and cool trick shots will feel right at home.

Outside of the obvious, one major difference between Persona and Desta: The Memories Between is that the latter is very much a queer tale. Desta, a young adult with a deep well of trauma that caused them to run away and distance themselves from their loved ones, returns home to deal with the consequences. Yes, the consequences all happen in a dreamlike state, but all of them have Desta trying to understand better the thoughts and feelings of the ones they love, as well as themself. What makes it so queer is that Desta is a non-binary individual, who has to deal with a lot of things that often plague the LGBTQ+ community: coming out, misgendering, and trying to find a support system in a world that doesn’t often value people who are different.

Desta’s worries and fight for acceptance and forgiveness from the people most important to her are represented through the use of dodgeball battles. Each hit takes a heart away from the enemy, and the game progresses when they are left with none. When this happens in boss battles, Desta reveals something to their friend that they’ve wanted to say but simply couldn’t for a number of reasons. This can range from apologizing to a friend for not being there for them, calling a friend out for being blind to their scumbag boyfriend’s cheating ways, or thanking them for being patient with them.

One particular level that stands out to me as poignant is Desta meeting up with their old friend Lee, who they never told about their gender identity. Lee is conveyed as a stereotypical ‘lad’, with a tracksuit, cap, gold chains, and trainers who loves to do nothing more than crack edgy jokes and have fun at the pub. Desta, who acknowledges that they’ve been friends since childhood and shouldn’t be afraid of Lee, is conveyed to have some very real, very understandable hurt and fear at the thought of their friend misgendering and not accepting them. With each hit of the ball, they stress that the relationship they’ve built up is going to be swept away. It’s only when they land that final smack they confess their gender identity, only to be met with acceptance. That’s not always the case, but it perfectly represents Desta’s worry, which many LGBTQ+ community share. It’s never talked down about and is handled respectfully.

Desta: The Memories Between
Image Source: Ustwo games

Outside of Desta’s fear of misgendering, a lot of the queer experience in Desta: The Memories Between is pretty pleasant. One of your best friends is a gay guy, who happens to have the worst boyfriend in the world sure, but also tells one of the most relatable stories out: liking someone who just isn’t interested in you. Then, at one point you go against your old girlfriend, which comes with its own fair share of trouble, but it’s obvious that it isn’t being queer that has forced them apart – it’s the circumstances. Never does Desta: The Memories Between put homophobia or transphobia at the center stage, the game solely focuses on the after effect of Desta’s dad dying, as well as their loved ones own troubles.

What really makes Desta: The Memories Between shine though is how it tells this heartfelt tale through its gameplay. Your abilities come from your treasured memories and links – an apron may help you score more damage with a hit for example, or a jacket will make it so you can move one step more. All of these links are directly related to the bonds Desta made growing up, and as such have a powerful effect on how you can progress throughout.

There is also roguelike elements involved too. If you end up being beaten by the enemy, Desta will wake up and will have to start from the first level all over again. However, there is an alternative route: you can start from the level you were originally at, but you don’t start with any other ability or power up that might help you. Or, if neither of those options sound good to you, you can change your settings so it’s impossible for you to fail in the first place. This way you can complete the game at your own pace, while being able to experience the full story. You will, sadly, miss a few different changes of dialogue, but I wouldn’t say that the option negates the whole experience. Far from it, it only adds to the idea that this is all one wild dream that pushes Desta to make the steps necessary to make amends.

All in all, Desta: The Memories Between is one that’s a must-play for LGBTQ+ gamers. It’s authentic and goes hard, and it’s a greater game for it.

Score: 5/5

A copy of Desta: The Memories Between for Nintendo Switch was provided to Gayming Magazine by PR.

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