Yet another case of the Hentai Hangups.
Heaven will Be Mine is a game I’ve wanted for a long time. I was hooked as soon as I heard the pitch; a gay visual novel about three mech pilots on different sides of a war alternating between battling and making out. The game is everything I could’ve wanted it to be and more. It’s entertaining, sexy, and deeply philosophical. It finds a perfect balance between having you joyride a mech to go hook up with the enemy, and ruminate on the nature of conflict and community.
The plot of Heaven Will Be Mine is driven by three main characters, each with their own routes. Each girl represents one of three factions in a conflict over the future of humanity in space. Pluto is the powerful and ever optimistic psychic princess of Cradle’s Graces, fighting for safety and independence for the now abandoned space colonists and a life free from the crushing gravity of Earth. Luna-Terra is the hardened and battle scarred ace pilot for the Memorial Foundation, in charge of closing the space program and bringing the colonists back to Earth safely before it’s too late. Saturn is a bratty hacker test pilot from Celestial Mechanics, a mysterious group trying to set aside their humanity completely and become something fully alien.
The story is broken up into missions, wherein the character you chose goes out to do some task and invariably runs into one of the other two rival mech pilots. As the storyteller, you choose how the mission plays out; a choice that impacts both how the relationships between the characters develops, but also changes the balance of power in the larger scale conflict (and which ending you will get). Each character fights for their side, but they never feel like flat representations or spokespeople. Their relationships to their factions’ ideals are complicated by backstory, and add depth and heart to their motivations. For instance, while Saturn works for the Celestial Mechanics, she doesn’t fully trust its leadership and is constantly working on her own plans; and while Luna-Terra fights for the Memorial Foundation right now, she betrayed Cradle’s Graces to get there. Their views are strained and challenged by the other girls, in the playful and emotional back and forth of combat.
The game is filled with abstract impressionist science fiction that I just love. The notes and logs read halfway between the weirdest physics texts and works of critical theory. Culture is a force akin to gravity, in the “Jungian-Newtonian” model. Narrative is an explicit force in the world and characters play back and forth in the descriptions of the scenes themselves. The world is so charmingly postmodern and ridiculous. Yet cutting through and intermingling with that ridiculousness is the sharp and flirty banter of the girls like a breath of fresh air. The dialogue is clever and cute but never dragged on or felt obnoxious. The flirting felt accurate and adorable, and I grew so invested in the characters and their stories that every emotional scene was devastating in the best way.
The art of Heaven Will Be Mine is gorgeous and just as impressionist as the narrative. It switches between mediums often, exploding from a fight scene into abstract clouds of color, or, in one of my favorite sections, turning into hand drawn sketches on notebook paper. Its visual style is constantly shifting but still maintains a consistent feel. All of the characters’ portraits feel expressive and full of personality and the mechs are just stunning. The mech designs are reminiscent of the girls who pilot them visually but also reflect the interior life of the character in a way I loved. Luna-Terra has the Mare Crisium, all battle scarred, cold metal and hard edges. Pluto has the clay red giant Krun Macula: regal, powerful enough to form a star, but tender and human. Saturn has the String of Pearls, small, quick, annoying, and catlike. Every little detail in this game in terms of visuals, scoring, and writing feel deliberate and flow together wonderfully.
The mechs are called ‘ship-selves’ and are reflections of their pilots in all ways. When the pilots interface with their mechs, they share its feelings and pain, like a second skin. The ship-selves are immortal, so conflict between them can’t lead to death. They’re often referred to as ‘plastic toys’, and characters argue over whether the conflict can properly be called a war or not, but to me, deliberately lowering the stakes helped me understand and enjoy the stories being told that much more. Conflict in this game feels intimate, a certain sort of flirting, or like an argument between lovers. In one of my favorite scenes, Saturn flirts with Luna-Terra by getting shot by her a whole lot. It’s a moment that’s ridiculous, but also so telling about who these characters are and how they view both themselves and their role in the conflict as a whole. Saturn’s drive and energy are relentless, and Luna-Terra’s commitment to the rules of engagement can limit her. Every scene in this game is layered with metaphor and poetry that are weaved into the narrative seamlessly. Every fight feels like an argument over the world or the future or each other, but with the awkward and endearing intimacy of a hookup.
Everything about this game feels gay, right down to its central conflict. At its core, the question of whether humanity should stay in space, is also a conflict over the value of separatism in queer communities, about whether separating from society is an attainable goal, or whether we can change society to fit our needs. Space in the game is a place of freedom for the girls, a place for those cast out and unwanted by Earth, where they can grow unrestrained from Earth’s gravity and the societal expectations that gravity represents. Space, how it is described, reminds me of trans spaces I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in, places where I felt like I could express myself without fear of judgement or repercussions. This comparison is wanted and intended by the authors, space in the game is explicitly a place where trans kids could find the freedom and access to resources necessary to fully express themselves. This is another huge part of what made this game so personally impactful for me, these conflicts grow from real world marginalized experience and emotion.
What I mean is, an integral part of Pluto’s support of Cradle’s Graces is that she is concerned that she would never have been able to transition on Earth. The conflicts brought up in this game aren’t so far off from conflicts I experience in my everyday life as a trans person, navigating different communities and complicated politics. I’ve heard the arguments of Luna-Terra and Pluto and Saturn all before, I’ve believed and loved all of them, just in different shapes and contexts. Pluto’s idealistic view of a gay separatist space colony feels like my wildest hopes on my most optimistic days. Luna-Terra’s yearning to carve out a space for them on Earth has a familiar spite-filled sound. And of course It isn’t just humanity Saturn is running from, it’s our confining system of gender all together. I’ve been all of these girls, bought into all of their ideals, at different points in my life or at different hours of one day.
Rather than mining the experiences of marginalized folks for content while removing them from the work entirely, Heaven Will Be Mine shows the value and strength of making a marginalized voice the core of a work. The heart of Heaven Will Be Mine is emotional truth and lived experience. I found so much comfort in game’s reimagining of the world such that we can view these issues through the lense of a soft plastic conflict, and through acts of love. Running through the game is a persistent and ever present sense of hope and joy. It’s a game that believes in the constructive power of a good fight. No matter who is right, who wins out in these temporary arguments, the game reminds you, you can make the future you want. As Luna-Terra says, you cannot be killed, but you can be changed, and sometimes changing is a good thing. It’s a message that I needed to hear. Heaven Will Be Mine feels like a labor of love, and is one of my favorite games I’ve played in a long time. I cannot recommend it enough.