Ocean's Heart Review: A Fun If Unoriginal Retro Throwback

Ocean’s Heart is a charming, albeit uninspired, Zelda-like 2D adventure that wears its influences a bit too heavily.

When you consider its enduring popularity, it isn’t surprising that there have been so many clones of The Legend of Zelda over the years. Between early adventures like Neutopia to more recent games like Immortals: Fenyx Rising and Genshin Impact, Zelda has been a continued inspiration for developers across the world since it originally released. 

Even with Breath of the Wild’s successful reinvention, there has always been a place for 2D entries like A Link to the Past, and that much is clear with Ocean’s Heart. Developed by Max Mraz, this top-down action RPG is often enjoyable and wears its influences proudly, even if that’s not always to its benefit.

Ocean's Heart Review: A Fun If Unoriginal Retro Throwback

In Ocean's Heart, you play as Tilia, a Volunteer Navy member with a striking resemblance to the Hero of Time. After her settlement has been attacked by pirates, she finds that the ne'er do wells have also kidnapped her friend Hazel. Tilia's father, also a Navy member, sets out to bring Hazel home but doesn't return. Of course, Tilia sets out on an adventure to find them both. 

The story is packed with humor throughout, often playing off classic RPG tropes. You’ll get a few laughs, but this self-referential style can feel forced at times, making it hit and miss.

While the opening portions of Ocean's Heart are more linear, things really open up after leaving Limestone Island, allowing for plenty of freedom. You can buckle down with the main story, but plenty of side quests are available too, offering currency as a reward known as "crowns". 

Some quests are your standard “defeat x monsters” or “explore x dungeon,” but others include more interesting situations with greater significance on the world.

Early in Goatshead Harbor, you're tasked by the Merchant Guild leader with chasing a “Phantom Squid," which ultimately leads you to discover this squid and the residents of Crabhook Island have been unjustly persecuted. You can side with the Squid and the residents to overthrow the Guild leader, a move that permanently changes your interactions with the guild moving forward. 

It's a small matter in the wider plot, but one that ripples through the rest of the story. Your more standard quests don't usually hold such impact, with many asking you to clear out a dungeon for some explorers, so something like this stands out. 

Outside of these populated areas, whether on the road or inside a dungeon, Tilia encounters numerous monsters, from easier foes like crabs with a standard swing attack to mandrakes, which pop out of the ground and can knock you out in seconds. 

Initially armed with a sword, you can eventually acquire a crossbow for ranged attacks, while magical abilities, such as helpful leaf barriers or lightning attacks, can be learned too. 

Ocean's Heart leans a lot on Zelda here in this capacity, where the ideas present have been better executed elsewhere, and while things can be fun, the lack of originality is arguably the game's biggest flaw. That reliance makes things less engaging as a result.

Several issues get in the way as well. For example, the sword’s hit detection ultimately feels off; swinging around your immediate vicinity, it lands hits on enemies fine but breakable objects are a different story. Unless you stand directly in front of them, it doesn’t register that type of attack at all.

Furthermore, Tilia’s abilities could do with improved button mapping. Her dodge roll ability is mapped to the same button as interacting with NPCs or objects, so it becomes very easy to make a mistake without lining yourself up perfectly. If you’re trying to talk to someone by the docks for example, it’s easy to accidentally roll and land in deep water, causing you to lose health. Combined, both issues make gameplay feel unnecessarily finicky at points.

Both weapons and armor can be upgraded for better offense and defense via the blacksmith. It's a useful feature since Tilia starts with the game with only three hearts; they can be increased, usually by undertaking hidden dungeons and health restoring fruit is widely available too, but this system makes things a bit more manageable.

There are a few elements of crafting involved here as well, letting you pick up ingredients to later use in brewing healing potions. To make life easier, Tilia has two slots for item use, equipping her with potions, fruit, or bombs, so these can be placed there for quick access as you see fit.

Ocean’s Heart Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Pixel art style is nice.
  • Channels that classic Zelda gameplay well.
  • Good quest system.

Cons

  • Controls can be imprecise.
  • Distinctly unoriginal.
  • Jokes don’t always land.

You can tell Max Mraz put a lot of love into Ocean’s Heart and in some ways, it makes for a remarkable solo effort. Offering wide exploration and an enjoyable quest system, it doesn’t shy away from that Legend of Zelda influence but struggles to offer anything unique. Much of what’s offered here has been seen before, and good humor isn’t enough to elevate it.

Despite that, Ocean’s Heart would feel right at home on SNES, featuring a lovely 16-bit pixel art style that really shines through. Old-school Zelda fans will likely enjoy it and as a retro-styled RPG, it still comes recommended despite these flaws.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Ocean's Heart used for the review.]

Our Rating
7
Ocean’s Heart is a charming, albeit uninspired, Zelda-like 2D adventure that wears its influences a bit too heavily.
Reviewed On: PC
Published Jul. 1st 2021

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