Heaven's Vault - Lost in Translation
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

On April 16th 2019 English publisher Inkle published Heaven’s Vault on Microsoft Windows and the Playstation 4. Fast forward to January of 2021 and Heaven’s Vault makes the switch to, well, the Nintendo Switch. Nominated for many game of the year awards and bagging itself the ‘Excellence in Narrative’ award at the ‘Independent Games Festival’ Heaven’s Vault was received well by critics and players alike.

So why didn’t I fully enjoy my time with it? Lend me your ears (or eyes, I guess if you’re reading this) while I chat shop for all things, Heaven’s Vault.

So, what is Heaven’s Vault?

Heaven’s Vault is a Non-Linear, linguistic puzzle adventure. Take a moment to read that again if you weren’t expecting a mouthful like that. You take control of our main protagonist, archaeologist and planetary explorer ‘Aliya’. At first thought, you may think this is some George Lucas hybrid of Indiana Jones crossed over with Star Wars but Aliya doesn’t travel around and throw hands around the system. No, Aliya is a grounded, take no shit character who can dish out verbal beatings no matter who is on the receiving end. Well, depending on how to choose the story to play out but we’ll get more into that in a little bit.

Aliya has extensive knowledge of the history of this world and whenever she finds an artefact or object she can examine it and tell what century, location and material it is. Usually identifying objects and linking them with others she’s found in the environment, unlocking new areas for the player to go visit and explore.

“Stories don’t have tidy beginnings…”

The narrative doesn’t hold your hand and introduce each character and location to you in the beginning because Aliya already knows who these people are. Through the interactions the player experiences in the starting locations, they can piece together the history of what has happened between some players in this story and the significance of some areas.

Inkle obviously did not want the player to be left in the dark completely about the history of this world on their own and wouldn’t expect the player to root through history books, audio logs etc. This is where ‘Six’ comes in. Six is a robot companion assigned to Aliya to accompany her on the task she was given at the beginning of the game. Six enquires about the world and the people you meet throughout the journey, if you choose to respond to Six you can discover the background, and history and learn along with him in real-time.

The game’s plot is structured non-linearly, an oxymoron I know but it allows the player to approach the story and how it plays out on their own terms. Aliya will have inner thoughts at times pushing the player in a direction to take to progress but you can always choose another option if you have one available. Why would you want to do this? For the translations! I don’t want to go into the details of the plot here because narrative games like this should be experienced blind I feel. So let’s move on to the bread and butter of this game and Aliya’s expertise. The previously mentioned translations.

“ ~{^’~ ”

Inkle has created an entire language to be discovered and translated in this title. On creating the language itself they say;

“The pictorial nature of both Ancient Egyptian and Chinese writing systems inspired the glyphs of Heaven’s Vault. Words are formed out of smaller “atoms”, as they often are in German.”

The translations are the best part of this game, you begin by simply guessing what each section or ‘atom’ represents. At first, it can be quite confusing as the game doesn’t tell you straight out if you have made a correct translation or not but using common sense you can start to connect the dots (or glyphs). A small statue of a woman inside of someone’s house, could this be a goddess? A monarch? A toy figure? It’s up to you to decide what the carvings on the statue represent. The same figure is found again but this time it is a large statue inside of a shrine of worship, maybe the goddess is the correct translation for that figure you found earlier.

Over time, Aliya talks to herself as you translate more and more etchings and writings, confirming phrases the player has chosen and setting them in stone or coming to the decision that a translation she has made cannot be right and must be something else than she previously thought. These are welcome moments as it lets you know, you’re on the correct path and your deductions are on the money when a word gets locked in.

The simple activity of just finding an object in the world becomes an exciting moment. Will it have an etching on it to learn more of this language or will you connect it to another artefact previously discovered and unlock a new location to explore on your ship? Oh yeah, the ship.

Heaven's Vault

Hoist the sails

Your ship, ‘The Nightingale’ is used to traverse between areas of the Nebula. Imagine travelling through space from planet to planet but instead of empty space, you travel along rivers. Streams of water interconnect with each other, leading to different moons and worlds. An intergalactic aquatic motorway. As cool as that sounds, these sections really boil down to on-rail sections while you press the button to make the ship follow the arrows pointing to the river you need to be on.

After you embark on the Nightingale for a few journeys, you can ask Six to take the sails. Essentially fast travelling to your selected destination. If you don’t want to engage with this, the soundtrack during these segments stands out and is a delight to relax to if you want to take a chill approach to exploring the Nebula. This is as good a time as any to sail along into the gameplay section of this review, wouldn’t you agree?

See that character type? You can go there.

While exploring worlds, you move through 3D environments, interacting with objects and other characters in this world. Having a constant open dialogue with Six as you explore (more on that soon). As mentioned earlier on in this review, Aylia can chew people out and speak what’s on her mind without hesitation, what she says is up to you as the player. Aylia can be an understanding, patient person who gives people the floor to speak to get what she needs, or she can be the opposite.

A straightforward talker like Aylia pulls no punches with her words to get what she wants. While you are not locked into being a singular type of character, and can freely pick and choose your approach in conversations each time. Characters will remember what you said. The world will adapt as best it can to acknowledge the choices made by the player when new lines of dialogue open in the future, or while revisiting previous worlds.

So with all that said, let’s return to my opening statement. Why didn’t I fully enjoy this game? It’s not one major issue that hindered my enjoyment. It was actually a handful of tiny issues that would constantly nip at me and take me out of my enjoyment.


Heaven’s Vault drops frames and stutters. Constantly. Anytime Aylia or Six are about to speak, the game will stutter as if the game needs to load the conversation there on the spot. These conversations happen all the time. I cannot stress this enough, anytime the characters start a new conversation the game tanks for a fraction of a section. Like a child with a speech impediment, Heaven’s Vault stutters before it can get a word out. It may not sound like much but along with stiff controls and a camera that can get caught in the environments in many locations, it can lead to very frustrating moments. At times it can be like playing a single player that is suffering from horrible online lag.

While on the topic of conversations, Heaven’s Vault does have voice acting, sometimes. For the most part of this game, dialogue is told entirely through text. This may sound like an unfair criticism, but those sections of conversations while exploring on foot? All told through floating text that appears anywhere on the screen. So while you are fighting poor controls, dodgy frame rate and a camera with a mind of its own, you also need to follow these lines of floating white text which at times can blend into the environment.

The art style is 2D, with hand-drawn characters moving through a 3D space. I say moving but in reality, it’s more floating. Everyone looks like detailed cardboard cutouts. While some may enjoy this art style, personally it did not help with the experience. It reminded me of ‘Facade’, a game released online for free seventeen years ago.

It’s not my vault.

In the end, I did not enjoy my time playing Heaven’s Vault because of frames dropping and bad controls.

Also; I enjoyed my time playing Heaven’s Vault. From deciphering the language to solving the mystery set before me.

Should you play this game? Yes, I really think you should.

Should you play this game on Switch? No, I really think you shouldn’t.

More reviews to come from Lewis Magee. We hoped you enjoyed his words today. Stay tuned to GamEir. Come talk with us on Twitter (@gam_eir), Facebook (@GamEir), and Instagram (@GamEir).

I promise we’re nice! Keep up with our streams over on Twitch (GamEir) and our videos on YouTube (GamEir) and we’ll give you all the latest content.

About The Author


Graham is the founder of GamEir and his knowledge is ever growing whenever it concerns gaming, films, and cartoons. Just don't ask him about politics.

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