You’d be forgiven for never having heard of Desta: The Memories Between—it was released for mobile in September last year, and hidden away on Netflix’s very good but overlooked mobile app. But you shouldn’t let it pass you by now that it’s on PC.
Taking place in the dreams of the titular Desta, the game plays out as a surreal roguelike, where you fight turn-based battles that explore the character’s mind, memories, and relationships. These battles work sort of like dodgeball—the only way of doing damage to enemies is to get to a ball, pick it up, and throw it at them.
Throws are aimed by clicking and drawing back with the mouse, adjusting to the right angle, and releasing with the correct timing for the power of shot you want. This mechanic betrays the game’s origins on touchscreens, but it works just as well with a mouse, and it introduces all sorts of clever tactical nuance. Balls can be passed between your team, allowing you to set up attacks from unexpected angles, and you maximise your damage for a turn through clever bounces—ricocheting a ball off an enemy back into your hands, for example, or bouncing it round a corner to hit a foe behind cover.
But the turn-based structure ensures it’s not a game just of aim and reflexes—it’s a careful test of strategy, where positioning your characters around the tight maps to outmanoeuvre your opponents is key. Your heroes can only take a handful of hits before they go down, forcing you to balance pushing forward to attack with leaving them in a position safe from reprisal when they end their turn. That can mean retreating into cover, or it can mean aggressively controlling the space around the balls currently in play.
Throw in each character’s special powers—from teleportation to handing out buffs with their passes—as well as an increasingly tricky roster of enemy types, and the result is a strategy game with depth and bite beyond what you might expect given its warm, friendly look.
Indeed, Desta: The Memories Between does have a very different tone to your average strategy game or roguelike—far from being about death and war, it’s a story about untangling and coming to terms with your feelings towards yourself and others. If I tell you the scariest enemy in the game is your own mother, you can probably understand what it’s going for. The result is a refreshingly emotional experience in a genre hardly known for them—and its authentic yet understated approach to LGBTQ+ representation is very welcome, too.
It’s not a super long adventure, but it is a satisfying one—and the PC version comes ready with a new ‘nightmare mode’ and more scenarios for the game’s challenge mode to keep you busy for longer than its mobile version. It’s available now on Steam for $17/£14.30.