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She Dreams Elsewhere by Studio Zevere (2020)

(Content Warning: Discussions of mental health and anxiety)

The sounds of rain pattering against nearby windows, the discordant echo of running water, the sensation of a disquiet sleep, not soothed by the melodious backdrop of the world around you, merely brought into an uncomfortably discordant focus.

Boasting a fantastic soundtrack, wonderfully fleshed out characters, and a compelling lead making her way in a world of beautiful environments and hauntingly sombre sounds, She Dreams Elsewhere by Studio Zevere (seriously, go give them a follow) is, without a doubt, one of the best RPGs I’ve played in recent memory, and I’ve only played the first twenty minutes of it. You play Thalia, a black woman getting through her days trying to cope with social anxiety, mental health issues, and bizarre dreams that plague her, dreams that, eventually, bleed into her reality. The apparently waking world becomes less of an escape from the nightmares, eventually turning into merely another avenue for them to intrude upon her every moment.

With the help of her friends, Thalia sets out to navigate her new dream-reality, trying to find a way out, and, hopefully, her pet dog. But, as the veil between the waking world and the dreamscape is inexorably pierced, how do you navigate a world that makes even less sense than usual?

While at times evoking similar dreamlike qualities to the cult-classic OFF, She Dreams Elsewhere stands in a league of its own, crafting an ever present sensation of peaceful restlessness, the same form of calm unease one might find from listening to the sounds of rain to center oneself during a particularly rough bout of anxiety that persists nonetheless, a personally all-too-familiar sensation.

Studio Zevere has perfectly captured the same sense of internal panic and guilt that comes from being unable to be upfront about your personal struggles with those around you that are trying to help. These moments of social retreat encapsulate the sense of pushing those around you away for fear of judgement or pissing them off, leading to the at-times familiar feedback loop of worry, concern, and even annoyance from the very people who you are, on an internal level, trying to protect from what you see as the worst parts of yourself, giving rise to the the damned if you do, damned if you don’t sense of self-loathing that blossoms forth from your attempts to hide deep within yourself.

Dreams are powerful, in them we find our hopes, our aspirations, but we also find reflected back at us the countless insecurities and worries that plague us just beneath the surface every single day, brought into sharp contrast against a backdrop of muddled logic and puzzling dreamscapes. This is no better encapsulated than within the countless fights against the monsters that plague this slumbering world, themselves often manifestations of personal insecurities lashing out at Thalia. From the self-explanatory No Hearts, to the No Romances, to the angels and the demons, Thalia is confronted with the coalescence of those things she doesn’t have, doesn’t think she deserves, or that simply stand in judgement or temptation of her, manifesting at their most dangerous as the incarnation of her very anxiety, belittling and goading her, separating her from her friends “for their own good”, and mocking her all the while.

She Dreams Elsewhere is a tour de force of reflection on coping with anxiety wrapped in a hauntingly beautiful RPG set against a breathtaking soundtrack. The demo is available now, and it’s definitely more than worth its place on anyone’s wishlist. It’ll definitely be going on mine. If there’s an RPG that you play this year, make it this one.

And yes, you can pet the dog.

Mx. Medea is a writer, artist, and editor who spends most of their time drawing things with squares and buried under a small pile of endless paper copy. When not working they can be found playing everything from interesting indie fare to oldschool games. You can find them, their art, and their opinions @Mx_Medea on Twitter.