The screenshots and trailers on Steam don't do De-Exit: Eternal Matters any favors. This indie game, developed by SandBloom Studio, may have a cutesy voxel-based look, but it takes its subject matter very seriously.
De-Exit is a third-person adventure game set in the afterlife. You play as a blocky skeleton who wakes up in the melancholic Plane of Memory. The opening sequence sets the tone: you run and jump across platforms suspended in limbo and tiptoe around the corruption eating it all away. Skeletal lizards scurry through the grass and corpses lay frozen in their last moments.
Death and grief permeate the world despite its plucky artstyle. It may look incongruous, but in my experience with the game's first few hours, it works surprisingly well. The developer uses a quiet score and sweeping camera shots to capture a world drained of its charm. The characters you meet are bright and hopeful, and they just want to see their crumbling world repaired.
Later in the intro level, you are tasked with a short stealth section. A trail of tall grass that leads to the exit is broken by thick pockets of smoke. When you shine your light on these dark paths, inky monsters appear—a direct inspiration from Death Stranding's BTs, narrative designer Julien Gatumal Fernandez told me. For what is supposed to be an easy tutorial activity, the stealth section is surprisingly tense. You can't illuminate the monsters for too long or they'll notice, and even though you can see what direction they're walking in, you're never sure if they're going to turn around and grab you.
The early puzzles ask you to find a way to push blocks around the patches of corruption. When you slide them onto glowing pads, they temporarily cleanse the corruption around them, giving you time to move them to their final destination. The challenge is light, but I suspect your arsenal of tools will grow and complicate the puzzles and combat encounters deeper in the game.
I was most struck by the voice acting in De-Exit. Before reaching the game's main hub—which has intense Traverse Town vibes for you Kingdom Hearts fans—you are confronted by Donovan, the villain of the story. The content of his monologue is full of typical villain bravado about how they'll change things by taking control, but the delivery has a sad tinge to it. Everyone I met in De-Exit died and ended up here just like your character, but you get the sense that some of them haven't quite accepted that this is the end of their journey.
Other characters, like the chipper skeleton that takes you on a tour through voxel Traverse Town, speak like they've been through or are near the end of a similar kind of grief. Fenandez says several of the game's characters are based on friends and family members who passed away, and I could sense that in the specificity of the writing. The village has a variety of characters that will have new things to say as you return there throughout the game.
While I'm not sure how well De-Exit will manage to pull off its slightly goofy aesthetic with such serious themes for its entirety, the bits I played were definitely promising. De-Exit is available now on Steam and its developer says it will take around eight to ten hours to complete.