For Cinnamon, the young protagonist of RosePortal Games' Unraveled, imagination is a powerful friend. Quite literally, given the way her stuffed toy, Marbles, keeps coming to life during combat and how her creative mind keeps changing the depressing, dangerous shipbreaker yards of her home town into jungles, sandcastle mazes, and spaceships. We know Cinnamon is looking for her family, but as snippets of the terrible real world continue to creep through her imagination, we're left wondering if she'll find her loved ones or what state they'll be in when she does. Simultaneously loaded with hope and despair, the preview demo has left me needing to know more about Cinnamon's fate.

Inspired by the harsh world of shipbreaking, Cinnamon's journey begins in the torn, rusted hulls of beached freighters. Filled with broken floors, weak bridges, and hanging hunks of metal, it's no place for a child. Or anyone else, either, as we see when a hunk of pipe falls down, killing a worker. Cinnamon continues on regardless through this and many other dangerous places, jumping and climbing across the few safe spots in the environment to get around. This makes navigating the environments a little more complicated and interesting than just wandering paths in caves and castles, giving the game a 2D Tomb Raider feel as Cinnamon clambers around the twisted areas. The game highlights paths you can take when you walk near them so it's never especially complicated, but taking these roundabout routes makes it feel more like you're exploring treacherous places than just walking from Point A to Point B.


As you delve deeper into these places, you start to see Cinnamon's imagination taking hold. Rusted hallways filled with debris soon give way to jungle canopies, with vines and trees cropping up as butterflies flit through the air. When she tumbles from the side of a boat, the sea turns into an underwater kingdom of vibrant, colorful plant life. Even the seashore turns into a huge sandcastle when seen through her eyes. A large part of this game is about how good memories and imagination can make bad times better, and you can visually watch this happen as her imagination changes the world into one better suited for a child her age.

This imagery she sees wraps around the broken environments. The vines twist through old piping, grasses tumbling down off of reddened flooring. It's striking to watch her imagination coat her world with wonder, glossing over danger with color and life. It's an unusual effect to see as well, as while it adds a lot of beauty to these places, the real world still creeps up from underneath. Her imagination might change these places for the better, but it never quite gets rid of the tarnished metal and broken pieces underneath. Her cheerful imagination can make this place better, but it doesn't fully change how awful and dangerous it is.


As happy as her imagination is, sad memories still bubble to the surface as well. Many of these flashbacks are quite sweet but with depressing undertones, showing tender moments with Cinnamon and her family that don't quite escape the world they're in. When you see her playing with her brother and mother, it's from the small tent they share to live in. As she searches for toys her brother has scattered, bouncing on bright springs to reach them, it's still within the confines of a rusting ship. These memories also start to lead someplace dark early on, leaving me wondering if her family is all right, or what she could even be looking for here. Her upbeat nature seems to be struggling against a very sad and inevitable outcome, and as much as I want good things to happen to this poor child, I'm skeptical they will.

Still, there is always Marbles, her stuffed companion. He comes to life when Cinnamon finds herself alone, helping her in combat and as she works her way across the landscape. He's a large, smiling creature who adds some playfulness to the exploration, often creating a silly solution to some problem Cinnamon finds herself in. If you need someone to chase butterflies away or to create a bouncy platform to cross a pit, he'll be there. He also serves as the only real friend she has as she silently makes her way across this world - a constant source of cheering up when things get bad.


There are monster within the environments to add to the danger, but not many of them. Not only has Unraveled stepped away from the random battles of many other RPGs, but they've also lowered the amount of combat altogether. Instead of having multiple simple fights throughout the game, Unraveled has small amounts of complex battles. This makes every monster encounter feel much more important, and is meant to give combat some real weight and meaning. Whenever anything attacks Cinnamon, you're supposed to be worried.

The battle system is stripped down and simplified compared to most RPGs, but this actually allows for some interesting complexities. Instead of having MP or elemental weaknesses, the game has skills that draw from either Calm or Anger, pulling from a meter beside your character's HP. If you use a Calm attack, that pushes you further down into the Anger side, and vice versa. To use the more powerful attacks, you have to push the meter deep down into that section using the opposite style of attack. This creates a neat back-and-forth with your attacks as you slip from one spectrum to the other, but it's one that's made even more strategic because you become weak to the opposing skill type as your meter moves around.


This combat style works well because the enemies utilize the same system. So, you have to choose your attacks based on where your enemy is at on their Calm/Anger meter, but also use the right ones so you can access the attacks or spells you wish to use later. If the enemy is using many Calm attacks, you may want to counter with your own Calm hits to push your meter deeper into the Anger territory and finish with a really strong Anger attack. Still, that puts you in danger of taking more damage from Calm attacks, and you never know when the enemy might switch tactics. While only having a handful of abilities, watching your meter and the enemy's adds a lot of strategy to how and when you attack.

Since you don't get in that many fights, the game rewards you often. I gained a few HP and an increase in attack power after every fight during the demo, and I do have to admit that the balancing in this was a bit off. I rarely had much trouble with the fights, and the monsters tended to be a bit predictable. I could also retry any fight that didn't go exactly as I wanted it to, and often found the enemy used very similar tactics on the next round. Not that everyone wants a huge challenge when playing an RPG, but every fight over the two hour demo was pretty softball. Then again, you can't grind for experience since each fight only happens once, so I may regret wishing for something a little harder.


Each fight encourages you to finish it quickly and without taking much damage as well, so you could always try for that if you find it very easy. I found I could do this most of the time without much effort, as using the game's system well means most fights will end quickly with little damage from enemies. Doing this will reward you with marbles, the game's sort-of currency, which you can use to get more buffs for combat and make it even easier.

You get those combat buffs by using marbles to buy furniture for your doll house, which is quite a bit of fun. Looking like an old Fisher-Price playset, you can move a small Cinnamon doll through a large toy house, buying more fixtures to spruce it up. It's a cheerful, colorful place, and I enjoyed just seeing the sort of things I could unlock in it. Cinnamon's imagination is in full force here, and the cheerful furniture inside had me smiling. There's nothing to really interact with, here, but I enjoyed just taking the time away from the hidden darkness of the world and story in this place.


Not only does buying the furniture give you buffs, but it also gives you items. Items are extremely rare in this game, so you'll want to save these for really rough spots. Also, many of the items have a significance to Cinnamon and her family, giving her things like drawings her brother did or food from her dad's lunchbox. They're touching little flourishes that really turn the tide in a fight, but also have an emotional importance for Cinnamon. Items tend to be throwaway things in most games, but Unraveled makes each one feel like it has a place in the narrative. While a piece of bread or a flower have no further medical use than the made-up potions of any other fantasy game, their emotional power made me really believe these would save Cinnamon when she was in dire trouble.

Cinnamon's imagination has brought beauty to this place, but the real world continues to break through. Dark things continue to come in and ruin what her mind has built, and as her memories grew more and more depressing, I became more afraid to know where her story was going to end. Her life as a shipbreaker's daughter doesn't seem like it will have a happy ending, and after seeing her cheerful heart create such a wondrous place out of this world, I'm not sure I can handle the sad ending I feel is coming. From what I have already seen, Unraveled is a beautiful story in an ugly world, and as much as I am afraid of how it will end, I can't bear leaving Cinnamon alone to face it herself. I have to take her hand and follow her to this story's end.

For more information on Unraveled and RosePortal Games, you can go to the developer's site or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also contribute to the game's Kickstarter campaign.