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Kay and Yu dance during a loading screen in Haven. Image: The Game Bakers

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This RPG’s loading screens are a rare depiction of love and sex

Haven is a high-stakes game that knows how to slow down

Stories usually need tension and drama to be compelling, but once you’re hooked, you might start feeling a little protective of the poor characters experiencing that stress. This could explain why fan works like to depict characters in more mundane situations, like being a regular at a coffeeshop or picking out casual outfit for the day. In Haven, the developers have already done that work for you.

Haven is dystopian sci-fi RPG about two lovers who become fugitives after defying the orders of “the matchmaker,” a mysterious entity that decides who you can pair up with. While I haven’t beaten it yet, during my eight hours with the game, I’ve found it’s one of the best-written interactive experiences I’ve had recently. The conversations between Yu and Kay, our heroes, feel natural, a rarity in video games which often feel like they’re written to sound quippy and snappy.

It helps that the voice acting in Haven is terrific, adding a real sense of chemistry between the two leads. They bicker, they’re silly, they’re vulnerable, they’re ridiculous — the game shows everything that a relationship becomes behind closed doors. To be in love is to create your own little world, complete with your own language and customs. Done poorly, all of this can be borderline sickening — who wants to hear a boyfriend and girlfriend come up with pet names, for example? Hell, sometimes, if you pause for too long in the game’s overworld, the two will just start making out. But to Haven’s immense credit, I didn’t find any of this gross — instead, I found myself rooting for their romance.

But again, the game needs stakes, right? You spend your time trying to hide from the powers who want to tear you apart, but even when that danger isn’t present, there’s an ongoing worry about Kay and Yu’s chances for survival. They are stranded on an alien planet, cut off from everyone else, and with little to eat or keep themselves entertained. Even as they figure out how to survive, there’s the question of whether or not the two can really continue living like this, on their own, fulfilled only by each other’s company.

What struck me while playing through all of this, though, is that despite the drama of the actual game, every time you go into a new area, a loading screen will pop up. And the loading screens are the complete opposite of the intense pressure of the game itself. Here, the game depicts quieter moments between the two, like brushing each other’s hair or sitting on the couch playing a video game. It can get pretty domestic: There are loading screens that appear to show Yu and Kay arguing over taking out the trash, or picking out a tie for a night out.

Yu and Kay from Haven pick out an outfit during a loading screen. Image: The Game Bakers

The fact that I even noticed is unusual. Rather than simply zoning out or scrolling through my phone during loading times, as I do in 99% of games that I play, I actually started looking forward to Haven’s dozens of loading screens. They were a welcome reprieve from the game’s central dilemma.

The aim of these loading screens, according to creative director Emeric Thoa, is to show Yu and Kay’s “first times” for everything.

“First time they cooked for each other, first time they got sick, first nap on the couch, first time they had an argument, first time they kissed, first time they cried in front of each other, first time they made love … It’s a little glimpse of their previous life before they left everything behind to escape on a deserted planet,” Thoa said over email. The screens were drafted by character artist Koyorin, and they focus entirely on the characters. There’s no text or game tips, and there are few colored elements.

Initially, the loading screens almost seem random, but they’re not. One loading screen happens to show Kay, the male lead, cooking in nothing but an apron. While this captures the dynamic between the two perfectly, there is also a later version of the screen that shows Yu cooking in nothing but an apron. Within the context of a romance, both versions of this make sense. But the developers wanted to actually earn the player’s trust before depicting Yu like that in the game.

Kay cooks a meal for Yu in Haven during a loading screen. Image: The Game Bakers

“We felt that could have been perceived as a rude stereotype,” Thoa said. “So we developed a feature that allowed us to ‘unlock’ these loading screens progressively in order to make sure that some of them would not show until the mid-game or the endgame. This way, some of the images can’t be seen until you really know the characters, until you know that Yu is in control and she’s just being playful.”

Haven was recently released for Nintendo Switch, and is a part of Xbox Game Pass. You can also play it on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC. Even if you’re currently dreading February’s impending Valentine’s Day, I highly suggest you check Haven out. The game’s grounding depiction of sex and romance is tender enough to melt the heart of even the most jaded skeptics.

Haven is about showing heroes in their day to day life,” Thoa said. “It’s about what’s under the curtain, between the takes. It’s the love that’s never shown in our culture of epic entertainment.”