One thousand years ago, the gods and the most powerful demons fought an extremely destructive war called Ragnarok. The gods, who otherwise would have lost, broke the taboo that mortal creatures must not have godly powers in order to create the Grim Angels, incomplete yet extremely powerful beings who were able to turn the tide. Afterward, the gods vanished, sealing their powers within the recently liberated land of Riviera and entrusting the rule of Asgard to seven proxies called the Magi. The Grim Angels, too, were sealed away until the time would come that their powers would once again be necessary to protect Asgard from the threat of demons.
Since that time, The 'Verse has been locked in something of a status quo: Demon factions are always on the lookout for a chance to attack Asgard or otherwise expand their turf, and the now-godless Asgard must continually discourage them. Thus, there is a constant battle of Order Versus Chaos being waged on a cosmic scale. Not helping things is that the Magi, originally humanoid beings with all-too-mortal desires, are waging a constant and quiet political war amongst themselves.
And so, in the countless mortal worlds that lie between Asgard and Niflheim, life tends to be rather grim. And to make matters worse, even when their lives aren't being sidelined by the heavenly cold war, the people of the human realms have usually got their hands full persecuting and killing each other.
This is the setting of Sting Entertainment's Dept. Heaven series. Each game released thus far has taken place in a different mortal world, depicting the struggles taking place therein (and, often as not, how interference courtesy of Asgard and demons has made it worse). The series as a whole is known for its Genre-Busting gameplay, dark storylines, morally ambiguous characters, purposeful Art-Style Dissonance,note and oblique references to Norse Mythology.
The series is meant to span nine core episodes, not counting spinoffs. It should be kept in mind that episode number has nothing at all to do with series chronology,note and that the games are released out of chronological order as well. Usually, though, series mainstay characters (most often the archangel Marietta) will pop up briefly to give series fans an idea of when the story takes place.
Those of the games which have made it into English have always been localized by Atlus,note and around the time of the announcement of their localization of Knights in the Nightmare, it was announced that Atlus of Japan would be Sting's exclusive publisher. Ideally, this would ensure that this series would continue being localized for the foreseeable future. Ideally.
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You can find a whole mess of translated side materials here.
The Dept. Heaven series includes:
- Episode I: Yakusoku no Chi Riviera/Riviera: The Promised Land, which tells the story of an angel named Ecthel(/Ein) and his attempts to save the eponymous island from both Asgard and Niflheim. Originally released for the WonderSwan Color (2002), ported to the Game Boy Advance (2004), and there localized by Atlus. Then ported to the PlayStation Portable, and localized by Atlus yet again (2006).
- Episode II: Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone, wherein Princess Yggdra attempts to rescue her kingdom from the empire that has conquered it. Released for the GBA (2006), localized by Atlus, ported to the PSP (2008), and rereleased by Atlus.
- Yggdra Unison, an alternate-universe spinoff that gives almost everyone a chance to be the main character. Originally released as a cellphone-exclusive MMO in 2007, but a DS remake was also released in late 2009. No Export for You.
- Blaze Union: Story to Reach the Future, a PSP-only prequel to Yggdra Union. The game takes place in Bronquia three years prior to Yggdra's story, and focuses on Gulcasa (Garlot) and the Imperial Army. Released in 2010. No Export for You.
- Gloria Union: Twin Fates in the Blue Ocean, another PSP game. Is largely unconnected to the other Episode II games, and is a pirate dramedy. Released in June 2011. Still No Export for You.
- Episode III: Currently planned as an MMO of some type, although production is on hiatus. Ito mentioned that it is supposed to take place roughly at the same time as Knights. See this interview for details.
- Episode IV: Knights in the Nightmare, the story of a world overrun by demons and the unlikely pair of a disembodied soul and mysterious valkyrie trying to save it. First released on Nintendo DS in 2008. Published by Atlus. PSP remake released in 2010, which contains the Yggdra route cut during the DS game's production.
- Episode V: No distinct details known. Part of its working title was revealed on Sting's now-discontinued newsletter.
- Episode VI: No distinct details known. Part of its working title was revealed on Sting's now-discontinued newsletter.
- Episode VII: No distinct details known. Part of its working title was revealed on Sting's now-discontinued newsletter.
- Episode VIII: No distinct details known.
- Episode IX: Gungnir: Inferno of the Demon Lance and the War of Heroes, the story of a young boy named Julio(/Giulio) and his comrades, who come upon the eponymous lance while struggling to rise up against the ruling class of their Empire. Spent two solid years of Development Hell. Published by Atlus on the PSP. Released in May 2011. Somehow escaped the No Export for You curse, and hit North America in 2012.
Common tropes utilized in this series:
- Aerith and Bob: The range of names goes from "normal" (Rose, Marietta, Luciana) to "a little strange, but believable" (Malice, Nordische, Kylier) to "downright bizarre" (Staehelingum, Medoute).
- All There in the Manual: Good luck piecing together the full plot without the World Guidance books and the various interviews with the director.
- Bittersweet Ending: As stated in an official interview, "Sting games don't have happy endings", so even the better outcomes to each game come with uncertain futures, fallen comrades, or both.
- Fallen Angel: There's at least one in each game. Most of them are at least somewhat sympathetic.
- Fantastic Racism: In many flavors.
- From Bad to Worse: Marietta's character arc through the series.
- Genre-Busting: Gameplay-wise, this is the whole point of the series.
- Good Is Not Nice: Oh boy. Asgard is acknowledged everywhere as the force preserving order, but it is filled with racist, elitist fanatics and is run by the Big Bad. It was no better when the gods were in charge, even—they had a nasty habit of raining down Disproportionate Retribution upon anyone that looked at them funny.
- Gray-and-Grey Morality: All games except Riviera.
- Greater-Scope Villain: Hector until Riviera.
- Hostile Show Takeover: The Episode II games have become as much Gulcasa's story as Yggdra's (they each have main-charactership of two); Yggdra has usurped partial main-charactership of Knights in the Nightmare, and has been featured in the concept art for Episode IX.
- Multiple Endings: And in every game that sorts its endings by letter, the A ending is always canon.
- Rage Against the Heavens: What a number of the antagonists are trying to do. Perhaps not surprising, given Asgard's preferred management methods.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: After Riviera? Firmly cynical.
- Sorting Algorithm of Mortality: Aside from the hero, no one is truly safe. Love interests may be able to escape on a technicality, but especially in the episode II games, no role is more dangerous than that of the hero/sidekick's childhood friend.