Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Heaven's Vault

Go To

"Stories don't have tidy beginnings. The past is always present. But there has to be a spark. Something that brings the past to light."
Aliya Elasra, in the intro.

Heaven's Vault is an archaeological adventure video game developed and published by indie studio Inkle Inc. The game was released for Windows in April 2019.

The player takes control of Aliya Elasra, a young female archaeologist, who is suddenly recalled from studying the forgotten history of the Nebula, the stretch of space she lives in. A well-known member of her university has gone missing, and Aliya has been chosen to track the man down and find out what happened to him. What starts as a simple job quickly escalates into an epic journey that takes Aliya far beyond the boundaries of known space into regions no human has been in centuries, and what she discovers has the potential to change the fate of the entire Nebula forever.

Heaven's Vault's most distinctive feature is Ancient, a meticulously-constructed fictional language that is mostly unknown In-Universe when the story begins. It's up to the player to use the few words Aliya knows to discern the meanings of more complex texts they discover on their journey, using logic, intuition and often plain guesswork.

The Novelization was released in November 2021 in two volumes subtitled The Loop and The Vault.

A fan-based Mini-Game, Vaultle, was also created, which is Wordle in Ancient.

    open/close all folders 
    Tropes featured in the game 
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Aliya has at least two of them that appear on-screen (shady bar owner Timor on Elboreth and librarian Huang on Iox), and it's implied through dialogue that guys hitting on her against her will is a frequent occurrence.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Downplayed. Aliya dresses sensibly for her job, is physically incapable of the superhuman athletic feats popularized by the trope, makes efforts to treat ruins and artifacts with respect, and is just as much of a scholar as anyone at the University. The whip-and-pistol aspect of the trope is also averted, aside from a single "swordfight" that's Played for Laughs. Yet, true to this trope, she makes history as well as she discovers it.
  • Adventurous Irish Violins: Pretty much the entire soundtrack consists of gentle violin pieces mixed with One-Woman Wail, as befits a game about exploring unknown reaches of space.
  • After the End: The Nebula is a broken place littered with the ruins of at least half-a-dozen lost civilizations. Most had far more advanced technology than the current Ioxian Empire, to the point that present-day characters like Aliya can still use some of the old tech without understanding how any of it works.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Six has been assigned to support Aliya in her task of tracking down Renba, but that doesn't mean it's actually on her side. Its primary user is Professor Myari, and whatever order she gave takes precedence over what Aliya wants. This frequently results in Six ratting Aliya out without a care in the world. It doesn't do it out of any form of malice, but if you want to do something you don't want Myari to know, don't do it while Six is around to witness it.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • Structuring a newly discovered text fragment is often the trickiest part in translating Ancient, especially once longer and longer fragments start showing up. Thankfully, with every wrong attempt on your part, the game removes incorrect words from the available roster to keep you from translating in circles. If you do not have enough information to find the right word boundaries (i.e. there are multiple unknown words next to each other), Aliya comments on how the text is too complex for her to decipher right now.
    • The first patch introduced a sorely needed fast-travel feature that allows you to set a target on the map and let Six pilot the Nightingale there, provided you've already explored the route personally. And There Was Much Rejoicing among the fan base, considering how many players found the travel system on the rivers to become boring and tedious after a short time.
    • While travelling, if you miss a turn, you can press backspace to return to before the turn. This can save quite a large amount of backtracking in some cases.
    • One of the Timed Mission sites features a key item that you can't pick up until certain environmental conditions have changed that make it accessible. If you achieve these conditions but run out of time before you can collect the item, Six will bring it to the ship for you since you can't go back to retrieve it. If you ask them about it, they state that it seemed wasteful to leave it behind.
  • Apocalypse How: A Planetary-scale Total Extinction is already in progress when the game begins, and has been for quite some time because the rivers that connect the moons and provide them with water are drying up. Once they're gone, all life in the Nebula will end. Finding the Heaven's Vault reveals that the spaceship's crash landing (namely, the release of its reactor's energy) was responsible for creating the rivers in the first place. It's been busy reabsorbing this energy ever since, which is why the rivers are weakening all over the Nebula. The player has the choice between shutting the ship down to restore the Nebula, doing nothing, or allowing the ship to complete the process before teleporting away with it, leaving the Nebula to die.
  • Artificial Gravity: Iolite crystals can be used to reduce gravity within an area, making things lighter.
  • Asteroid Thicket: The Nebula is a bunch of rocks floating around in space, the bigger ones (that are still just small asteroids) are called "moons" and has humans settled on them, probably by the means of Artificial Gravity. There is a network of rivers flowing around the Nebula, providing a safe way to travel between these moons.
  • Auto-Save: The game auto-saves when you leave a moon or when enter the menu, provided you are not in the middle of some sequence. This is why most of the time when you enter the menu, it will say "saved just now".
  • Bigger on the Inside: The moons are a very weird example. From the outside they look like lifeless, formless asteroids a couple hundred meters across at most, but once you land there, you get to explore locations that look like they're situated on an actual moon's or planet's surface, complete with blue atmosphere, cities, farmland and an entirely different topology.
  • Bold Explorer: Aliya being one is a key aspect of her personality, and part of the appeal of the game. It also rubs off on Six over time, as evidenced by them starting to point out uncharted waters or airless ruins that they explore for you independently.
    Six: Perhaps we could explore?
    Aliya: We'll never find anything if we only take paths we know.
  • Book Ends: The game starts and ends with a voiceover of Aliya saying that "Stories don't have tidy beginnings. The past is always present.".
  • Brain Uploading: One example of Lost Technology in this universe allows the user to create some sort of virtual copy of their consciousness for upload into a special device. The Precursors that developed this tech used it to store the complete, conscious minds of the deceased for eternity. Strangely, the few people with access to it in the present mostly seem to use it for long-range communication instead, which brings up all sorts of horrifying implications. It's made by deliberately tampering with hopper lens to allow teleportation of the mind, but not the body.
  • Can't Use Stairs: Robots move around on treads, meaning they cannot use stairs. Observing the presence of stairs and ramps (or lack of that), you can deduce whether a place was designed for humans, robots, or both.
  • Cel Shading: The game's visual style is based on this technique, coupled with pre-drawn sprites (especially for characters).
  • Childless Dystopia: Aliya notices that there are no children on Maersi. It is implied that it is the consequence of the despotic rule of Iox.
  • Conlang: The bread and butter of the game. Ancient is a set of about 40 glyph-like characters that form an entire, fully functional language that was specifically designed for this game. Initially, Aliya only knows a few simple words, so the first third of the game is basically an exercise in educated guessing until she can confirm the accuracy of her guesses by cross-referencing their use in multiple text fragments. As her dictionary expands, increasingly more complex texts can be translated. Each glyph also corresponds to a syllable or sound, so it is possible to figure out what spoken Ancient sounds like (if tedious, as there are very few clues).
  • Conveniently Precise Translation: Ancient matches English closely enough to have the same kind of grammatical ambiguity for the sake of narrative drama.
  • Cool Ship:
    • Aliya's ship, the Nightingale, is a cute steampunky wooden vessel that sails on space rivers between worlds.
    • And of course there's the titular Heaven's Vault, an actual spaceship that crash-landed centuries ago at the very edge of the Nebula. You only get to see its inside, but that's impressive enough even before you learn what the thing is capable of.
  • Crapsack World: The Nebula is not exactly a nice place to live. Everyone lives under the yoke of the Ioxian Empire, with all the anti-colonialist sentiments that entails. Only a handful of places are somewhat well off while the rest are Wretched Hives rife with poverty, famine and crime. On Elboreth, slavery is commonly practiced, and a human life seems to be worth less than dirt. Worse, the Rivers - the stellar pathways that interconnect the colonies - haven been weakening for centuries, and since few worlds are self-sufficient, most of mankind in the Nebula is already circling the drain. It's up to the player to either improve things however slightly, leave them as they are, or hammer the final nail in mankind's proverbial coffin.
  • Crown of Power: The Crown of the Empire is said to be more than just a symbol of power: it contains advanced technology. However, finding out its exact nature is beyond the ability of even Oroi.
  • Dead Man Writing: Renba, expecting his potential demise on his quest, records one final message and embeds it in Six's core to be discovered by whoever follows his trail. He assumed it would be Myari and spends a decent amount of the message speaking towards her, leading to some confusion when Aliya triggers the message instead.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Oroi can be this. Being one of the nicer characters, she will sarcastically point out if she thinks you are doing something wrong without going full Jerkass.
  • Desert Punk: Water is abundant only on a few moons, and on most of them are rather dry. Thus water is a valuable resource. No wonder that Kibenya, the water goddess, is the most worshipped deity out there. Furthermore, the rivers are drying up, causing the whole Nebula to slowly die.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The fact that "vault" has multiple meanings becomes a plot point later in the game. One of the characters even spells it out to ensure that it doesn't go over anyone's head.
    • Conversely, eagle-eyed players might cotton onto this much earlier by noticing that the word for vault has a marker indicating that it's a verb, or that it has two instances of the glyph meaning "above"/"high".
  • Eternal Recurrence: The dominant religion in the Nebula is "the Loop", a belief in the cyclicity of all things. Loopers believe that everything that happens has already happened before countless times, which gives rise to an extremely blasé attitude towards historians and archaelogists like Aliya. Some of the more reasonable Loopers realize that, assuming their beliefs are correct, digging up the distant past offers a direct look at the future, but whether any of this makes sense or has some truth to it is ultimately left ambiguous. It also serves as a convenient justification for New Game Plus.
  • Everything Sensor: Played with. Six can scan and calculate a wide range of things, from determining a rock's planet of origin to monitoring Aliya's blood oxygen levels, but there are set limitations to what their sensors can pick up. Aliya assumes the trope is being played straight, to Six's annoyance.
    Aliya: Can't you scan for Renba?
    Six: Mistress has mistaken me for a dog. Perhaps you believe that if I had a scrap of cloth I could track his scent.
    Aliya: Can you do that?
    Six: No, mistress. If I see him, I will let you know.
  • Evil Cripple: Aliya can free a crippled slave named Yazi on Elboreth in return for his help in tracking down Renba's last dig site. Once they get there, he reveals that he only helped her to rescue another worker Renba abandoned on the moon when he left. While that's a perfectly reasonable thing to do, the fact that they attempt to leave Aliya behind in revenge for something she had no hand in squarely puts him into villain territory. Six foils the plan by hoppering itself and Aliya back to the ship before the workers can hijack it, leaving them both to die on the dead moon unless Aliya objects.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • If you were born on Iox, the Ioxian Empire's throne world, don't expect a warm welcome on any of the colonial moons like Elboreth. "Ioxian" is considered a slur in these parts, and the people waste no time blaming Ioxians for every bad thing they can think of. Aliya is not exempt despite being an Elborethian herself - merely relocating to Iox, even if it wasn't your own choice, is grounds enough for discrimination. On the flipside, most high-ranking Ioxians consider Elborethians barely better than the dirt under their feet, so at least the discrimination is mutual.
    • Also, nobody seems to like the clearly sentient robots. This is a world that gleefully averts Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil, which should tell you all you need to know about how robots are being treated... and your Player Character is one of the worst offenders, to boot. Given the existence and downfall of the Steel Empire, however, this may be justified, as bad as it is.
  • Flashy Teleportation: With light-orb effects. Through the use of "hoppers" in this game, these short-ranged teleporters are often used to visit moons where the Nightingale can't land. Others were set up to facilitate passage through physical gates that were never meant to be opened the old-fashioned way. It's eventually revealed that hopper technology doesn't actually seem to have any range restrictions. It's just that nobody knows anymore how to make full use of the few ones that're still active after centuries without maintenance.
  • Floating Continent: The game constantly refers to them as "moons", but the various places Aliya visits are basically just hunks of rock floating in space that have Earth-like gravity and somehow manage to retain an atmosphere.
  • Foreshadowing: The great questions of the game—how did the rivers form, why are they drying up, and what does it have to do with the ancient observatory and Heaven's Vault that keeps coming up every now and then—get several fragments of answers as you explore the different ruins throughout the game. The biggest one is The Book of Lost Future, which, if you have enough knowledge of Ancient to read it, will tell you quite a lot about the nature of Heaven's Vault.
  • Future Imperfect: This is enshrined within the game's very interface - if Aliya has the wrong idea about a place, for example, the pause menu screen will call it what she thinks it is. And in the story, Elborethian legend states that the city's inaccessible highest building houses an eagle that, if awoken, will destroy the Nebula. That's just silly, of course. That's not where it's kept.
  • Give Me Your Inventory Item:
    • You can offer various merchants your hard-earned artifacts in exchange for goods or leads on new sites, which removes the proffered artifacts from your inventory permanently. Showing inscribed artifacts to Huang to check your translations has him ask if you want to hand over the artifact for storage at the University, but he gives you the option to refuse and keep it for yourself.
    • If Six watches you discover the Crown of the Empire they'll be obligated to tell Myari about it. From that point on, she'll demand that you give it to her, and she'll hound you for it every time you talk to her if you've lost it or given it to Oroi for inspection/safekeeping.
  • The Ghost: Renba, the missing roboticist, is never actually seen or heard in the game because he was Killed Offscreen long before Aliya finds what's left of his ship.
  • Ghost Amnesia: Six was once a living person before becoming a robot, and they occasionally remember bits and pieces of their past life as you explore various places that they once frequented. What portions of these recollections they share with Aliya are generally either confusing, disturbing, or both.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: First Empress Enkei was a nasty piece of work back when she was in power, bearing all the hallmarks of your typical ruthless, power-addled tyrant. Then she declared herself a goddess and eventually attacked and destroyed her own empire for reasons that completely elude the Nebula's present-day citizens. When her personality eventually manifests itself in Six, she can't do a whole lot except insult Aliya every chance she gets, but it's abundantly clear that she would set the Nebula aflame without a second thought again if given the chance. She's also a massive jackass in general.
  • Guide Dang It!: The game's nonlinear narrative structure goes well with its adventure premise but makes it difficult to experience it in full without multiple replays or some outside help. Most sidequests and character arcs have Multiple Endings that usually aren't hinted at, and even if they are, finding out what's possible and what comes of it often remains a challenge regardless. It's also very easy to accidentally trigger the final Point of No Return, which can be done with at least one major location completely unexplored. Achievement hunters in particular will have a hard time achieving 100% Completion without consulting an online guide or three.
  • Heaven Above: The word for heaven in Ancient has the glyph "up" in it. In fact, it's composed of "place-star", and "star" is "noun-light-up".
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Elboreth used to be one of the most important place in the Holy Empire, with Catkis serving as a fortified citadel for the elite. Nowadays, it's a Wretched Hive of crime, porverty, and slavery.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: A minor example. Aliya's storage space on her person consists of a small hip satchel, into which she can fit things like a two-foot-long fire poker or a ceramic tile the size of her head.
    • Six is also capable of this in at least one instance despite being unable to pick things up, somehow transporting a book the size of their body back to the ship if you fail to collect it before leaving the site.
  • Indo-European Alien Language: Ancient has the same grammar as English, the main differences being the lack of spaces and articles. An Acceptable Break from Reality, as otherwise deciphering the language would be much more difficult.
  • Informed Flaw: Toward the end of the game, we are told that apparently Aliya was born with a lung disease called shearlung. This has had no impact at any point in the game, as every instances of breathing issues were for obvious reasons, such as explicit lack of air.
  • Jerkass Hero: Aliya is a woman with No Social Skills and a deep dislike of robots, which makes it very easy to make her be rude and dismissive to humans and her Robot Buddy alike. In fact, the majority of her dialogue options are mean or otherwise offensive in some way, and you have to be very careful with your responses if you want to play as a more traditionally nice heroine. Worse, most NPCs' behavior changes depending on how you treat them, so pissing them off too often results in a World of Jerkass where everyone treats the other like crap.
  • Kick the Dog: The fact that you can hawk Six to some shady guy you just met can be considered this by those who like the thing. It's Just Following Orders after all, regardless of how annoying that can make it at times. For those who take offence at its incessant whining and meddling, however, finally getting rid off it can feel immensely satisfying. You even get an achievement for it.
  • La Résistance: A full-scale uprising toppled the Empire back in the day by way of storming Iox and slaughtering nearly everyone there in an event referred to as the Fall. Myari's belief in the Loop, and subsequent fear of the Fall repeating itself, is the impetus behind Renba's activities and the reason she sends Aliya of all people to pick up his trail when he disappears.
  • Late to the Tragedy: When Aliya finally catches up with Renba, all she finds is the still-smoldering remains of his ship.
  • Little Stowaway: What Aamir was supposed to be doing before disappearing to the domed market moon.
  • Lock and Key Puzzle: Several exist in various locations, usually locked chests or doors. Interestingly, actual keys are almost never used to solve these puzzles; most often Aliya simply picks up a nearby object and uses it to pry the thing open.
  • Logic Bomb: The robot crew of the Heaven's Vault are trying to repair the ship by reabsorbing the energy from the rivers. However, doing so will jeopardize the lives of the Nebula's inhabitants, which their Ethical Cores prevent them from doing. As such, they are trapped in a loop, unable to abandon their task or commit to sacrificing the people's lives, until Aliya steps in to make the decision for them.
  • Lost Language: Ancient, the ancient language of Nebula, has saw its meaning lost in the times, and Aliya has to decypher it.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: It is all around in the history of the Nebula. The Age of Sail was a prosperous age with advanced technology and bustling trade between moons. They built robots that Turned Against Their Masters and enslaved humans, resulting in the Steel Empire. Eventually, the humans took over again, forming the tyrannical Holy Empire. Elboreth, the former place of power, were turned into a Wretched Hive, the capital of the empire now being Iox. The Holy Empire was toppled by the very person who had founded it (her personality transferred into a robot), followed by what's labeled as a Dark Age and a Modern Age. In the present, while Iox is still the most powerful of the surrounding moons, it is just a shadow of its former self. Most of the history has faded into obscurity. Ancient technology (most notably robots and hoppers) is occasionally being used without understanding how it works, and being far from being able to utilize their full potential. The Elborethians have forgotten that their home was once a place of power, and they treat ancient artifacts as junk. The Ioxians are struggling to decypther Ancient, the language of the old empires, and are prone to superstition over science.
  • Lost Technology: All over the place, but most prominent are the robots. Nobody knows where they came from or who made them. Hell, most were found buried in concrete under the Ioxian University, and only a handful of scholars understand enough of their technology to press them into service and keep them docile most of the time.
  • Made of Explodium: Renba's ship, apparently. The fact that the thing blew up at all, and with such power to boot, baffles not only Aliya to no end. Six hypothesizes the use of some exotic, incompatible fuel as the cause.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Every robot has a "primary user" whose orders override anything another master wants from them. Six's primary is Professor Myari, much to Aliya's chagrin, and it's implied that Myari herself answers to an even higher power.
  • Merchant City:
    • Renaki is a merchant moon. The explorable map consists of two shopping plazas crammed with goods and stalls. The player is able to exchange artifacts for various items here, but there's nothing of substantial value for sale unless you're trying to unlock the gecko-related achievements (or really want an apple).
    • There is another merchant moon you can discover that was this in the Age of Sail. It's now in ruins.
  • Monochrome Apparition: The robots' holographic faces, if you consider the preserved consciousness of the dying to be ghostly.
  • Multiple Endings: Downplayed. The game gives you multiple options how to wrap up its story, but since it ends immediately afterwards, what you choose has no actual effect aside from unlocking a different achievement. That said, most individual story arcs have several possible outcomes, many of which also lead to different achievements. Good luck witnessing them all (or at least the best ones) without a guide, though.
  • Never-Forgotten Skill: Six is quite an efficient sailor, despite having no memory of ever controlling a ship before. They're good enough at it that they can sail halfway across the Nebula solo to reunite with you if the god statue at the quarry moon hoppers you to Elboreth.
  • New Game Plus: Finishing the story allows you to start a new game with all the Ancient knowledge Aliya had acquired in the first run. It also ups the scope and difficulty of the inscriptions you find. For instance, the very first Ancient text you're given in the game has two words in a standard game and five in NG+. Also, if you chose to Vault away in the prior run, Aliya will have her surname changed from Elasra to Mazwai, and the Chronicles of Mazwai will be changed to the Chronicles of Elasra.
  • Nice Guy: In a world full of selfish assholes, Ioxian librarian Huang is the only unambiguously nice and helpful person around. You can still treat him like crap if that's how you want to play it, but the worst he does is show some mild exasperation, unlike most other NPCs that immediately go into full Jerkass mode in return.
  • No Punctuation Period: Ancient has neither punctuation nor spaces. There are not even articles.
  • Obstructive Foreground: Various parts of the environment sometimes get in the way of the camera, especially in confined spaces like caves and hallways. The game tries to work around this by pulling the camera in closer, but in some cases this makes it even more difficult to get around.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Six does this every time Aliya takes a route it can't follow. You only have a few minutes to act and explore unobserved before the damn thing suddenly appears behind you and continues to pester you. Typically they employ literal teleportation by way of a hopper eye that Aliya didn't notice, but more than once their solution is to find the nearest elevated surface and simply roll off it to access the area below.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Typical exclamations by Aliya, usually when encountering rapids, are "by the rivers", "by the stars", "by the Goddess".
  • Once More, with Clarity: The prologue shows Aliya and Six climbing up a mountain to a statue and a boarded-up house. Nothing much is explained about it other than that it happens a few weeks after the start. It seems more like a scene to set up what Aliya and Six do normally. Then you get to the end game and understand: the place in the prologue is Renba's Observatory. However, due to choices made during the game, some of the scene can change, like, say, Six being replaced by the Empress, or missing altogether if you sold him.
  • Only One Save File: Single save only. Mainly saving by Auto-Save.
  • Pardon My Klingon: The slave trader uses words towards Aliya such as farwet and sallehua. The exact meaning is not explained, but from the context they must be swear words in Elborethian patois.
  • Playing the Heart Strings: The entire soundtrack is slow, emotional, and contemplative. Several tracks feature a solo cello.
  • Priceless Paperweight: Various items you find over the course of the story appear as decor in your ship, but Aliya seems to have interesting ideas on how to store them. The Crown of the Empire, which Aliya describes as the greatest find of her life, can be found unceremoniously hanging on the back of a chair, and the iolite crystal from Maersi spends the rest of the game plunked in a coffee pot once you're done with it. It's also how Timor and Tapi managed to find things of value for you, since a lot of Elborethians don't know the value of what they actually have, given how many of those things are there on Elboreth.
  • Point of No Return: Finding the Aquifer and rerouting the water to the Heaven's Vault locks you into the endgame. Unfortunately, there's absolutely no warning given that this will happen, and getting to this point doesn't seem to have any causal connection to its premise of "explore and translate", so for first-time players it tends to come completely out of the blue. This can also results in player missing explorable locations if they activated the thing before they can explore those places first.
  • Projected Man: The robots have a projection as their heads and hands. They use it to show their emotions, but otherwise cannot interact with the environment.
  • Reincarnation: Since Loopers already believe that the universe is basically a Broken Record of itself, believing in reincarnation is a fairly natural conclusion. Professor Myari is repeatedly stated to believe that she's a reincarnated empress, but no proof is ever presented neither for her claims nor the existence of reincarnation on the whole. Especially given that it's more likely for Emperors' minds to be preserved as robots.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Most obviously the robots, which were created a thousand years ago or more, then buried in concrate for hundreds of years, are still functional. There are also functioning lights and machinery on some of the abandoned moons you discover.
  • Red Herring: Sometimes an indication appears that there is something on the ground, but if you take a look, you realize that there is really nothing.
  • Restraining Bolt: Robots have a so-called Ethical Core that prevents them from doing anything that would endanger the wellbeing of their assigned master. However, this gives them enough autonomy to act against their master's orders if he or she is putting themselves in danger.
  • Roaring Rapids: The way to travel between moons is to navigate the rivers that flow in space. You can only go downstream, so when planning your route it is important to take the flow direction into account.
  • Robot Buddy: Aliya is accompanied by one she calls Six, because it's the sixth one she's been given by the University. All the others were lost in the line of duty, and she makes no secret of the fact that she was directly responsible for at least a few of these "accidents".
  • Robot War: Part of the Nebula's extensive backstory involves a large-scale robot rebellion. And then there's human rebellion against the robots, which ended the Steel Empire.
  • Scenery Porn: Sailing the Rivers through the Nebula provides an endless parade of gorgeous space vistas, and many of the moons you get to visit are no less pleasing to the eye.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The Nebula is supposedly a space formation with the "moons" being asteroids. Travelling between them with the speed of a river (even a really fast one) would take years even if they are close to each other. Yet, Aliya sails casually across the nebula in no time. The novelization even says that travel between Elboreth and Renaki takes several hours, which means that the game world must not be bigger than a few tens of kilometers across. In the game it's even less due to playability reasons.
  • Servile Snarker: If Six isn't currently pestering Aliya to stop putting herself at risk, it's usually snarking at her without dropping its servile demeanor.
  • Shout-Out: Completing 10 translations unlocks the Reader of the Lost Marks achievement before completing 20 translations follows up with Tomb Reader.
  • Skewed Priorities: At Renba's dig site, entering the tent camp at the far end of the map results in Aliya's crippled help stabbing her in the back by taking her ship and leaving her marooned on a dead moon. Six immediately urges her to hopper back to the Nightingale before it is too late, but Aliya can still insist on continuing exploring the dig site while the wannabe pirates are quickly approaching the ship. If you take too long to come to your senses, Six will simply hopper you back on its own volition.
    • Also applies to every moon where thin atmosphere or poor environmental conditions put you on a time limit for exploring before Aliya's lungs fail. Six will frequently remind you of your deteriorating condition and you can brush them off, but they will hopper you away before you're done looking around if the situation gets too dire.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Though it takes some effort, managing to develop a friendship with Six leads to loads of this.
    Aliya: [asking them to wait while she finds a way into a ruin] Try not to rust.
    Six: I will lick myself clean, Mistress.
    Aliya: Wish me luck, Six.
    Six: I will keep watch for your common sense, Mistress.
    Aliya: Lizard seller must be a low status occupation.
    Six: I cannot imagine why.
  • Space Is an Ocean: Almost literally as you're traveling between locations by sailing on rivers that snake through space, complete with currents, rapids and calms. Space travel is referred to in distinctly nautical terms. This doesn't seem to apply to the titular Heaven's Vault, however, which seems to have came to the Nebula in some kind of FTL drive, presumably a Jump Drive, given that the word "Vault" is being used as a verb.
  • Teleportation with Drawbacks: Teleportation is range-limited by depending on Lost Technology that went centuries without maintenance.
  • Thanking the Viewer: At the end, an untranslated Ancient text is shown. If you (the player, not the character) managed to master the language enoguh, you can figure out its translation, which is roughly "thank you for playing".

  • Three Laws-Compliant: The robots have an Ethical Core that prevents them from doing harm to humans. The question of how ethical they really are comes up occasionally during the discussions between Aliya and Six.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: How Aliya's previous Robot Buddy Five left her service, which she has little qualms about telling Six to their holographic face. Her accounts of how exactly it happened are a bit unclear about whether it was part of an emergency manoeuvre in space, or simply the most convenient way to get rid of yet another robot she didn't want. Unsurprisingly, Six isn't particularly thrilled to learn of this and will suggest that you should go look for Five on the off chance that they're still alive.
  • Timed Mission: A handful of segments put you on a time limit, usually denoted by Aliya's health bar running out for one reason or another, but sometimes you get no indication whatsoever of how much time you have left (or that there even was a time limit in the first place).
  • Title Drop: It takes about half the game for the Heaven's Vault to start popping up on Aliya's radar, after which it still takes some time before tracking it down becomes her primary objective.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: Ancient writing completely lacks spaces, so the first thing you usually need to do upon finding a new inscription is to figure out how many words you're actually dealing with. This is usually done by allocating the words you already know and then hope that it's enough for Aliya to divvy up the fragment into its constituent parts. The nature of Ancient makes this trickier than it sounds because a string of glyphs that you know gains a related but different meaning if there's another glyph in front of or behind it, and if you haven't "discovered" this word somewhere else before, you can't place it. Fortunately, the game automatically crosses out incorrect words in your roster every time Aliya realizes that she/you got it wrong, so assuming you have enough correct words left in the end, the true structure of the text fragment eventually reveals itself if you're sufficiently tenacious.
  • Trigger Phrase: Speaking to robots in Ancient allows one to access lower functions directly and ask them questions about the world as it once was, but with the caveat that they can only respond in Ancient. Even Aliya's knowledge of the language isn't terribly useful here, as she's only familiar with written Ancient. Her knowledge of Elborethian patois is more helpful.
  • Troubled Child: Aamir, a little boy who was hoppered from Elboreth to a potentially-haunted abandoned ruin and stranded alone there for nearly a year before Aliya finds him. He's still fairly upbeat and plucky, but he also believes that he's dead and that the gate he went through hates him and will kill him again if he goes near it.
  • Tsundere: Empress Enkei vacillates freely between being nice (albeit a bit patronizing) to Aliya and insulting her in every other sentence for no reason other than to confirm that yes, she's an A-grade Jerkass.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: During the Steel Empire robots enslaved humans.
  • Unsuccessful Pet Adoption: The gecko you buy on Renaki runs away almost immediately (before you even give it a name, if you take too long to decide!). It eventually pops up again on your ship, and if you ask how it got there, Six implies that their fear of it getting inside their internal workings came true and it hitched a ride aboard. From that point on it appears in various places on your ship as a decoration.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Aliya eagerly trading away historical artifacts at a market stall for a wild gecko that immediately runs away.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: A minor example. While exploring planets where Aliya can't survive long due to poor atmospheric/environmental conditions, if you hang around until the health/stamina bar bottoms out Six will hopper Aliya back to the ship upon her collapse. After a brief rest period in the hammock, she comes to and is back to business. Except on the Quarry Moon. If you go down the mining shaft, you'll eventually run out of her stamina bar, but the only way to get out of there is to get to the crystal you found down there, which turned out to be a hopper lens that teleported you to Elboreth.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Due to their tracked chassis, robots are incapable of climbing stairs or mounting anything taller than a pebble. This also becomes a minor plot point later on because it helps discern whether a ruin was meant for accommodating humans or robots. No ramps? No robots.
  • Weapon Jr.: Played with. During the "fight" with Aamir, he wields a stick he found as a sword. Aliya can wield a wooden sword found nearby, if you picked it up.
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": You can buy a gecko on Renaki and pick from a lengthy list of names for it, including Janniqi and Huang.
  • Wife Husbandry: The bar in the Elboreth slums is run by a shady guy called Timor. He basically raised Aliya before she was taken away to Iox, yet he constantly and unsubtly attempts to convince her to marry him, ostensibly for her own good. She's as creeped out by this as any sane person would probably be.
  • Wretched Hive: Pretty much every settled world that isn't Iox is one, but Elboreth is easily the worst of the lot. Six comments on it constantly, which usually garners prickly responses from Elboreth-native Aliya. If Six turns into Enkei, she outright refuses to come out of the ship because she feels the place is so much below her.
  • Wrench Wench: Oroi is a mechanic and she is fascinated by any machinery, especially the Lost Technology kind.
  • You Are Number 6: Aliya's robot is named Six, because it's her sixth robot. She apparently named her previous ones similarly before she "lost" them.

    Tropes specific to the novelization 
  • Adapted Out: Tapi does not appear in the book.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Enkei is Jerkass enough in the game, but takes it up to eleven in the book. She does not stop at constantly insulting her, but bosses her around, threatening her to hopper her into a wall, and even steals her ship once.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book shows the backstory of Aliya, of how she got her ship and how she got to Iox.
  • Anachronic Order: When Aliya arrives at Heaven's Vault, the narrative jumps back and forth between her climbing the mountain to reach the Vault, and her translating the texts in the entrance hall of the Vault.
  • Decomposite Character: In the game Six/Enkei is the only robot Aliya has. In the book we meet Aliya's first robot Talliin. He travels with Aliya after Six turns into Enkei and Aliya has to ditch her.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The table of contents looks like a timeline, each age translated to the title of each part of the book, which loosely represents the age Aliya explores in that part.
  • Painting the Medium: Ancient features heavily in the book's editing. Each part's title is written out in both English and Ancient. Within the parts, chapters are numbered in Ancient only. Within the chapters, sections are separated by the "separate" Ancient symbol. Near the end, we see snippets of the story of Mazwai, which are marked with the word "past" in Ancient.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The book stays mostly true to the game's events. Most deviations are either leaving out repetitive parts from the game, such as exploring ruins to find moons, or changing details that enhance the story but wouldn't have worked well in the game's format.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Aliya and Enkei have the same purpose: to get to Heaven's Vault and save the Nebula from whatever darkness is threatening it. Unfortunately, the two doesn't get along well.

Alternative Title(s): Heavens Vault