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Monday, February 26, 2024

This Is What an RPG for Indie Movie Heroines Would Look Like

Look out over the indie movie landscape of the last few months and you'll see a trend: women running. More specifically, single, neurotic women running while coping with their middle-class problems. Renate Reinsve did it in The Worst Person in the World; Alana Haim did it in Licorice Pizza. But they're not alone. Remember Frances in Frances Ha? She did it too. And let’s not forget Run Lola Run. But what if you, dear reader, were the director of their lives? To wit, may we present Saturn Return, an open-world role-playing game that someone should really make.

Saturn Return: Existential Crisis

The Story

No boyfriend. No career. And now—no roommate. In Saturn Return, you play as Fiona, a dilettante in search of purpose while coping with adult responsibilities. As she rapidly approaches 30, Fiona wakes up in a city filled with lost potential and closed doors.

Armed with only her intellect and wit, Fiona must make money, fall in love, meet cool and interesting people, and gain validation in order to survive in this bitter land and regain her lost optimism—all before the planet Saturn returns to the same ecliptic longitude it occupied at her birth.

The Gameplay

As Fiona, you can explore the landscape of Metro any way that you like! You can attend parties and ask NPCs if they like their jobs, flirt with local baristas, performatively shop in the bookstore, ask a bartender if they have any good sour beers, or search for new destinations. (Maybe go to that museum exhibit your friend recommended? They read about it in The New Yorker.) You set your own path into the overpriced neighborhood she’s decided to call home.

Status Meters

Fiona has two meters that let you know her current ability to function: her mood and stamina. When they’re both filled up, she can explore the world endlessly! When they’re depleted, she is stuck in her apartment and retreating into her brain.


Depressed → JubilantAnxious → Chill


Can’t get out of bed → Plans every nightDehydrated → HydratedInventoryTote bag: Fiona keeps all her belongings in a public radio tote bag.Bike: Once you obtain a bike the world becomes a little bit smaller.Edibles: Discover cannabis edibles hidden away from a trip to California last year.Expired student ID: You can sometimes get into museums with this.Punch card for coffee shop by old office: Yeah, you should toss it, but what if you might need it someday?Controls

The controls for Saturn Return are pretty straightforward, but each one can have profound effects on Fiona’s mood, stamina, and ability to deal. Press the buttons below to select from several options.

A to Interact

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Banter: Joke about your surroundings and people’s quirks (increases mood).Critique: Say something mean, like telling your friend you don’t like their boyfriend (decreases mood).Flatter: Support an acquaintance in need!Lie: Pretend to know about a book/movie/TV show.Eye contact: Try to hit on someone using only sustained eye contact.Cry: Sometimes you gotta cry.

B to Mobilize

Run: You can run when your Jubilant meter is filled up.Kiss: Lean in to kiss the person you want!Dance: Break out into a dance, either alone or in a party setting.Ponder: Stare at a sunset or a piece of art (increases mood).Purchase: Buy clothes or apartment goods (increases mood).Look at phone: Necessary to navigate world.

Sample Combo Moves / Attacks

Smoke cigarettes: [R1 + R2] Damages stamina, increases mood.Post on social media: [Tap A] Pending likes, increases or decreases mood.Make dinner from scratch: [A + B + R1] Increases stamina, increases mood.Leave dishes for 3 days: [Do Nothing] Decreases stamina, decreases mood.Show boobs: [Tap B] Get male/female attention by flashing your boobs (increases mood).Main Quests and Boss Fights

Pay Rent: Complete this quest by negotiating rent with just the worst person you’ve ever met in your whole life. Defeat the boss/landlord by running across town to go to an ATM so you can pay the deposit in cash before they give the place to someone else.

Find Dream Job: Find ways to increase your mood and stamina after reading dozens of rejection emails. Defeat the boss by saying something delightfully clever in an interview.

Maintain Friendships: This quest involves attending a going-away party where you dodge your ex, some guy in a fedora, and annoying former coworkers. Your journey will be complete when you confront your friend about them moving away without sounding desperate.

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Fall in Love??? (What’s Love ANYWAY?): This level has two bosses. The first, Red Flag Man, will tell you after you sleep with him that his last girlfriend begged him to go to therapy. Defeat him by not catching the feelings after he confuses you for an entire month. The second boss is the Normal One. Accept a date with someone who clearly communicates feelings but doesn’t make you laugh or think. (WARNING: If you defeat this boss and fall in love, you could land in relationship jail for three years, which is nice, but you only get to do side quests.)

Find Meaning: In the game’s final level, you unlock your therapist and together you battle ennui.

Side Quests

Adopt a Pet or Plant: In lieu of having a partner/child, Fiona can adopt a cat, dog, or plant, depending on how many resources she has.

Decorate Apartment: When someone disappoints you, hang up art you’ve been meaning to for months.

Date Someone Older: You are a bright spot in a 45-year-old man’s life and make him feel young again, but he is unavailable (either married or emotionally distant).

Help Your Drunk Friend Get Home: Navigate annoying taxi drivers and neighbors as you provide a shoulder for a friend.

Dog Sitting: Your friend’s dog Meatball runs away while you’re watching him, and you have to chase him down (bonus points for more running).

Daddy Issues:  Dad is in town, but he won’t stop talking about how much everything costs.

Dinner Party With Fancy People: You underdress, get too drunk, and yell at people about how small their lives become when they have kids.

Help a Friend Through a Break-Up: You go out dancing and sleep over at their place and get stoned and flip through coffee table books and laugh and cry and it’s one of the best nights you’ve had in a long time. And you know you’ll need each other forever and it’s kind of wonderful, isn’t it?

Surviving Saturn Return

Fiona’s mission to seek fulfillment in life will require her to make hard choices. Metro girls strive to remain cool and upbeat, but often find themselves in depressive spirals or making others feel bad. Rarely are these choices sensible, and they often send Fiona’s life into a spiral of chaos and pain. Saturn Return features multiple endings that result from the choices you make throughout the game—will she be an adventurer, a degenerate, an artist, or a spinster?

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