Epanalepsis (PC Review)
When it comes to point and click adventure games you would usually expect there to be a huge focus on the narrative since this is what drives the genre. We have grown to expect some interaction here and there and maybe some sort of informative conclusion. If you aren’t looking for any of this then Epanalepsis is your game. Created by Cameron Kunzelman, Epanalepsis is lost in its own convoluted story, striving to tell a complex tale of past, present, and future but falls short of anything other than a rather disjointed tale.
Epanalepsis follows the life of three characters as they go through their everyday routine. First up we have Rachel, a down in the dumps 90’s gal who is unemployed and making a living (assumedly) making Zines for her local nightclub “Heaven”. Secondly we have Anthony, a middle aged man in the year 2013 who is a MMORPG enthusiast, who likes to spend most of his time inside the virtual world of online RPGs. Outside of this Anthony makes a living hacking and selling information; an 8-bit Neo for the indie aficianados out there. Lastly we’re placed into the chassis of a little robot being remotely controlled by a terrorist organisation in the year 2033, forced to hide away underground due to the ever-present government military regime.
All timelines are 20 years apart and take place within the same locale with varying differences in aesthetics. From Rachel’s hip 90’s subculture to the dying light of the dystopian future that the our little robot friend and his terrorist cell are forced to subside in. Each character comes across as unique, lost, and depressed. As the chapters slowly progress we can see the humanity slip away from the protagonists as the timelines unfold.
Rachel is the the lively spirit amongst the dwindling life that is the rest of the cast. Rachel’s current situation is one of bad fortune, unemployment, and lacking in drive. Her daily life consists of her waking up, taking a piss, and printing off Zines to distribute at the nightclub down the street. The narrative is dead or near non existent in terms of story progression. Most of the game is comprised of the interaction with furniture and other interesting backdrops that litter the screen, which Rachel is more than happy to get into detail, unlike her counterparts.
If you were to focus on the main plot and don’t bother taking an interest in the furnishings of every character then you would complete each chapter in under 10 minutes, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. The most you get out of Rachel’s chapter is the descriptive backstory of household cabinets and the comparison between Rachel’s own interests and that of her girlfriend, Vanessa. Rachel is soon visited by an unknown human, who I can only presume is a time lord, as she quickly babbles about the future, past, and nature of continuous events. All of which Rachel doesn’t seem to give a shit about, completely unphased by the events that happened before her, you can walk off and nothing really appears to become of it leaving the player rather confused.
Anthony is further down the rabbit hole than Rachel. Set in the year 2013 his mysterious endeavour has him jumping through time and ultimately being reduced to a pile of mush as he ceases to exist in the middle of a desert speaking to an old bearded prophet…needless to say this is where Epanalepsis falls apart. The player is challenged with understanding the concept of time travel, continous reality, the meaning of life or whatever bollocks it may be as the story fails to hit home due to a lack of proper explanation. Anthony is more direct and not as descriptive as Rachel,so when the player decides to take an interest in Anthony’s taste in decorations he more or less reply with “yeah I like the look of it” or “it’s a table”. Anthony’s disengaging attitude distances the player from Epanalepsis. There are some nice nods to popular video game titles including Anthony’s collectable “Mister Cheef” (Halo’s Master Chief) helmet and his childish “Crate” poster (clearly Minecraft), none the less, any sense of immersion that was present in Rachel’s chapter is now gone for the rest of the game.
The last chapter of the game we take control of an unnamed robot who is being controlled by an unnamed Inventor who is part of an underground terrorist organisation in the year 2033. Surprisingly not situated in underground subway stations, we take control of Wall-E Mk2 to explore the terrorist cell that is trying to topple the government regime that has citizens of 2033 living in fear. The world is so bad that some people have opted in to be connected to a virtual world that they can live out the rest of their lives. The nameless inventor also gets a visit from these time lords, much like Anthony and Rachel, and explains that a decision ahead of him will have a heavy impact and weight on the future. His decision being either destroy the city they live using the little robot as a bomb or find an alternative means of stopping them. When presented with these scenarios the player can choose one of two options but neither option seems to have a huge impact on the story. As Rachel you can listen to the advice given to you by a beady eyed stranger and continue living the life she’s living or move on, as Anthony we can choose if we are afraid of death or not, and the Inventor is faced with taking a destructive or pacifistic route to achieve his goals. In the end nothing is particularly clear and we are given a brief overview of the outcomes for each character with the addition of an ending for the Time Lords as well. The Time Lords ending comes across as rather unexplained, beyond the very limited interaction and appearnces encompassing them we are left with more questions than answers.
It’s hard to become enveloped in a game that lacks a sense of progressive narrative, especially for a genre that relies so heavily on it. We are only giving a brief conversation at the end of each chapter with an enigmatic time lord (I honestly have no idea who they are) and that’s that. The rest of the game is used to explore the contextual surroundings that have no connection to the story. I hate to say that this is not the only downfall Epanalepsis suffers from. I have had to replay the game more times than I had liked since the some of the dialogue boxes don’t disappear, stopping the game from progressing. There were also times where my character fell out of bounds and went on his own little adventure, presumably flipping the bird at what we perceived as his game world. There was also an issue when trying to exit fullscreen mode, I simply couldn’t. With the lack of an in-game menu there was no option to exit the game meaning you had to press the F key to exit full screen manually but this was a no go for me as it would instantly switch back to fullscreen mode. This resulted in me going to the archaic “ctrl+alt+del” task manager menu and ending the games run time from there. Fortunately the fullscreen bug was just recently patched, but with the lack of an in-game menu we are still presented with more problems. Saving the game, for example, is done by pressing the control key making a beeping sound to indicate that it has saved, meaning if I wanted to exit due to a game breaking bug I would essentially have to save my game by pressing “ctrl+alt+del”.
Epanalepsis’ only saving grace is the soundtrack, though depressing the soundtrack may be, it suits the theme of each character’s timeline. The melancholy sounding score helps to enforce the bleak outlook of each characters life. Not much could be said for the artstyle as it’s 8-bit, colours are fairly simple but apporpriate, however it can become problematic when trying to discern certain objects in the environment. I spent 20 minutes trying to find a stapler in the first chapter as it blended in so well with the same colour as the handle of the refrigerator so I thought it was part of the same object.
Grasping at trying to create an immersive and complex narrative, Epanalepsis fails to deliver anything than a semi-decent, one hour distraction that doesn’t really give off any sense of closure once completed. With the amount of game breaking bugs that plagued Epanalepsis’ progression and its “story” that was too convoluted for its own good, Epanalepsis is not portrayed in a good light. It’s unfortunate that the game comes off as unfinished and buggy as it does seem to have the potential to be something more than it could have but only time and a large number of patches will tell.