In this age of videogames, there is a niche and profitable market for retroactive videogames. Usually, when the word “retro” is marketed for a game, its design is in a form of low graphics (i.e., between 8 to 16 bits). What makes retro games so popular in such a diverse market is mostly nostalgia, but the successful ones also have a distinct factor that makes it stand out from the rest.
Enter Epanalepsis, a game in the retro market that sells itself as a “narrative-heavy point-and-click adventure.” The 16-bit (maybe 8-bit) game is developed by Cameron Kunzelman, a game designer and journalist who has made a couple of other indie games. Around last year, Kunzelman used Kickstarter to raise funds for Epanalepsis. The pitch was for an adventure game “not centered on puzzles,” but “exploring three intertwining narratives about life and technology.” The narratives were conceptualized with the inspiration from several well-known fiction and non-fiction stories (e.g., Cloud Atlas and Eternal Darkness) and other adventure games. The Kickstarter campaign successfully raised almost $10,000, and just a few weeks ago, Epanalepsis was released for the PC via Steam.
The word “epanalepsis” is the repetition of the same word or clause in the beginning and the end of the sentence. Such a title is fitting for a game that encompasses 40 years in the same setting. The three stories you follow during the course of the game begin with Rachel in 1993, Anthony in 2013, and a mysterious person in 2033. All three seem to be stuck doing the same mundane things over and over again, even though they live in different times and their genders are different. The repetitiveness, however, stops after they all encounter something strange one day.
As it was marketed, Epanalepsis is all about the story. It is like an interactive drama (e.g., Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead) without puzzles or inventory management. There are maybe one to three tasks for each story, and they are so mundane like taking a leak in the toilet or answering a ringing phone. Accidentally skipping or being too trigger-happy to skip the dialogue, you may get lost in figuring what tasks need to completed as the game does not provide any reminders or indicators on how to progress the story. However, this problem is trivial as there are not a lot of things to interact with; a few clicks on a few interactive things will eventually finish the task and it is off to the next one.
The absence of puzzles and inventory management is to be expected for a “narrative-heavy” game, but even the narrative is lacking. While there are dialogue choices in some stories, there are only maybe two chances to do so in the entire game. The choices made do not affect the story at all, even in different playthroughs.
Another disappointing factor of Epanalepsis is how really short the stories are. Each one can be finished in less than 10 minutes, and the whole game can be completed (maybe even twice or thrice) in one sitting. While this may appease certain casual gamers, think of it this way: without the ability to control the characters’ movements and choices to click on certain interactive things, this is almost like watching a movie—a very low-budget one.
To Buy or Not to Buy?
Epanalepsis is not for the majority. This is one of those retro games that tries to stand out for its story, but fails to grip interest with its lackluster gameplay and design. However, those who are interested in a story about monotony, time, and evolution and likes 16-bit graphics should consider picking this up. The game is almost the cost of seeing a movie at a discount/second-run theater anyway.
To find out more about Epanalepsis, visit its official page.
Follow Three Intertwining Very Short Stories
Plot - 1/10
Gameplay - 1/10
Design - 1/10
-No puzzles or inventory management
-Less than three dialogue options in the whole game
-Dialogue choices do not affect story
-Game can be completed in less than 30 minutes