Epanalepsis Review | MOUSE n JOYPAD

Epanalepsis Review



Imagine a story that is set in an unknown time, unknown place and in unknown circumstances. Now imagine a promise that information about the place will be revealed at the end of a long journey and the information will provide clarity about the unknown parts of a story. Finally, conceptualize the end of the journey, however, the details of the story are still unknown, shrouded in mystery – a promise broken. At the start of Epanalepsis everything is shrouded in mystery, details are unknown. At the end of Epanalepsis everything is still shrouded in mystery, details still unknown. The promise of clarity or explanation was broken, and the journey was far shorter than I expected.


A pair of street merchants converse while Rachel admires the beauty of signs.

Adventure games have always occupied a somewhat nebulous schools. Multiple schools of thought have emerged seeking to modernize the genre. Telltale Games has shied away from the traditional puzzle-heavy style of older adventure games in favor of a more narrative-driven experience. Puzzles are very light, in comparison, and the main focus is shifted to character development and story plotlines. On the other hand, Double Fine leaned more towards classic adventure game design with their latest title, Broken Age. There is a focus on narrative, but the puzzles are reminiscent of older games in the genre. Epanalepsis takes minimalistic puzzle design one step further, separating itself even from Telltale’s titles because of its overly simplistic design.

Puzzle-solving in Epanalepsis consists simply of finding a couple of objects followed by finding and talking to a couple of characters. Once, there is a puzzle that doesn’t involve finding any objects but instead skips to the much more riveting part of talking to a couple of characters who speak nothing but complete nonsense. Excluding walking, that is the extent of the mechanics in the game. There is no inventory to manage or knot puzzles to solve, not even a friendly dialog puzzle. Epanalepsis takes simplicity in game design to its ultimate level but at a clear detriment. The action is so light that Epanalepsis may have been better off as a visual novel, although that would not have remedied the game’s most egregious fault.

Woes of time travel storytelling have plagued writers since the first stories were penned. How can a story be clear and sensible when its timeline is fragmented? What is the best way to keep the timeline grounded for the reader while events may be happening months or even years apart? Epanalepsis is another entry into this often misguided genre of time-travel stories – three characters in three separate time periods make up the story. However, the game doesn’t even attempt to solve the obstacles presented time travel storytelling. A baffling introduction is met with a somehow even more baffling conclusion. I wouldn’t want to ruin the story of Epanalepsis (it wouldn’t take long) so I won’t ruin any specific story beats but the end leaves every single question the game proposes unanswered or answered in a completely nonsensical way.


Can you guess which one is Anthony?

No solution exists for the game’s absurd plotline. Rather than a reward of knowledge, clarity, or insight you are given nothing more than an obtuse Animal House-like information dump at the end of the game that did more to befuddle me than actually provide any useful information. Throughout the entirety of the game, numerous characters speak in circles or riddles, giving very little information about the story or the environment. Others speak with heavy references to a world that is never explained or fully explored by the player. The riddles spoken by the characters are never made clear, the world is never fleshed out, and some areas are never explained. In the worst way, Epanalepsis feels like a game that is only a quarter done with locales, characters, and plotlines referenced but unexplored.

As if the unnecessarily unclear story wasn’t enough, it is very difficult to determine which character is talking during any bit of dialog. There are no names tags assigned to the characters in the dialog boxes, so remembering who is talking is mostly a crapshoot of remembering who was the first character to being talking in the conversion. Naturally, this leads to even more confusion over the course of the narrative, culminating in one of the most baffling narrative experience I’ve had, to date.

Compounding the issues with the narrative and gameplay are unforgivable bugs and sloppy art design. I highly encourage all players to press ‘f’ in-game and watch the magic happen! There is no in-game menu to save, pause or adjust settings so to quit the game you’ve got to use the “alt-f4” keyboard shortcut or a similar method. Saving is done by pressing “Ctrl” and loading a save is much more confusing than it ought to be. The save system may be a little quirky, but I didn’t use it much as I completed the game in almost an hour flat. I then very quickly replayed it (emphasis on very quickly) to find that the only difference was a choice made at the very end of the story.

The art of Epanalepsis did nothing to make the second trip through the story more enjoyable but instead became another aspect of the game that feels strangely incomplete. It is a clear example of some of the poorer implementations of pixel art in modern game design. Each character is a single sprite that is blown-up to an absurd degree that brings out the rough edges and little detail in each of the designs. The final time period is especially tough to look at as many crudely drawn banners hang in the background, and one character looks little more than a pixellated stick figure with clothing and a smile. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the game is its soundtrack. There is a great diversity in the musical selections with some very catchy melodies and cool atmosphere. Epanalepsis’ music was undoubtedly hurt by its brevity as I was left wanting more of the surprisingly good soundtrack after the story ended after only an hour.

Time may have been the simple cure to the illness that crippled Epanalepsis. On multiple fronts, more time may have been the solution to all of the confusing and utterly bonkers parts of the game. The story may have been more fleshed out, some more demanding puzzles may have surfaces, and maybe some of the character and background art would’ve been cleaned up. However, Epanalepsis, is flawed in too many ways for any kind of positive recommendation, and it breaks its promise to deliver a compelling time travel story by one hundred percent.