Epanalepsis

 

Review by · August 26, 2015

Epanalepsis, by definition, is the repetition of a word or clause at the end of a sentence that was used at the beginning. This cycle is what appears to be the main focus of Cameron Kunzelman’s game of the same name. This is my first foray into Kunzelman’s work, and I am both intrigued and baffled. Upon starting up the game, I felt a sense of anticipation, unknowing, and confusion, and by the end, those feelings re-emerged. A quick look back at the definition, then, seems to reinforce the point of repetition. Point achieved, then. Repetition and cycles become a clear theme within the game, both through means of story and, unfortunately, gameplay.

The game markets itself as a narrative-heavy point-and-click adventure. Regarding narrative, heavy may be a generous term. There are three chapters, each linked to one another, and each sees you controlling a different character. The first follows Rachel in 1993; jobless, with an attitude, she gets by with her girlfriend by drinking and hanging out, and attempting to find meaning in the little things. Anthony’s chapter is the second, set in 2013, where he is an avid MMO-player who surrounds himself with the latest gadgets, but never uses them. The last chapter follows a robot in 2033 caught up in the middle of a terrorist plot. Each chapter works effectively in grabbing the player’s attention, setting each section up for an interesting turn of events. The first chapter especially gripped me. Yet by the end of each chapter, my questions were unanswered, and I moved along none the wiser. Each segment works well on its own and sets up ideas and potential, but the game as a whole never fulfils them. I was more often left frustrated than satisfied with each section, wanting for more.

Even the alleged genre, point-and-click, is misleading. Epanalepsis plays more like a visual novel, where you’re left to discover yourself rather than unearth treasure and solve mysteries. It plays just as you expect it to; however, this isn’t a case of “if it ain’t broke” proverb. There’s a distinct lack of variety, even for a 45 minute experience. The first two chapters are nearly identical gameplay wise, and the third differs only slightly. As I look back to my definition, this seems fitting. Life itself is a series of repetitions of what you learn. For a visual novel, though, there are very few chances to make meaningful choices; the ones given luckily provide alternative endings, but nothing about them feels rewarding, or even significantly different. There’s no coming together of the characters, no real reference to them outside of their respective chapters, and so your ability to choose is hampered and limited. There’s a strong amount of interaction with objects and people, which builds up a strong core to the game, paving the way for whereby you gain access to information, and, as I was, become more interested.

This is where the quality of the writing comes through, which emerges as one of the games strongest characteristics. Rachel, who was the most interesting character for me, had me chuckling to myself, and her interactions with characters demonstrate Kunzelman’s wry sense of humor. At times, you could be watching a 90s movie, and at others a distinctive sci-fi feel comes through because of the way the characters communicate. The tone shifts from sarcastic to philosophical rather effortlessly throughout, giving the game a distinct sense of style; but witty anecdotes and existential crises do not provide enough of a scope for the overall plot. Expositional dialogue is used to fill in some of the blanks, but often it never explains what we need it to. Yet, the further I delved into Epanalepsis, the more I began to wonder if the story really mattered. For the visual novel genre, I’m not sure this is a good thing.

This philosophy applies not just to the gameplay and story, but to the graphics as well. Epanalepsis couldn’t be further from the life-like characters we are presented with in most video games today, but this doesn’t count against it. A graphical overhaul wouldn’t change a thing. It feels like an auteur’s statement, stripping the graphics back to the bare bones. Graphical shortcomings are more than accounted for by the soundtrack, however; quirky, beautiful, and sometimes haunting, it creates more than enough atmosphere to compensate. The first time I loaded up the game, the bells in the opening track sent chills down my spine.

Then, if the graphics, the plot, and everything else do not matter, then what does? Perhaps the most coherent links are the themes within the narrative; the search for meaning, futility, and choice. My interpretation that the game deliberately leaves you to question yourself feels fitting, but it also bothers me. Short games do not bother me, but each chapter would benefit from being the entire game’s length, because the nature of its themes and the questions it raises are crying out for a longer, more fleshed-out narrative. Alas, we are left with the emptiness that life leaves us; the endless cycle, and this unknown “Burden.” We’re not meant to make sense of things, but we’re also not given the time to do so. It’s a lesson in how we gain meaning, and how we are affected by what we choose, and how choice sometimes doesn’t make a difference.

I am often up for a philosophical debate, but in a video game, even a visual novel, I often wish for there to be some sort of overriding opinion, so that I can challenge it: this isn’t the case here. Instead, we are left with the overriding sense of anticipation, unknowing, and confusion (see, repetition again). Epanalepsis is something that you would approach not as a means of enjoyment or relaxation, but to experience or gain something; it’s a gift for the existentialist, and for fans of Kunzelman’s work, but for others, like myself, it only leaves them vexed.


Pros

Great soundtrack, witty, well written dialogue, thought provoking.

Cons

Incomprehensible, clunky narrative, little time to engage with characters, repetitive gameplay.

Bottom Line

While Epanalepsis succeeds at being thought provoking, most players will be left feeling empty, even after multiple playthroughs.

Graphics
60
Sound
80
Gameplay
60
Control
65
Story
65
Overall Score 62
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Alana Hagues

Alana Hagues

Alana has been with RPGFan since 2015 and does a little bit of everything, but writing is her passion. A lover of baking and animals (especially dogs and reptiles), she apparently has a pretty cute accent. If you talk to her about Skies of Arcadia, you've made a friend for life.