Exodus Guilty weaves an epic tale where the past, present, and future intertwine like strands of DNA. A swordsman in the past, a treasure hunter in the present, and a princess in the future with important ties to a particular region of the world all embark on adventures that, unbeknownst to them, will shape and even challenge fate and destiny.
In 1200 B.C., a maiden named Masa is seen performing a ritual dance for God. The fire oracle acknowledges the maiden’s offering of herself as a holy sacrifice. Before her life is claimed, a young swordsman named Ales jumps in between the oracle and the maiden and dares to bare his fangs at God! Somehow, the maiden plea bargains with the oracle and though she lives, she is not long for this world and the village is slated to be destroyed thanks to the defiance of the maiden and the swordsman. We are then told of the tale of Abrahm, the great hero of the village who entrusted the care of an orphaned child to a young village girl. That child is now that 18 year old swordsman and the girl is the maiden who cared for Ales as her own son. All grown up, Ales is both like a son and a brother to Masa, who dares not show her truer and deeper love for him. Anyway, Masa entrusts Ales with a mission as her final wish. He is to go to the southern village of Plen Arc and relay a message to a maiden named Will who is referred to as “The Song of God.”
Cut to 2000 A.D. where 18-year-old Kasumi Shindo is raiding an ancient ruin. Although he seems like an average high school student and a bit of a bumbling idiot, he is in fact one of the world’s top treasure hunters with razor-sharp instincts, lightning fast wits, uncanny academic knowledge, and wisdom belying his young age that takes everyone by surprise. He has a personality that both entrances and repulses people, often simultaneously. That dichotomous personality, along with his rank and reputation, is why people can’t seem to leave him alone, and why I found him such an interesting character, especially towards the end. Anyway, a close family friend, Reina Tachibana, is a professor heading an archaeological dig at a ruin where Kasumi believes Moses’ legendary 11th Commandment concerning the promised “Land of Fate” may be kept. Reina is brilliant but prone to common sense slip-ups and claustrophobia. She despises treasure hunters because they despoil the ruins with their senseless digging for monetary gain but is blissfully unaware of Kasumi’s semi-secret identity as a treasure hunter. Reina’s younger sister Ai is also there and was arranged to be Kasumi’s bride when they were children. Ai has strong feelings for Kasumi, but every time they’re together they always seem to end up arguing. Either way, Kasumi uses his connections with the Tachibana sisters as leverage to gain access to the excavation site. As expected, things get hairy and this looks like it will be the toughest assignment the unflappable Kasumi has faced yet. Will he succeed?
The future, 13,800 A.D. is a bleak post-apocalyptic time indeed. The age of science has long since crumbled and history is repeating itself through a rebirth of draconian times where the royal family in a shining castle rules over all. People are faithless and rendered in a state of learned helplessness, wholly dependent on what little table scraps the royal family leaves them. The main characters here are an 18 year old girl named Sui and her best friend/sister/bodyguard Laliela (affectionately called Laily.) Sui and Laily live and work at the town flower shop with auntie Nene. Sui has a special pendant that Nene says is a keepsake from her deceased mother. One fine night, Sui and Laily are asked to deliver a bouquet of golden flowers to one Mr. U at the castle. Laily has a bad feeling about this… and she’s right. The castle has been thrust into chaos because the evil Lord Zazan successfully performed a coup d’etat and took over the castle. The royal family is no more and the once noble knights are now bloodthirsty butchers. Sui and Laily manage to escape from the castle, but Nene is nowhere to be found at the flower shop. In the middle of a restless night, a half-dead Nene crawls back in and reveals to Sui that her pendant signifies that she is the last true princess of the royal family and that as the true heir to the throne, she has the power to stop Lord Zazan and save the world. Sui is obviously confused and hysterical over her world crashing around her, and it is up to the calm, cool, and always rational Laily to make sure Sui doesn’t do something stupid in such a critical time. So now the last princess and her faithful bodyguard are on a mission to discover the truth about her identity, the world, and salvation.
Those were just the introductory three chapters, giving the player an idea of the three storylines in Exodus Guilty. This game is merely volume 1 in the trilogy, this volume being “The Present,” and the remaining 12 chapters tell us the exciting and intriguing story of Kasumi and his treasure hunt. Volume 2: Past will take us on Ales’ journey and Volume 3: Future is Sui’s tale. Somehow, the destinies of these three young adventurers are connected and the draw is finding out how the events of one era connect with another.
So, if you play the kinds of games reviewed at RPGFan purely for the story, then you don’t need to read any further. Instead, you need to pick up this game, because the story is simply fantastic. It is truly epic in every sense of the word, while also having the intimacy that only a character-driven narrative can provide. In Exodus Guilty as a whole, religion (particularly eschatological theories), morality, and the values of mankind are strong themes in the narrative lending that epic feel, while equally strong themes of love enhance the characters. The only things that might turn people off to the story are that the pacing can be rather slow and that there is a lot of exposition and lengthy dialogue.
As far as visual novels go, Exodus Guilty is easily one of the best looking I’ve ever seen. The scenery is always lush and colorful, and though you often see the standard fare anime still portraits over a backdrop, there are also times when still screens shot from dynamic angles and fully animated cutscenes enhance the experience. In addition, the character portraits are incredibly detailed, crisp, and have extensive shading giving them that really glossy sheen I like in anime characters. There is an overland map that looks like something out of a 16-bit RPG, but it gets the job done, and you’re hardly ever on it. I like it because it gives me an idea of where locations are relative to each other. Given that the visuals presented are more varied and dynamic than those in other visual novels I’ve played, I had to rate the graphics highly.
The sound is excellent too. When I first loaded up the game, the first thing that hit me was “whoa, that opening theme is good.” It was a bass heavy tune that resonated with me from the get go. Thankfully, all the music in the game is very good as well. The music has good melodies, fits the intended scenes and characters, and is never overpowering. The voice acting, which is in the original Japanese, is quite good as well. Every character was portrayed convincingly, and I can definitely tell that the gentleman who voiced Kasumi must have had a lot of fun with that character. However, there is a small glitch late in the game where Kasumi’s interacting with a mysterious woman and the conversation heard is from a different scene where Kasumi’s interacting with another man. It does not last long, though, and did not detract from my enjoyment.
Gameplay is where this game is really lacking. Visual novels are not a genre based around gameplay, but the gameplay offered in Exodus Guilty is more limited than in other visual novels I’ve played. There are extremely few decisions to be made in the game and even if you make an incorrect decision, you get a do-over until you make the correct decision the game wants you to make. One aspect that had potential was that every once in a while, an item screen would pop up and ask you what item to use. Unfortunately, picking and choosing the right items for a task was a complete no-brainer as well. Because of the linearity of the game, there is no save system. From the first time you load up the start menu, you can choose to play the game from any of the chapters. Only the first three chapters are clearly separated. The remaining chapters flowed together as one, and I only knew what chapter I was on by the number presented on my DVD player. One thing that visual novels often have going for them is replay value, but in the case of Exodus Guilty, replay value is nil unless you want to relive certain chapters you really enjoyed. Still, a single playthrough will take you 14-16 hours, which is fairly long for the genre.
Despite the lack of gameplay in this game, the storyline was so engrossing that I didn’t mind a bit. Factor in sharp visuals, sweet music, and convincing voice acting as well, and I can safely say I don’t feel guilty about giving Exodus Guilty Volume 1: Present a solid score. Now where are volumes 2 and 3 already?