Editor’s Note: Since this is Volume 2 of a trilogy, there will be some minor spoilers from Exodus Guilty Volume 1: Present in this review.
It’s no secret that I have been anticipating this title for a while. I thoroughly enjoyed the tale woven in the first Exodus Guilty game so much that I hotly anticipated the next installments. Exodus Guilty is a trilogy where the events of the past (1200 BC), present (2000 AD), and future (13,800 AD) intertwine in a key section of the European continent. One thing I like about Exodus Guilty is that this small section of land is as much a developing character as its inhabitants and seeing its evolution from past to present to future is a cool thing.
Volume 1 told the story of Kasumi Shindo, a plucky 18 year old treasure hunter looking for the fabled 11th commandment of Moses and the Land of Fate. To say Kasumi’s tale was twisted is an understatement. Not only did Kasumi have to deal with identity concealment, suspicion, deception, rival treasure hunters, tons of close calls, fantastic revelations, three women who forced themselves too close to him for comfort, and a very climactic final battle, but he also unearthed a living, breathing link to the past beyond even his wildest imagination.
Volume 2 is the story of what happened in the past. Exodus Guilty’s staple theme surrounding eschatology is here in full force; perhaps more so than in Volume 1 since in the past, people are far more God-fearing and the world already seems on the brink of destruction. Either way, flashbacks, references, artifacts, and the aforementioned living, breathing link to the past in Volume 1 will take on greater meaning here in Volume 2. Another common theme I found present in Volumes 1 and 2 is that of semi-forbidden love. I have a feeling it will also be present in Volume 3.
The world is in turmoil. God’s four oracles seem to be pulling rank by oppressing humanity. Famine, death, and various other hardships are wracking the land, and the masses wonder why God is punishing them like this. Many accept the oracles’ doing as the “will of God,” but there are others who dare to question this “will of God”; their defiance is frowned upon.
The hero of the story is an 18 year old swordsman named Ales, who has garnered quite the reputation for his skill. He was brought to the village of Ul Arc by the great hero Abrahm when he was a child and was raised there for 10 years by a young woman named Masa. Masa loved Ales as a son and, as he got older, as a brother and protector. To Ales, Masa is, was, and will always be Mom.
One fine day, Masa performs a ritual at the village shrine where she offers herself as a sacrifice to the flame oracle. Just as she is about to be burnt to a crisp, Ales defiantly steps in and stops the oracle. This makes the already fiery oracle even angrier, and though Masa and Ales live, Masa is now marked for death, and there is no telling when she’ll die. Her final request is that Ales go find a woman named Will–The Song of God and give her a cryptic message. So Ales’ initial quest is to find Will and hopefully save Masa. The quest later evolves into something more epic as Ales travels the continent, meets a whole slew of interesting people, and learns of startling revelations.
Ales’ story possesses drama, action, flights of fancy, and a colorful cast of characters. However, the story is not without a few stumbling blocks. Though the supporting cast is quite colorful, Ales is a fairly typical RPG style hero driven by somewhat blind justice. He can also be rather dense at times. Ales’ tale is shorter than Kasumi’s tale (10 chapters as opposed to 13) and it doesn’t quite work for the better. The first half of Ales’ tale is a tad slowly paced with loads of exposition. The second half of the tale has more stuff happening, but the events feel rushed and conflicts seem to come to resolution too quickly. The story is also a tad predictable, save for the sucker-punch ending. In general, though Ales’ story is good, I found Kasumi’s tale much more intriguing. Kasumi was a more dynamic and interesting protagonist with a more dynamic and interesting tale. So, though the overall Exodus Guilty story would get a 95% or so from me, Ales’ tale gets a 90%; though it has flaws that should warrant a lower score, it doesn’t detract from the entirety of Exodus Guilty’s mythos, and the good stuff in the story is really good.
Since all three volumes of Exodus Guilty were released as one game in Japan, the graphics, sound, and gameplay of the US Volume 2 are unchanged from Volume 1. In a nutshell, the graphics are great, the music is good, but the gameplay is practically nonexistent.
The graphics consist mostly of highly detailed anime still portraits on top of lush, colorful backdrops, which is standard for the genre. Occasionally there are stills of scenes shot from more dynamic camera angles and even a few animated cutscenes. The anime portraits have great detailing, crispness, and that lovely sheen I like in anime characters. There is also that 16-bit style hand drawn overland map that comes up when Ales changes locations. It gets the job done and allows me to see where locations are in relation to each other. I rated the graphics a little higher in this installment because the character designs were more interesting, especially those of God’s four oracles. The character designs in Volume 1 (The Present) were terrific too, but the more fantasy oriented feel of the Past (Volume 2) and Future (the upcoming Volume 3) installments allowed the artists to flex some more creative muscle with the character art.
The musical score shares a lot in common with Volume 1 and is therefore just as good and even has a few distinct compositions of its own not found in other Exodus Guilty installments. All the compositions fit their intended scenes and are neither overpoweringly loud nor shyly quiet. The music is synthesized, has varied instrumentation, and covers a variety of classical genres, both in the orchestral western style and the more airy Asian styles. The exception is the cool opening number, which has a very modern feel to it. The voice acting is good, though I felt that Ales’ voice actor was a tad wooden at times. In contrast, the voice actors for the supporting cast really sounded like they were having fun with their roles, especially the actress for the flame oracle. Since this is a Hirameki published title, it’s all Japanese dialogue with English subtitles.
But just when I thought a visual novel couldn’t get less interactive than Exodus Guilty Volume 1, Volume 2 proved me wrong. Volume 2 has even fewer incidents of interaction than Volume 1 did. There was no decision making and no item selection, but there was one puzzle that if you got wrong you would get hints and do-over opportunities till you got it right. The hints in all volumes of Exodus Guilty often come from snippets of other eras. For example, I had no idea how to solve the puzzle in Ales’ tale, but the game presented a snippet from Sui’s tale (Volume 3: Future) that held the answer. The same held true in Volume 1 where flashbacks from Ales’ story aided progress in Kasumi’s story. I wonder if perhaps the Japanese version of the game back in 1998 for PlayStation and the updated Exodus Guilty NEOS for Dreamcast featured more interaction than these DVD installments do.
Since the game is so linear, there is no need for a save feature. You just choose what chapter you want to “play” from the start menu. There’s no explicit delineation between chapters so I used the display on my DVD player to know whether or not I was on the next chapter. Some chapters are longer than others, but the game itself is not that long. It falls in the 10-12 hour range; slightly below the 15 hour average for a digital novel. However, if you assume 12-14 hours for each of the three installments, that’s 36-42 hours of entertainment across 3 DVDs right there. Replay value is nil, though, unless you want to relive certain chapters.
The game comes with a nice bonus disc of “Hirameki Music Videos” featuring the opening sequences of a whole bunch of Hirameki games. All of the opening sequences were good and featured songs from myriad genres from bouncy pop to hard rock. My favorite is still the opening to “Hourglass of Summer” because I love that game’s art and the song “Went Away” by KOTOKO is one of my favorite songs.
So at the end of the day, Exodus Guilty Volume 2 is what I expected it to be. The main strength of the Exodus Guilty series is in the epic storyline and Volume 2 gave me necessary insight into the bigger Exodus Guilty picture, even if this installment of the story was weaker than others. As usual, gameplay is severely lacking, but I didn’t really care because I was more interested in what happened in the story. I’ve said this in my Volume 1 review, but if you play the games we cover at RPGfan purely for the story, then definitely check out the Exodus Guilty series. However, if you want more dynamic gameplay to go with your story, then look elsewhere. Either way, after seeing the unexpected ending in Volume 2: Past I’m looking forward to Volume 3: Future even more than I was before.