Developer: Cameron Kunzelman
Release Date: 05/21/2015
First things first. Wikipedia says “The epanalepsis is a figure of speech defined by the repetition of the initial word (or words) of a clause or sentence at the end of that same clause or sentence.” There. I know that’s a funny word that you’ve never likely heard before. That’s what it means. It’s not a common word by any means. My word processor even tried to tell me it wasn’t a word at all.
Now that we got out of the way, let’s talk about this game. Epanalepsis is a narrative based point-and-click that tells a story that spans across three different characters over sixty years. It promises science fiction at its finest, but ends up being something that only a rare few will appreciate. It’s an art game, and like most art, you have to believe the artist that what you’re looking at is what he/she says it is.
There are three characters in this tale. We have Rachel, a down on her luck nineties gal who puts Zines together for a living. Next up is Anthony, a guy who spends what little time he has outside of a online RPG selling hacked information out of a coffee shop. Finally, there’s an unnamed inventor trying to stage a revolution against some sort of evil cybernetic organization or something. It’s hard to tell. To bind these characters together, they all meet suspicious characters who speak in riddles about different outcomes in the time line.
It sounds interesting, and it is at first. Rachel in particular has a decent amount of characterization, but the game loses steam quickly. The two subsequent chapters get shorter and feature fewer characters. On top of that, the time travel thread is nothing more than a couple people saying incredibly vague things and hoping it changes something. There are multiple endings, but it amounts to an epilogue where a short paragraph is written for each character. It’s simply not impressive.
There is some potential for a more profound experience here. If you take the time to explore each of the locations and hear each character’s thoughts on their environments, you’ll be able to decipher a cautionary tale about the role of technology in our lives. As time moves forward, the characters spend less time with actual humans and more time plugged into some sort of fantasy world. This idea is interesting for sure, but is left only to those who dig through clues to get it. The main story is more about trying to be mysterious and suspenseful.
So this game was pretty much made by one guy. He did everything but the music. As such, it’s a little tough to be overly critical about the graphics in this game. However, they actively make the game more difficult to play, so it must be done. The game looks like it was made in a simple paint program. Everything is blocky, characters don’t have faces, and the animations are terrible. Heck, there are only a few animations in the game at all. A big problem is that there are times when you can’t tell what something is supposed to be. In the first chapter, you’re supposed to find a stapler in order to put together a zine. However, the thing that ends up being a stapler is a gray object on top of the refrigerator. At first glance, it looks like it could be a part of the machine. Another problem is that you can only tell if something can be interacted with if you see white letters pop up. When the background is white, you can’t see the letters. That’s just bad design.
When it comes to the audio, all there is to talk about is the music. Each of the three chapters has its own theme that fits the time period, as well as another odd track or two for specific areas. It’s fine stuff, and it works well in the background. It’s mostly bleak though. While fitting in tone, it can get you feeling down after a while.
There isn’t much gameplay to talk about. You can move with the A and D keys, and you can use the mouse to click on things. You have no inventory, no puzzles to solve, or mini-games to complete. If an item can be collected, it disappears and does what it needs to later on in the story. For example, when you find that stapler, you simply go to the desk and finish the zine. You don’t see the finish product, not even when you supposedly hand it over to someone.
What you do have is a few choices throughout the game. Your choice determines the overall ending, which is nice. However, the game doesn’t offer you the ability to use save slots to go back and try something else. You either save or you don’t. So if you want to try another way, you have to either not save or go through the game up until that point again.
If you don’t take the time to explore, you’ll be able to get from start to finish it about twenty minutes. Exploration really only accounts for lore, so there’s no reason to do it after the first time. This means going back and getting the different ending is easy but tedious. While that’s great for completionists, it means that you’re unlikely to get more than a couple hours out of this game at max.
There are still more problems. I encountered a few bugs during my admittedly brief time with the game. The worst was this one point where I was supposed to talk to some characters before I could go through a door. I did as I was supposed to, but the door wouldn’t open. On top of that, the way back to those characters has somehow disappeared. I nearly had to restart the game from scratch before I found a tiny little area that I could click on to get back to where I needed to be. I had to talk to those characters again, each of whom said the same thing they had the first time, before I could move on. Of course, the game could also lock up at times, forcing me to reboot the game all together.
Finally, the game isn’t even polished for what it is. You can press a button to put the game into full screen, but there’s no way to back out once you have. This is made worse by the fact that there is no in game menu. You have to tab out of the game and close it manually. This is simply unacceptable.
Short Attention Span Summary
Epanalepsis is a game that will reach some with its vague and unfinished story. There’s some artistic expression here for those looking for it for sure. However, most people will find it to be a featureless wasteland of poor visuals, minimal interaction, and bugs. The game is unfinished and unpolished to the point where it can be a chore to work through. In short, it’s simply not a good game.