Imagine that David Lynch and Phillip K. Dick got drunk and had a kid, then that kid made a short videogame during the eighties. This is that game. With a fascinating and frustrating way to tell its story, Epanalepsis is a game in the sense that you play it but more than anything else it’s a tale that tries to tell itself. Whether it succeeds or not is up to the player, but you are warned: Epanalepsis isn’t for everyone. Rather than a game, an experience, by Cameron Kunzelman and published by Mastertronic,

Epanalepsis

First things first, I have to knock down some of your expectations for this game. It will make things easier after. This is not a point and click adventure. You point and click to get some background information on some items. You mostly walk around. In one segment, you can even jump- but it accomplishes nothing. You must click to advance dialogue. In every one of the three levels, you can make one choice.

The levels are 8 bit pixel artwork, but they lack the attention to detail that make pixel games great. When all you have to work is a single pixel, you make every bit of available space work in your favor. The art in that aspect is lacking, there are several places where the world feels just blank.

But then we get to the story. This is where the gravitas of the game lies. The way the game invites you to tell it’s story is somewhat mediocre, but the story itself is very good and it draws inspiration from eastern religion and philosophy- not that you realize though. It’s not overly dense or preachy, and it’s mysterious enough to leave you wanting for more. I find myself thinking about Lost, the good episodes at least.

And finally, the soundtrack. It’s masterfully done, evoking the feel from every epoch the game touches and overall being the other high point of Epanalepsis.

There is power in words

Epanalepsis means “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.” Like “the King is dead, long live the King”. It ends like it begins. This game revolves a lot around circular concepts like that: rebirth, history repeats, multiple worlds. It draws from Buddhist and Hindu teachings, like mortals trapped unaware in the cycle and otherworldly beings that exist outside it and inside it at the same time.

If this doesn’t make any sense to you, I don’t blame you. The game is at moments hard to follow, and a replay is a must if you want to fully get the story. Lucky, or unluckily, that doesn’t take long. The game can be played in under half an hour in a rush or during an hour if you take your time to learn everything from your environment.

A comparison

As I said before, the game is somewhat lacking in the graphics department and VERY lacking in the interactivity one. At $7, the game is pricey for it’s content. So how do you know if you’d like it or not? Well, luckily for you, there is another game made by this creator in much of the same style.

Catachrasis, that means semantic error or using a word in a different way than it was intended for, is a free game available at Kunzelman’s website here. Its a cosmic horror story that, although very cliché and cheesy in some parts, is a genuinely interesting and easy to follow game that has unexpected surprises and twists. Its also told with even blander graphics, barely any music and it has about the same length.

The divide

Serious “hardcore” gamers will hate this game for it’s lack of interactivity. “Casual” gamers will hate this game for it’s lack of flashy graphics or catchy music. This is 100% undiluted “Indie” blend gaming. People that enjoy reading and philosophy, the esoteric fans and perhaps counter culture followers like hipsters and politically inclined people will like the game.

It has something to say about capitalism, consumerism, hipsters (there are quite a few funny references if you frequently read Steam’s users reviews), the nature of time, history and choice. The last one is the biggest and the smallest one.

Games are about choice, of which you barely have any here and you end up not being sure if it meant anything at all in the end. Which is actually true of almost all games. Just see the awful original ending of the Mass Effect Trilogy to see how little choices really matter, only the illusion of it. This game has no illusion and is blatant about it, fatalism abounds in the few characters that have any clue of what is going on.

However the game is still awfully short for all of the subjects it touches. It needs desperately more content. It should be the demo for the game it’s supposed to be.

It’s an experiment, a great experiment, but doesn’t feel finished. It’s somewhat glitchy: the dialogue boxes won’t display properly if you’re not standing in the right place, the steam overlay doesn’t work here (not even for taking screenshots) and when the game ends you must exit fullscreen mode to close the game manually.

Verdict

Listen to me and visit the author’s other works. If you enjoy them, specially Catachresis, by all means buy this game and you will not be disappointed. The soundtrack alone is worth the price, and it’s available as a separate purchase. If you want more, you can buy the game’s documentation that includes essays on the project for additional insight.

If your interest is pure gaming, keep walking. This game isn’t for playing.

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