Epanalepsis is a figure of speech defined by the repetition of words at the start and end of a phrase. For example, “The king is dead; long live the king.” Repetition and time loops are key features of this point and click adventure of the same name, spanning 60 years and three different characters.
Usually I start off my game reviews by discussing the gameplay and mechanics of the game, however there really isn’t much point for Epanalepsis. Being a point-and-click game, the controls are very straightforward and the ‘game’ is really more about exploring and discovering the world the developer has created. And despite the he game using a fairly bland pixel-based artstyle, the developer Cameron Kunzelman has crafted a rich world featuring distinct, relatable characters.
The game is broken up into three chapters: Rachel 1993, Anthony 2013, and 2033. Each character is dealing with their own problems and choices unique to their time period. Rachel has been having weird dreams, hasn’t been able to find a job, and has to get some zines to her girlfriend. Anthony has been playing a lot of MMOs and video games. In 2033 you control a robot created to monitor people in some kind of stasis… but a worker has rigged the robot to take some explosives and cause some havoc, for good or evil it’s hard to tell.
The uniting thread from these three seemingly disparate storylines is the mysterious being Pasus. Pasus appears to all three characters and tries to describe to them the fact that they have spoken to Pasus in this same moment time and time again, sometimes making different choices or reacting differently but nearly always the same outcome. At least, that’s what I think Pasus is saying. There is also an object or idea frequently referred to, “the Burden” that must be carried… by Anthony, I think.
Since I studied English literature at university, I’ve grown a fondness for picking apart and trying to untie the knots of stories. Particularly interesting stories will stick in your brain for weeks, months, or even years. You turn the tangled ball of plot threads, phrases, and characters over and over in your mind attempting to see the pattern or purpose. Epanalepsis is one of those stories.
One of the great things about this game is the characters and how well they are characterized. After taking a tour of Rachel’s apartment and having her explain her space to me, I was pretty much sold on Epanalepsis. There’s a quote she says in her office talking about her abundance of notes: “It doesn’t really make sense. I don’t have a job. I should be able to get EVERYTHING done. The days slip by, though, and I end up with these sprawling documents.” I know exactly what that is like. Anothony of 2013 is also someone I can relate to, however you can see by the way he talks about his space that he is a very different person. He has a record player because he’s heard it’s ‘better’ but he just ends up listening to music on his phone. He has posters of games he’s played a bit but mostly just likes their logo. The robot of 2033 is harder to grasp, but you can understand that there’s a kind of desperation to the lives of that time period.
As of right now, I’m not entirely sure what the overall message or take-away from Epanalepsis is meant to be – or even if there is meant to be a message at all or if it’s just one of those stories you pick at.
As much as I love mentally unpacking and piecing together a great short story as seen in Epanalepsis, I have to admit that it is certainly more of a visual novel than a point-and-click game. There are certainly some choices for you to make in the game, however they are very few. Exploration of the characters’ homes and urban environments leads you to some great characterization and details about their lives and surroundings but there isn’t much to do. With it being more of a visual novel, I feel that Epanalepsis could have benefited from higher quality art and graphics.
Ultimately I’d recommend Epanalepsis for people looking for a really unique, intriguing sci-fi tinted visual novel or short story. If you’re looking for a game with meaty mechanics, don’t look to Epanalepsis. But as a story I find Epanalepsis an intriguing puzzle for my brain to pick over for awhile and it’s definitely worth the money.
If, like me, you are a total literature and story nerd and are interested in additional notes and essays, Kunzelman has scans of his design notebook up for sale. For $3 you get a PDF called The Epanalepsis Papers.
Epanalepsis is available on Steam for $5.59USD for Mac, Linux, and Windows.
The review key for this game was provided to me by the publisher, Mastertronic.