Epistory nails a lot of the hallmarks of a good adventure game, but it’s interesting typing premise brings down the experience. While I respect their ambitions to make a game where you switch between movement and typing, it might take you a long while before you feel comfortable with the setup. It’s not a bad game by any means, and if you’re looking for a tool to help someone who’s learning, this might be the masterpiece you’re looking for. If you’re just a casual gamer looking for a good weekend experience, this might end up feeling more like a game you’d play in computer class.
WHAT WE LIKED
º A game controlled almost entirely through typing is an interesting premise.
º Environments scream Adventure through the use of clever level design and mood.
º Art design is simply spectacular and has a timeless and memorable feel.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The typing mechanic makes the game feel a bit like a chore over being fun.
º Lacks a cohesive story that could’ve made the experience more engaging.
º Along with poor optimization, there’s some bad design bringing the game down.
When I was first handed this game to review, I was so excited when I looked at the store page for the game. I love typing games, but Epistory is an experience I’m kinda confused about. While I enjoyed it’s inventive approach to setting an action/adventure around a typing control scheme, I can’t say I was in love with the lighthearted and limp wristed challenge. It seems like I’m the target audience for this game; me, or kids who are trying to learn to type. If it’s more geared for the ladder, this might be a good training tool for them- but for gamers, this might come across as a little shallow and unrewarding.
That’s not to say there aren’t good things to the game. The origami world the game lays out before you feel deeper than its paper-thin appearance. As you explore and clear out dungeons, you’ll gain experience as the world folds out into mountain ranges, gloomy swamps and vast deserts. While this does create a visual treat, the game’s narration does little to explain what’s happening to your young, fox-riding heroine. Periodically as you run into new areas, the game will narrate out sections of the story as it types itself onto the pages you’re running on. While visually spectacular, these passages are usually very vague, mostly consisting of how scary the world is, but how strong she is. What she’s on a mission to do, or why she’s riding a fox and taking on bugs is left to be known- perhaps in the ending.
The controls are pretty interesting. While there are other options, the one option that makes sense will also test your adaptive abilities as a gamer. You run around in the game by using E, F, J, and I. If that sounds confusing, believe me, it is. While this might seem like an unimportant detail, but trying to keep track of what key moves in which direction can be difficult, especially after coming back to the game from a break. To move in straight directions, you have to press two keys at once, which gets confusing when you want to run in a slant; I found myself holding down three keys, which became a nightmare when I wanted to move in the opposite direction. I’m sure someone could get used to it, but after a long playthrough, I still found myself having to stop dead in my tracks to catch my bearings.
Despite the struggle I had with this setup, I can forgive this unfamiliar control scheme for being a necessary evil. Unlike Typing Of The Dead, you’ll need to control the movement of your character while taking on random enemies that jump out of nowhere. While you can use WASD, you’ll need to know where your hands are placed while keeping your eyes on the screen to type the game’s creepy crawling bugs with words over their heads out of existence. I do love games where your words per minute are directly connected to your continued existence. The way these words are entered is done conveniently; tap the spacebar or the enter key when you’re ready to type something out of existence.
But, yet again, there’s a bit of a problem with this control scheme; and that’s how the game decides when you jump between typing and movement. The way the game works is, if you activate your typing and then type the word on the screen until it’s gone, the game automatically reverts to movement, which is fine by me. However, if there’s another random bush you can eliminate in the far background, the game will think you want to type that out too. This gets even more frustrating when you attack a bug, only to type the first word, have them knockback off the screen, and the game suddenly jumps you back into movement, despite you wanting to keep attacking the monster. Personally, I would’ve preferred it if I could jump in and out of this mode, but sadly the game’s options menu is bare bones- lacking any options (only language and keyboard layouts).
To go back to my previous complaint, the game also doesn’t allow for words to be typed unless they’re entirely in-frame. This can get rather frustrating when you have a ton of enemies coming at you. For example, you see five bugs coming at you, and you decide to attack the far right insect. It takes three words to take it out, so you type out the first word, and it gets knocked back out of frame, as you start to type the second word. Well, it went off the frame- so what you were typing doesn’t matter anymore, and as the game doesn’t clearly show where you’re at in any given word, you’ll be stuck in the middle of a word while all the other enemies are closing in on you. While this seems like a small complaint, you’ll want to watch the left and right-hand sides of the screen because they get to you so much faster than background enemies, giving you very little patience in waiting for them to get close enough for them not to get kicked back out of frame. Why I have to wait for the ‘y’ to show up on screen for me to start typing ‘mortuary’ is beyond me, especially in a game where timing is very important.
This is never more obvious in moments where you open up new sections of the map. You’ll stand on a platform, and have a massive onslaught of bugs coming at you from all directions. Some are flying, quick one letter bugs, attacking alongside more lumbering huge bugs made up of three syllable words. While the larger bugs will take more hits and require knocks early enough to ensure their defeat, you have to make time between their slow defeat too quickly knock out those flying bastards. This gets even more complicated as you open up elemental attacks, where some enemies can only be taken down with flame while others a blast of frost. To switch your elemental alignment, you’ll have to type ‘fire’ or ‘ice’ before attacking a creeper that needs to burn or freeze. This adds an even greater challenge, and can easily lead to a random ice-vulnerable bug ending your perfect streak of typing perfectioh – crap!
The game also throws some puzzles at you too, mostly tile-based pattern challenges. While these are usually very bland additions to extend out unrelated gameplay, I feel these sections are welcome in an experience that could’ve gotten by on typing alone. While some are light pattern based, others are coded messages you’ll need to decipher. The way the stages are set up remind me of Zelda level design, where greater parts of the map are hinted at until you open them up later, with a pleasant level of retreading. The layouts scream classic adventure and do a fantastic job of creating the desire to explore the map’s every nook and cranny.
To access the game’s menu, you hit tab and type out one of the game’s options- a nice touch. You can access a map of the surrounding area, but one that leaves a lot to be desired. There’s no way to zoom or select different areas outside of your immediate location, which makes it feel very limited. You can also upgrade your stats, which adds a nice level of customization to the experience. You can increase your movement speed, add knockback to your attacks, increase the elemental effects of your words, and provide other helpful skills like seeing a guiding path to the nearest objective.
On a technical level, the game needs some optimization. I have a mid-grade gaming PC, and yet I had constant frame stuttering and complete dropouts on a nearly consistent level. I wouldn’t expect it, considering how simplistic the graphics and isometric the layout is. The audio is nice, but nothing memorable. The voice actors do an excellent job of reading the narration, but because I have no idea what the lady is talking about, it makes it all a little less than impactful.
While I can’t say I fell in love with Epistory, it does have some redeeming quality that might make it worth your while. Its unusual control scheme and finger-tapping challenges can be rewarding, but calling it ‘fun’ might be a bit of a stretch. This game seems like it would fit in perfectly with a typing class, but outside of school this just feels a little too much like homework.