Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Games for Adults Halloween: euphoria



Euphoria Review

                Happy October 2016, folks!!  Moving and new jobs may have reduced this year’s number of reviews but this Halloween tradition will not go way so easily, so let’s get started. A year ago I closed out Halloween with a look at the demo for Clock Up’s euphoria. Ever since I played the demo I knew I had a shoe in for this year’s series of reviews and while I was right I have to also say this game turned out to be very different from what I was expecting. Without any further delay, let’s take a look at what many consider to be Clock Up’s best game, release in Japan June 24, 2011 and released in English by Mangagamer November 27, 2015.

Game OP: https://vimeo.com/103621723
 
Pros: Interesting premise that takes on very interesting turns with each route, interesting characters, Natsuki, very good art, great voice acting, good music.
Cons: The premise is not for everyone, Rika is not for everyone, true route has some minor writing issues, design for unnamed characters.
WTF?!: One reason I like Natsuki, we have a similar taste in movies.


                The plot of euphoria begins with our protagonist, Keisuke Takatou, waking up to find himself and six women, all of whom he’s at least acquainted with, trapped in a strange white room. A mechanical voice then informs them that the reason for their entrapment is to participate in a game that is also their only hopes of getting out. The game’s rules are:

As outrageous as the rules sound naturally there are objections, but the group is soon given a very vivid demonstration of what happens to those who refuse to participate, making it clear participation is the only way to make it out alive. Yet as the group copes with this inescapable situation, Keisuke inwardly finds the idea of the game strangely appealing to his hidden sadistic urges, desires which he has long tried to suppress. One of the girls, Nemu Manaka, then approaches him and reveals she’s aware of his desires and wants to use this game as an opportunity to bring them out. Between surviving this game, the desire to protect his childhood friend and fellow game participant Kanae Hokari, and this, what fate awaits Keisuke and the others only time will tell…

                Okay, at first glance euphoria looks like the eroge equivalent of the Saw series. Heck, my demo impression used that idea as a lead in, and yet that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  While you do get that at first(and a bit more in some routes), at a certain point things change and over the course of reading each route it becomes apparent there’s more going on besides the game the characters have found themselves in.
                If there’s one thing euphoria excels at is how it’s able to get the routes prior to the true ending to lead into it effectively. To those unaware, one pet peeve I have with true endings is how if not done right (which can happen) it ends up coming off as retconning more interesting stories in favor of a less interesting story or main character/heroine  to focus on because it has more story revelation than the others. It comes off as the game telling you what to be invested in rather than you finding that yourself which breaks immersion. Thankfully euphoria avoids this by having each route work as a setup for the True Ending, and that’s going to take some explaining…
                Normally this would be I’d do a route ranking but of the four routes that precede the true one, only two of them can stand on their own as stories: Rika and Natsuki’s. This is because this pair of routes function as introductory stories that offer a good look at the game’s face value premise with brief glimpses at what’s beyond it. As such I would recommend playing at least one of them first and by that…well, it looks like we’re in for a (mini) route ranking after all…
1)      Natsuki
2)      Rika

                The reason Natsuki wins is for two reasons: first she and Keisuke have really good chemistry, arguably the best on the romantic front. Their conversations are interesting and even funny, plus they lead into some character info about Natsuki herself that honestly has me wanting at least another story with her as either a lead or main character. Second, the story I found to be pretty good too as it makes for a good way of starting to analyze the mystery around the game and through that get hints at what could be going on behind the scenes, enough for you to start making theories but only enough for that. Honestly if I were to do a route ranking that included the True Route, Natsuki’s would rank second for those reasons and because even taking into account what’s revealed in the True Route I think it can stand on its own as a “what if” story compared to the other routes.

                Now onto the subject of Rika’s route, this is the reason why I recommended reading “at least one” of this pair. That’s not to say this route is bad (I have played worse…far worse), in fact from a writing standpoint this route is probably the best to start with. Its function is basically to introduce the story’s premise and provide hints there’s more going on than at first and leave it at that with its ending, prompting you to play the other routes to find out more. The problem is Rika herself.
                The problem with having Rika’s route be the first you read depends on your tolerance for  flawed characters, because if it’s not high you may end up being turned off from this game. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not using this as a “the masses just can’t appreciate flawed characters” kind of defense, since even from that angle I’ve read better. I’m saying that since that seems to be what the writer was going for (that includes commentaries). The thing is, as I indicated back in my demo impression, Rika is essentially written as that one character in the horror movie that has you wondering how long until the killer/monster gets them, and seeing as this is her route that means you’re going to have to spend a great deal of time with her and even I’ll admit that can be grating after a while.

                Ultimately if you decide to play or skip Rika’s route (which you can do since it’s not required to unlock the true route and you won’t miss anything critical to the overarching plot), I can at least say the character isn’t wholly without value. The game does some interesting things with her in other routes and I admit at the end of her route I was invested enough to see how it ended. Heck, the fact that I’ve written three whole paragraphs on this character means I got some kind of impression from her. On a final note on Rika, I believe I can point out on positive that I’m sure the majority can agree on. In keeping with Spoony’s assertion that the horror movie trope Rika falls into should be considered comedic, there is quite a bit of dark comedy gold in how over the top bad things go for Rika in the majority of her ero scenes.
                Moving along, we come to Rinne and Nemu’s routes, which may not be able to stand on their own as much as the previous two, but more than make up for that in their role of setting things up for the true route. Rinne’s introduces some interesting backstory information and goes in a very…unique direction that has the distinction of being penned by Banya Izumi, who some of you may recognize as the writer the majority of Black Cyc’s good games (like this one), Koichi’s route in NO, THANKYOU!!!, and one of our previous Halloween features: Dark Blue. All I can say further about this route is once you finish it try to remember your impression of the route then and consider it with what the true ending reveals. You may appreciate what it all means then, you may laugh, or you may feel like you need a shower…or all three.

                Now as for Nemu’s route…this one’s a little hard to explain without even hinting at potentially big spoilers but I’ll do my best. The key plot element here is what you would expect versus what you don’t expect. The route essentially goes along with what you’re expecting of it, but here and there tosses in moments where Keisuke briefly sees something very unusual before things suddenly go back to normal leaving you wondering what it could mean. These moments are few but are written in a way that indicates their importance to such extent that you feel as confounded as Keisuke when things finally come to a head and the route leaves you with more questions and how the true route can possibly answer them.

                This brings us to the True Route, aka Kanae’s route and boy is this a doozy to write about without setting off a veritable mine field of spoilers. While I could do a spoiler section like usual, I’m going to make an exception here because this route is something best experienced for yourselves. All I can say is the following: first, that aforementioned plot element from Nemu’s route of expected vs unexpected comes back, but in a different way than before. Second, the big reveal of the story is handled surprisingly well by taking something that sounds ridiculous but and not only building on it to make it effective  and natural, but also in making you want to go back and read at least some parts with a new perspective to see if there are any hints in disguise.
                With that praise though, I’m afraid I do have to point out some flaws euphoria has in the writing department. For starters while the routes do a good job  building up building up to the true route (and are at the very least interesting reads) there is the problem of the first arc of the game getting repetitive. Basically at that point the story segments that happens in between the scenes concerning the heroine you choose have very little difference and after two playthroughs you’re essentially left waiting until the text skipping is done so you can start reading something new. This even includes the end of the arc which is an exciting read the first time but only the first time since your previous choices really only change a few lines of dialogue (not counting the bad end choices).

                This brings us into the first of two flaws the true route has in the writing department, this one also concerning repetition. For story reasons, Nemu and Kanae’s routes follow a very similar plot line beyond the first arc. While this makes sense and leads into a good story payoff, it also means you’ll be skipping quite a bit of text for a while. Enough that you can get up, eat a snack and come back before the text skip reaches new story material. Considering this is the true route, having it take a while to get to anything new is a bit of a drag. It’s kind of like reading a really long and engrossing thriller and just as you’re about to find out the big reveal you lose your place in the book and now have to flip through almost every page just to get back.
                The second flaw, at least to me, concerns the ending. Don’t get the wrong idea, the ending is really good. In fact one bit of praise I can give is it didn’t end where I thought it would and manages to move forward from there without feeling like its dragging. The story goes along surprisingly well during that point and creates an interesting build up from some plot elements that time seem reminiscent of parts from the game NO, THANK YOU!!! which aside from the Izumi writing also shares a parent company and the same artist. The thing is I think the last few scenes are a little too short for what the story was building up. I can’t give any spoiler free details but I can say those few scenes could have used a little more length considering the content of the buildup and also to give the final scene more emotional effect.

                In the area of presentation, euphoria does very well. The artwork by Shigeo Hamashima is for the most part excellent, giving the characters good appearances and convincing expressions as well as giving the CG some good “detail”. The background CG is also well done, as it gives each major location the right impression such as the story’s game location with its largely white and clean appearance and how at odds yet at the same time strangely fitting it is as a setting for such a game. About the only case where the art weakens is later in the story where you see some scenes featuring other people besides the main cast. These are mostly nameless and voiceless characters and as such are given only the most basic character portrait but said portrait just doesn’t look very good and clashes with the better artwork we’ve been seeing up till then.

                In the area of sound, euphoria does really well on both fronts. With its music most of the scores are meant to generate atmosphere and do a good job establishing it, be it the mysterious nature of the series of white rooms the characters are trapped in and their seeming emptiness or the intensity of the scenes where Keisuke and co. are suddenly in peril. There are some more unique tracks for the really important story scenes, but describing what they invoke would be entering spoiler territory but I can say they do a good job in making the scenes feel as important as they’re written to be. Still, of the two the aspect of the sound department most notable is the voice acting.

                While our cast of heroines are the only ones voiced their voice actresses turn in such a good performance you hardly even notice this. Each actress does a superb job in bringing their characters to life from Nemu’s sadistic yet seductive nature offset by her more mysterious moments to hint she knows more than she’s letting on, Natsuki’s supportive and altruistic tendencies coupled with a strangely inquisitive side, to Rika’s self-centered behavior and how the story plays off that for her for better or worse. It’s helped that the actresses chosen for the roles are all really good ones such as Mei Misonoo as Natsuki, who some of you may recognize as Momoka from Eroge!, Nellis from Kyonyuu Fantasy Gaiden and onwards, and Nadine from Kyonyuu Fantasy 2 and if. Speaking of, similar to the aforementioned NO, THANK YOU!!! one unlockable extra that features here are commentaries  from those involved in the game’s creation, including the VAs. If on commentary is worth listening to it would be that of Konoha, Rika’s VA, as she has some very interesting and amusing things to say regarding how playing the role went, especially for one particular scene. This brings us right along to our next segment…
                We finally get to the ero scenes and this actually is going to take a little more talking about than simply saying if they’re good or not. First off, let’s dispel a little misconception one might get from the story summary and at face value attributing this game to Saw. While euphoria does feature ero scenes of the hardcore variety none of the scenes go into being straight up gory and bloody. If you’ve been looking at CG for this game then I should point out that (aside from shame on you for potentially spoiling yourself) that those CG occur in bad ends which you can avoid.

                As for the quality of the ero scenes, they’re all good, at the very least for what they are. Despite the story’s premise only some of the scenes are hardcore, and some of them are so over the top they’re (unintentionally?) hilarious, so you can expect some more vanilla-ish scenes waiting for you. I will say though that while there aren’t any guro (look that up yourself) type scenes (that’s anotherClock Up game hopefully for next year) there are going to be a few scenes that may make you gag a little and not just those of the scat department.

Final Thoughts:
                All in all euphora is a well written thriller of a story that over the course of its routes twists and turns into something quite different from where it starts. This is helped along by a cast of interesting characters who are all well-acted, great artwork and a good musical score. I will admit the game has some pacing problems and there could be some factors that turn people off from Rika to the dependency of one’s gross out tolerance. Still if you want a good dark story filled with twists that will keep you guessing until well into the true route, then this is a worthy, albeit unusual, treat for Halloween.
Final Score: 9/10 Must Own.
Author Recommendation: Buy it now.


               
As for the anime…well all I can say is if you haven’t played the game don’t watch it. The anime spoils a lot and at the same time really mishandles the story of the true route…and the other routes. Strangely this OVA is 6 episodes long but the true route is handled in only one episode and it’s episode 5 with the episode 6 being an abridged version of Rinne’s route…with a completely different conclusion that if you’ve played the game to completion I almost would recommend watching just for the train wreck viewing appeal (there’s one character death scene in episode 5 that is so hilariously bad I was laughing through what was supposed to be a serious scene).  Again if you’ve completed the game feel free to watch as a curiosity but don’t expect anything good.

2 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure euphoria was released June 24th, 2011... Otherwise, your review was excellent as usual and welcome back, Bookworm :)

    ReplyDelete