Developer – Xuse [Honjouzou]
Translator – Dakkodango Translations & JAST Densetsu
Length – >50 Hours
Roughly three years ago Aselia the Eternal became the first visual novel I had ever read. Though I thought of it as a video game at the time, the story and gameplay had me entranced just about the whole way through, and I’ve just now completed my second playthrough. Having been on The Geek Clinic’s Visual Novel Recommendations list since its very first iteration, I had to ask myself whether Aselia deserved its place there or whether nostalgia for my first experience had clouded my judgement. After my second time playing, thankfully, I can quite happily say that I won’t be changing its position any time soon. With a unique gameplay component that complements a novel method of storytelling, this is a VN that deserves to be played.
Takamine Yuuto has been supporting his younger sister Kaori ever since their parents died in a car crash many years ago. Though Yuuto himself was adopted, he prides himself on the hard work he puts into eking out a living for his small family, and when he is transported to the alternate world of Phantasmagoria his bond with Kaori is the only thing that keeps him going. Stuck in the foreign country of Rakios and unable to communicate, Yuuto is identified as an Etranger, a human from another world with massive power granted by a sentient Eternity Sword known as ‘Desire’. He is forced into military service alongside Spirits native to Phantasmagoria with Swords of their own. With Kaori held hostage, Yuuto has no choice but to work with the oppressed Spirits to make the dreams of Rakios’ king a reality, even if they plunge his new home into the depths of war.
I often say that when visual novels include gameplay it’s important for it to complement the accompanying story and Aselia is a unique example of this. The player is placed in the role of Yuuto as commander of Rakios’ Spirit corps, moving squads across a top-down map and arranging their forces to best combat the units the enemy has in play. This approach results in a sort of “show rather than tell” delivery of the story in which much of the visual novel’s combat is performed by the player rather than outlined by text and to be honest that works surprisingly well. It grants a feeling of immersion, as every success celebrated by the characters is the player’s own. Though action scenes are still reasonably common, the majority of the written story portrays the interactions between characters outside of battle while also setting the scene for upcoming conflicts. The overall plot is very enjoyable, with a couple of twists and turns to spice things up. Seeing Yuuto become accustomed to the new world he finds himself in and develop friendships with the Spirits he fights alongside makes for some entertaining and emotional reading, and the background behind Phantasmagoria and its people adds to that well, though the relative lack of depth of many of the relationships portrayed may put some people off.
Compared to many visual novels Aselia focuses more on its macroscopic story than the microscopic details behind it (those being side character stories and other less important encounters), and I think that the reader’s response to that will contribute a great deal to their enjoyment of the VN. Having said that, though many of the lesser characters don’t have a lot of screen time the degree to which the writers make them relevant to the player is impressive. As an example, one Spirit with only two scenes in the entirety of the story still managed to have a meaningful impact on my perception of the experience as a whole. One interesting feature Aselia boasts over other visual novels is that it adds new scenes and difficulty to its first two replays of the main story as well as having seven character routes (and a bonus ending scene once you’ve seen all of them), meaning that the replay value is massive. The ending of the main story itself stays fairly constant, however, and in my opinion could have been fleshed out to a greater degree. Having said that, it’s still pretty well done as far as endings go and once again left me desperately wanting more (which we’ve finally gotten in JAST’s official localization of the Seinarukana visual novel).
Beyond simply moving troops around a map, the battle system revolves around the need to utilise different types of spirits in different roles, those being Attack, Defence and Support. Blue spirits are the physical fighters available to you, dealing massive damage in the attack role but also countering enemy magic when supporting. Green spirits have huge defensive capability and can also heal and increase defence, while red spirits can cast devastating offensive magic in the support role and have variable physical attack. Black spirits do a variety of weird and wonderful things depending on where they’re placed, from countering enemy attackers while defending to engulfing enemy supporters in the power of darkness, while Yuuto himself is a jack of all trades, being able to perform well in any position. Between juggling battle roles with your squads depending on the spirits you have available (and yes, some are better than others), managing your limited resources (used for building and training) and trying not to make those small, stupid mistakes that get your precious characters killed permanently, your work is cut out for you. Some may find the system repetitive by the end of the game, whereas I personally found it to be fun and rewarding. In the style of older video games there are some hidden features to be easily missed discovered, though the guide bundled with the VN makes up for that (and also helps with the arcane art of entering the various character routes).
Aselia is an older game and its art shows it; I was surprised by how dated the whole affair looked when I started the game up for the second time. Part of that is the art-style, which actually does a great job with some of its facial expressions (and a terrible job with others), so if you can get used to it then you’ll be fine. Similarly, CG quality varies dramatically even with regard to style but there are some very pretty scenes to be found. The sprite quality on combat missions, in comparison, is usually fairly darned good. The music doesn’t have a lot of variation to it but I never grew tired of the BGM tracks as they often suited the mood of their associated scenes well. The voice acting is of usual quality during story portions, though I would argue that the recordings used in battle could have been better as they often lack impact.
Summary – There’s a lot more I could have talked about in this review, especially with regard to the story, but the bottom line is that Aselia is fun to both read and play even if it might not suit the tastes of everyone. The concepts of entering a strange, new world with different values and circumstances, and of fighting another person’s grand war both greatly appealed to me personally even on my second playthrough. Though some may be disappointed by its lack of depth, Aselia uses what it has available to it well, giving meaning to its characters and weaving emotion into the experience despite its focus on the macroscopic tale it wants to tell. I continue to highly recommend Aselia the Eternal as a visual novel with unique gameplay that complements its story well.
Score: 8.5/10 – Good