Chuunige is one of the visual novel genres that are barely present in OELVN scene, at least to any “serious” capacity – among the more popular and high-quality releases there’s very few that would even loosely fit the “fighting VN” formula, or especially effectively replicate the unique feel of this particular current in Japanese fiction. Recently, however, a fledgeling studio under the name of Epic Works decided to remedy this sorry state of affairs by creating a content-rich, Fate-inspired EVN called Episicava. The first volume, of what was apparently planned to become a longer series, was released on Steam in April 2018, in a slightly disastrous state – full of graphical bugs and various technical issues, the game made a rather poor first impression. However, since those problems were mostly fixed with patches in the months after launch, it’s a good moment to look at Episicava and ask the most important question – did it manage, in its improved state, to capture some of the magic of Fate/Stay Night or Dies Irae in a downscaled, low-budget form of an EVN?
The edgy opening of the VN is just as over-the-top and trashy as the rest of it, but the climate often shifts between brutal, gory action and comedy
While Episicava claims to be inspired by classic chuunige, I think it would be much more accurate to think of it as a VN adaptation of some particularly trashy and bloody shounen anime. The first feature it offers in abundance is edge – the game is full of over-the-top violence and gore (although nearly exclusively in textual form – CGs are mostly very tame), with even the prologue featuring a very graphic sequence of protagonist’s (who’s at the time still a young teenager) village and family being slaughtered without provocation by foreign invaders. Later, we go through many scenes with absurd death-counts and our anti-hero killing people rather indiscriminately in his quest for revenge, getting out-eviled only by the cartoonishly vile (and usually pretty dumb) antagonists. The fighting, utilizing confusing and overly-elaborate superpowers, involves other annoying shounen tropes, such as power levels and everyone shouting names of their techniques aloud whenever they use them.
The protagonist, Arin, is the ultimate edgelord, initially driven solely by revenge and planning a genocide against the nation that he considers responsible for his people’s demise (although, for some reason, the game still starts in a high school setting with him masquerading as a student – after all, we can't just skip on overused tropes). While the game tries to communicate that he has some kind of basic moral code and gives him some development later down the line, he’s still a violent, messed up asshole who tries to resolve everything with brute strength and mistreats people around him, including the heroines, who he insults on a regular basis and even, in one case, coerces into sex (in an h-scene which also pretty much ruins one of the strongest female characters in the story). There’s even a scene where he ponders raping one of the game’s love interests – and while it’s clear where the writers were coming from, trying to portray a character broken and demoralized by his traumatic experiences, he’s primarily a piece of shit that you can barely ever relate to or truly care what happens to him. Some people might be okay with this kind of setup, but I barely ever felt such a strong disconnect between me and the protagonist in a VN – and every time it happened I very much didn’t enjoy it.
The heroines definitely are not the worst part of the experience, but they have only marginally more common sense and likeable qualities than everyone else in Episicava's story
Other characters, sadly, are similarly shallow, even though the two romanceable heroines, Alacria (a daughter of one of the game's villains) and Anian (a warrior and heir to a tribal nation's chieftain), are somewhat likeable. The latter probably received more development than any other character in the game and even more than that, she even has a semi-legitimate reason to care about the protagonist, while Alacria pretty much shows out of nowhere and immediately declares a crush on him (the game, by the way, repeats that the protagonist is extremely handsome and generally loved by women to the point it’s hard to tell what the authors were trying to achieve, apart from making the juvenile power fantasy even more obnoxious than it already was). Everyone’s personality and motivations feel underdeveloped and cliched and while the game has a lot of time to build the characters (if offers around 20 hours of reading between all routes), it very rarely manages to do something interesting with them.
The general plot also offers relatively little excitement, with rather predictable twists and few, mostly meaningless choices (in the vast majority of cases they only lead to an abrupt game over screens or let you access the newly-unlocked route after finishing your first and second playthrough). It’s essentially linear, with three routes and an enforced playing order (starting with Alacria’s route, then Anian’s route and the “true route”, which somehow manages to be the dumbest and least satisfying of them all). The stakes are always kept high, with world-ending conspiracies and global conflicts at the culmination of every story arc, but the silliness of it all and the fact how hard is to really care about the cast make it all fairly insignificant. The same goes to fights, which are actually not terribly done, considering dev’s limited resources and do a decent job of presenting unique fighting styles of the lead characters and keeping them consistent. They, however, get repetitive fairly quickly and often have very little significance for the plot. Without the visual fireworks that would accompany them in an anime series or a high-budget Japanese VN, they start feeling like pointless filler – there was literally a few that get me somewhat excited and felt compelling in their results (for example, the first confrontation between Arin and Alacria and the final showdown of the Anian’s route). Other than that, they just don’t have the kind of impact every fighting VN relies on.
The protagonist is, of course, a magnet for women – after all, who would not fall in love with an unpleasant, cringy, borderline-suicidal scum like him at first sight?
The game’s visuals and sound effects are of decent quality, although not in any way impressive. The fighting CGs are very often recycled, with very few event-specific ones. There’s also a strong disconnect in the artstyle between the sprites and fighting scenes on one hand and the slice-of-life event CGs and h-scenes on the other. The sprites for some characters are fairly similar to each other, which make them even more contrasting with the vastly varied CG designs. The sound effects (like gunshots and explosions) and music mostly fit the “very angry shounen” vibe, but they usually show up in appropriate moments don’t get overbearing (the music at rare occasions might now fit the situations presented on the screen, with tense battle tunes turning on during casual SoL scenes, but that problem currently seems much less prevalent now than it was in the launch version).
In the end, is Episicava worth reading? Who is it targeted towards? My answer to both is, at best, “I’m not sure”. The game definitely fails in the storytelling department, spewing cliches and obnoxious edginess as its main content. Fights are, ultimately, without much excitement, mostly because only in a few you actually somewhat care about whether the protagonist wins them – and even then, not because of him, but because of the causes he ends up fighting for. The degree to which he’s unlikeable also nullifies much of the pleasure the romance and SoL segments could’ve had – Arin is not enough of a villain or enough of a hero to be compelling and that makes everything around him similarly meaningless. Most likely, even fans of trashy shounen or dumb chuunige won’t be satisfied with Episicava, as the low budget didn’t allow it to be properly flashy and fun to look at. The h-scenes are also too few and far between to make it work simply as a source of fanservice and porn. In result, it ends up being a game for no one and without any merits significant enough to recommend it with a clear conscience, even with the relatively modest asking price. I also wouldn’t expect Volume 2 to ever be created, but maybe Epic Works’ team will learn from this game’s mistakes and their upcoming chuunige, Rainbow Dreams, will improve on the formula (the plot and character description suggest, however, that the cringe factor will be alive and well). For now, I can only suggest staying away from their VNs – there are many, many better things to spend $10 and 20 hours on, even within the EVN niche.
Final Score: 2/5
+ Impressive amount of content
+ Decent production values
- Obnoxious and shallow characters
- Poorly-written story with innumerable plotholes
- Questionable sexual content
Buy Episicava Vol. 1 on Steam or Itch.io