If you’ve been following for a while, you may have already seen my first and second articles on the Early Access version of Epistory, an open-world typing game by Fishing Cactus. Well, now that the game is out, and now that my computer is capable of reliably recording gameplay, I thought I’d try a video review.
Epistory is an open-world typing game by Fishing Cactus. I’ve been struggling for a while to come up with a more familiar game to compare this to—it has papercraft graphics reminiscent of Tearaway, and the typing mechanics of games such as Typing Attack—but honestly, the game it most reminds me of is Resident Evil: Dead Aim.
At face value, this sounds kind of ridiculous. Vast swathes of Epistory involve typing “dandelion” and “primrose” to summon flowers from the landscape, while Dead Aim was all about blasting away at zombies with a plastic gun. However, Dead Aim was notable for a lightgun game in that it allowed you to wander around freely in between bouts of arcade-style zombie shooting. It took a neat but limited mechanic and worked it into what was otherwise a fairly standard Resident Evil title.
Epistory does precisely the same thing, but with typing in place of shooting. Lots of other games see the player besieged by enemies who must be defeated by typing words. Even more games see the player exploring a world that opens up as their character develops. However, Epistory is the first game I’ve ever seen that combines these two mechanics, and it combines them flawlessly. The exploration is effortless and the battles are frantic: just the way both should be.
It’s hard to overstate just how well Epistory works as a game. I can type about 100 words per minute—which is pretty quick—and in later chapters I was still dying from time to time. That’s because although the game makes use of adaptive difficulty to match enemies to your typing speed, you still have to make tactical decisions about which foes to tackle first and which spells to use on them.
Spells in Epistory are unlocked steadily as you go along, and have some pretty neat effects. Fire will slowly burn away words, while Ice will temporarily freeze enemies in place. Spark will shock enemies around the target, while Wind will push them back. Choosing a spell is as simple as typing its name. The earlier spells become less useful as time goes on—there’s little point freezing one enemy when you can blow a bunch of them back—but since certain enemies are only vulnerable to one type of spell, you’ll have to keep using all of them throughout the game. Choosing when to switch spells—and which to switch to—soon becomes just as important as choosing which of the various approaching bad guys to fling them at.
The one spell I found myself actively avoiding is Spark. Though it’s arguably the most powerful—allowing you to shock a massive enemy by typing the word of one nearby—it also has the effect of “shuffling” all the words near the target. Because you’re hitting so many enemies at once, you’re constantly being dealt new words to type and that makes it very difficult to get into any kind of flow. Personally, I would prefer to see Spark shock away the words in an enemy’s queue rather than the ones you’re actually being asked to type right now, but this could be considered an acceptable trade-off for an extremely powerful spell. Even though I found it broke the flow of the game, there were still occasions when Spark was absolutely essential to get through a really tough battle.
Epistory‘s entire control scheme is built around typing: even the menus. Rather than simply use the arrow keys or WASD (which you can use if you insist), Epistory opts for something a little less conventional: E I F J. Though this takes a little getting used to, it suits Epistory for two reasons: one, it makes for intuitive movement along the diagonal lines of the game’s isometric graphics; and two, it keeps both hands on the home row of the keyboard. That makes it easy to switch from wandering around to typing away, which you’ll be doing a lot in this game.
Of course, you’ll notice here that I’m not using E I F J. That’s because the computer I’m playing on is a little unconventional. I use a Dvorak keyboard layout, with all the vowels on the left side and the most common consonants on the right. Though it’s not something most players will make use of—and not something most Dvorak typists will strictly need—the fact that Epistory supports a variety of keyboard layouts is really neat.
The Dvorak gameplay isn’t flawless, however. Certain obstacles involve hitting, say, a line of keys rather than a word, and while some of these have been adjusted to the Dvorak layout, others haven’t. This results in a situation where you’re not typing an actual word or pressing a meaningful sequence of keys, and though it’s still possible to do it’s not as elegant as it should be. Of course, if you’re using a QWERTY keyboard, it’ll work exactly as intended.
In terms of other flaws, the game is prone to the occasional bug. On one occasion an enemy’s word failed to appear, making it impossible to defeat. On another occasion, this [fox floating in void] kept happening, which meant loading a backup save. I’ve also noticed the game crashing from time to time, though it’s important to bear in mind that I was running screen recording software while I was playing, which might have had something to do with it.
Still, it seems there’s already a patch in the works to fix this sort of thing, and overall the level of polish is high. The game is a joy to explore, the adaptive difficulty seems to work well, and the battles make for probably the best typing-based gameplay I’ve ever seen. Everything feels very intuitive, which is impressive for a game that doesn’t really have any kind of obvious predecessor. If you like typing games but want something with a little more depth, Epistory is well worth a look.
Though Epistory has now been released and this is probably the final review I’ll be doing on it, it’s quite possible I’ll come back to the game for future articles. There are things I considered mentioning in here–the character upgrades system has come a long way, and combos behave a little differently to what I expected late in the game–but I felt as though getting into that would make the video unnecessarily long. Also, I feel as though those are topics for a more focused article rather than points to bring up in a general review.
Depending on how this video goes down, it’s also quite likely that I’ll be putting together more in future. I’ve already picked up another Early Access title, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.