Epanalepsis for me personally was a very frustrating game, from art style, to its linear nature, there were things here I just didn't click with. The game is unabashedly a whacked out story and never really explains anything at all. I would love to tell you what the story of Epanalepsis is all about but it doesn't actually give you any answers. The story flows at a rapid pace and leaves it to your interpretation to get your answers. Now I have played games that feature short stories, The Charnel House Trilogy is a prime example of simple straight forward gameplay with a cohesive story and game elements, oddly enough also published by Mastertronic. It seems like Epanalepsis goes against the grain in just about every way, when it came down to it.
To sum up Epanalepsis, gameplay is rather easy. This isn't really a point and click adventure game but more a visual novel. You are essentially on rails but you determine how fast they move. Go straight to your objective in the next room or stop and examine things in the area. This is basically it from beginning to the end of the game. Occasionally a decision is given to you that may or may not affect the ending. Lack of interactivity also felt frustrating to me, you feel like your just moving from text box to text box. The game doesn't actually give you much to play around with other then a few moments of "Go find this item." I felt that the game could've added a bit more for the player to do other than just slide around.
When I finished Epanalepsis, I didn't have a sense of wonder or thoughtful inquiry, I was more shocked that it was just over and that was it. There is nothing wrong with a short story but it felt like Epanalepsis wasn't interested in me as a player. The tone and narrative on the other hand are done well. You really get a feeling for the three main characters who are stretched out over a wide space of time. From 1990s to the year 2030, each section/chapter of the game creates a unique feel and tone to the game. I wanted to know more about these times and characters but felt rushed and moved along, for the sake of mystery and vagueness. What ties the three time periods together are these supernatural characters who more or less say "Your decisions matter, but not really, because you have made them a hundred times." This sentiment is driven into your head several times.
For a game that is exclusively based off its story and themes, your connection to the characters is only represented in the every day objects of their abodes. From the 90's mixtapes to the online gaming of 2000s. Sadly, you're not really encouraged to look at these items littered about the environments. This adds much needed time to the game but isn't required for you to complete the game. You have to approach this game with a sense of investigation that is solely driven by you. The game will never encourage you to stop and smell the roses. There is no bonus or secret hidden anywhere, you simply just get to know more about that character in that time period. Then your ripped away to another main character and restart the process. By the time you get to the end, your exhausted by the fragmented nature of the game.
Moving on and breaking down the other elements of Epanalepsis, the price of the game is subjective. The truth is that you can beat this game within an hour, if you're looking for a game that offers replayability and length, the game is going to come up lacking. You are playing this game because you are interested in its story and message, whatever that may be personally to you. There is also additional DLC for you to purchase and enjoy. The well done soundtrack is available for purchase, as well as The Epanalepsis Papers. A collection of scans of the developers notebooks and essays/annotations on development of the game. These may give you further insight into the games story.
The soundtrack is something that I found to be done quite well, each track is played effectively according to the story. The tracks do repeat but never annoyingly. The music does a good job of making you feel like everything is normal but that there is still something amiss. Then the music shifts to an outlandish track and everything is suddenly trippy. This I liked quite a bit and wouldn't of minded more of in other areas of the game. Sound effects from moving, to walking through doors were there but nothing else that really caught my attention.
The art style is where I was also thrown off quite a bit. Perhaps its a personal preference but it never really spoke to me. The characters themselves moved oddly and looked strange sometimes, depending upon the environments they found themselves within. While there is detail in the different abodes of the characters, you can't help but shake the feeling that the game feels like it was made on Windows Paint. There are times where the game looks ornate but other times where it feels very uninspiring to look at. Again that is up to personal preference.
There are some technical aspects to the game worth mentioning as well. There is a slight bug where the camera isn't oriented with the text box. You have to shift your character to see what is being described/spoken. The game doesn't have any resolution controls or options whatsoever. Other simple features like being able to move quickly through a room is painstakingly slow. Your characters walk very slowly. You can't double click on an exit but must physically walk your character to the door or to the object you wish to interact with. This is fine for things such as doors and small objects but even larger objects require that you approach them to get a description. This feels slightly silly at times and could've been made a bit more convenient for the player. Speeding up the protagonist a slight bit would've fixed most of these issues.
The game does have quite the following, many people have mentioned they felt a connection and deeply impacted by the tones and characters of the game. I personally didn't feel that way but you may find yourself enthralled with its storytelling. What it boils down to for me was that there was no satisfying answers. You just have to accept the game for what it is. If you can't do that you may find yourself as frustrated as I was.
One thing that can be said about Epanalepsis is that it is unique, I haven't seen many games quite like it or dared to tell such a strange story for better or worse. It doesn't really try to innovate the wheel or add any interesting gameplay dynamics. What it does try to do is make you think about yourself and where you are. So with that in mind, if you feel like you can connect with this game and perhaps don't mind games that are open to interpretation, you enjoy weird stories, and don't demand answers, you may enjoy this game. Sadly for me, it just didn't click.