It’s odd how so few videogames make use of typing. With so many available on computers, you’d think more would try and incorporate the act of typing instead of mapping complex control schemes onto a keyboard. And when we do get typing games, they always play off the same foundation of writing out words as fast as possible. Epistory – Typing Chronicles doesn’t stray from that formula, but it doesn’t exclusively revolve around it either. Epistory adds in a healthy dose of exploration to the mix, resulting in a generally more relaxed typing game than its peers.
Epistory follows a young girl and her fox as they wander around an origami world cleansing the evils that have infested it. It’s framed as a novel in progress. The author frequently chimes in with narration as new areas unfold. Occasionally small scenes from the author’s life sneak in via snippets of dialog. Scenes that suggest there’s more to the story than the fantasy novel premise lets on. It’s slow to reveal itself, however, as the storytelling is minimal.
Most of the narration deals in description of the spaces you explore, peppered with some light insight of what the girl thinks of them. At first, it doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the actual story. Ruminations on a sunken temple provide some context for the space, but don’t immediately explain their purpose or justify their presence. Fragments spread throughout each locale form scenes, such as a girl tending to a fox’s wound or a graduation ceremony, that only raise more questions. And that’s intentional. The story isn’t one that immediately comes together. It’s meant to be reflected upon.
When I finished Epistory, I wasn’t clear about how the ending connected to the rest of the game. I was a bit confused. It felt like the game had gone for a last-second twist that didn’t feel earned. In the hours that followed, however, everything began to click. The narration, the scenes from the author’s life, the images formed from fragments – all of it instantly made sense in retrospect. I didn’t get it before because Epistory is very restrained in how it tells its story. It never outright states anything. You’re supposed to read between the lines, draw connections between the environments and the pictures formed by collecting fragments. The clues are there; it’s just a matter of picking up on them and piecing them together.
The game is played entirely through the keyboard. Every action apart from movement requires you to type out words. Clearing barriers, activating elevators, switching between menu screens – all of it is achieved by typing. The words you have to write typically have some connection to what you’re using. Burning tree logs prompts a bunch of phrases that involve fire, for instance. Likewise, freezing swaths of water uses ice-themed words. These powers are used for rudimentary puzzle solving across several dungeons, usually relating to a specific element. Lava-filled caverns make extensive use of your fire abilities, for instance, just as a seaside temple demands use of ice. Where most typing games would have you constantly type to avoid death, Epistory weaves it into exploration. It’s a nice change of pace and a good example of how typing can be used in videogames in ways other than combat or competition, simple as it may be.
But Epistory isn’t without its share of scuffles. You encounter a fair number of stray insects while roaming about, which serve as the game’s enemies, but they’re seldom a threat. They’re slow and only require you to type a word or two to vanquish them. Combat is generally infrequent, as such, mostly limited to a couple of wave-based battles per dungeon. These are also where combat starts to challenge. Bugs converge on you from all directions, steadily growing stronger and harder to slay. You’re pinned to the pedestal you step on to initiate these encounters, meaning you’re left with no means of defending yourself short of typing faster than they can spawn.
If you’re not an especially fast typist or simply prone to typos (like me), then your elemental powers will be your saving grace. You gain four powers over the course of the game: fire, ice, lightning, and wind. They’re use in the environment is straightforward and the same goes for combat. Fire burns the next word so you don’t have to write it, ice freezes enemies for a short time, lightning jumps between nearby foes, and wind keeps them at bay. You can get by pretty easily by just using one of them for most encounters, but as they start getting longer and more difficult, it becomes paramount to swap them on the fly.
One way or another, you start to become a faster typist as the game progresses and the battles grow more demanding. At the start of Epistory, I was reasonably fast but still prone to being way too slow. By the end, I was plowing through foes almost as quickly as they’d spawn, moving back and forth between swapping powers and slaying insects effortlessly. Only I’m now also way more prone to typos.
The game goes pretty easy on you, though, sticking to words three or four characters in length for the majority of its foes. Paired with your fire skill, you can almost always make quick work of most anything with little worry. Of course, that the game is merciful for the most part only makes those moments where it throws bigger and stronger foes with more complex words at you all the more menacing. Especially when they occasionally throw some of the longest words in the English language at you. But foes of that scale only appear in the arena mode, thankfully.
The arena is where the game feels most like a traditional typing game. You’re thrown into one of four locales to test your mettle against a never ending tide of enemies both big and small. The goal is to score as many points as you can by maintaining the longest combo possible. Unlike the story, the difficulty of the encounters doesn’t slowly ramp up but instead throws you straight into the thick of it. Not so much in terms of word length and complexity, but in terms of sheer volume. It’s fun and a good way to practice for some of the late-game fights, but unless you’re into leaderboard competition, it’s unlikely to hold your attention for long.
Epistory is at its best when you’re exploration, anyway. The combat is more engaging when enacted after a long bout of roaming around, just when you’re feeling ready for a change of pace. Either element on its own is fine, but splitting either one off on its own only reveals their weaknesses. If it were just a traditional typing game or a purely narrative-driven one, it’d still be a good game. But together they allow the game to excel. Regardless of its form, Epistory is a great typing game. And we could certainly use more of those in the world.