Asphyxia is a rather conflicting game for me. It, at first, seems like a recipe for a hit given its odd premise of being a yuri dating sim where the girls are based off of British authors from the 1800s and early 1900s (which is going to be lost on anyone who is not an English major, so I’m not going to be talking about it much). It also tells what by all means should be a very engrossing and compelling storyline with deep characters and mature themes. There is a lot to like about Asphyxia, but for once the problem with a story is not that it is shallow or amateurishly written.
Instead, much like those works of “classic” literature that we we’re forced to plow through in school, Asphyxia’s writing is plodding and stuffy. The characters do not talk like real people, there is an unnecessary amount of description put into insignificant details, and I just found myself trying to speed read through as much as I could in order to finish the game. In the end, I was curious enough about the storyline to get every ending, but it is not a game I plan to replay nor is it one I can recommend.
The story of Asphyxia stars Samantha, a very depressed and constantly worrisome 17 year old girl who is always apologizing and spends most of the game upset over a falling out she had with her former friend Lillian. She was depressed enough that she cut most of her beautiful hair off in a spur of the moment decision to the detriment of every other character in the game, despite her hair still looking quite pretty. The main conflict of this story is based around Samantha’s troubled relationship and feelings for Lillian and her attempt to reconnect with her during the school field trip.
My thoughts on how this relationship is handled are kind of mixed. Some parts of it are very realistic such as Lillian’s reasoning for wanting to be away from Sam; that being that she is too clingy and neurotic. The relationship between these two characters is certainly one that feels fully three dimensional and realistic. Unfortunately there are some problems with it.
The first of these is the fact that the dialogue choices for the ending in which Lillian gets back together with Sam are barely different from ones that do not trigger said ending, and the slight difference does not play into the plot either. There was not so much a solution to the issue of Sam being too clingy more so than Lillian just deciding she accepts Sam the way she is, while in others she decides she does not want anything to do with her with little change in events.
Another aspect that will be grating on most players is how unlikable Lillian’s character is on most routes. Lillian, despite being the main love interest, is probably the least interesting character in the game. She is presented as a mysterious and wise figure but in actuality is massively pretentious and cold. At one point in the game, De Quincey (another recurring character in the game) gives her back story about how Lillian’s poems helped save her from suicide when she was homeless and that she traveled to this specific boarding school just to meet her. Despite this, Lillian views De Quincey as nothing but an enormous pest despite De Quincey’s dedication to her, and she even purposefully knocks her over causing her to twist her ankle just to get away from her (and she does not even try to help her).
In general, it seems like Asphyxia has its priorities backwards when it comes to the characters. De Quincey is treated as a nuisance and as a black sheep by pretty much the entire cast despite her being the most interesting character in the game. Additionally, Georgia, the stereotypical snobby rich girl, is among one of the more likable characters in the game and is more interesting than Roberta (Sam’s best friend). I will give credit in that these characters are all well developed and have decent backstories.
Unfortunately, none of that makes a difference due to the horrendous pacing of this game’s writing. As stated previously, the writing in Asphyxia sounds a lot like something that would be from a “classic” literary work from the Victorian era that aged poorly due to the English language evolving over time (or maybe Wuthering Heights was never been good to begin with, to be honest, I’m not much of a bookworm). However, Asphyxia is not only a game that was made in 2015; it is also a game that TAKES PLACE in 2015, or at least in current times. Despite this, we have high school students who say things like “if you weren’t so enamored with that simpering fop we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
On top of this, the text is often paced out as “one line of dialogue then five lines of Sam monologuing about the scenery or how pathetic she is.” This got to the point where I just found myself repeatedly clicking despite me not even having read full lines. The sad part about that was that this was that I still was able to understand what was going on despite this and that a majority of the writing in this game could have been cut. Unfortunately, Asphyxia is a visual novel where the novel part is overly bloated and cumbersome.
At least the visual part of this visual novel is solid however. The art direction of Asphyxia is absolutely beautiful. I do not even mean this in the sense that the character design is great (which it is), but just in the sense that the backgrounds and scenery are also breathtakingly beautiful and had a lot of care put into them. However, I do need to question why it is that every character is wearing an outfit from Victorian era England in a game that takes place in the modern era.
In terms of production music, the game uses very elegant and soft sounding classical tunes that fit the Victorian era atmosphere this game gives off… despite taking place in modern times. There were also a lack of sound effects involved in the game which made things just a bit more dull.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of good qualities to it, I cannot recommend Asphyxia. This visual novel is just way too swollen and bloated to be an entertaining read to most. The way it handled its plot was certainly interesting and I liked the characters, but there was just way too much fluff involved to be entertaining. This game may be titled Asphyxia, but it will only leave your breathless due to the thickness of its words.
Since writing this review, I have been made aware of the fact that the writing style was an attempt to recreate the style of writing used in the 1800s, a style that will often come across as excessively wordy to modern day readers. While developer ebi-hime did say that she attempted to tone it down a bit, I still can’t help but feel it wasn’t enough. I say this knowing fully well that some literary scholars are ready to pounce on me for not appreciating the classics, and they will be like “How dare you madame! What excuse dost thou posses to besmirch the name of yon classic literature?” And yes, they will speak in broken Shakespearean English. I think these people will likely appreciate the attention to detail in the writing style of this game.
It also occurs to me that the characterization could also be based on the real life relationship between these authors, and that my lack of familiarity with them may give me a different perspective. To be honest, I think I may have been a bit too harsh in my original review (I find that to be a recurring theme in my older pre-Guardian Acorn reviews). Asphyxia is a very well put together title that was obviously created with a lot of care, but it is also one that will also appeal to the smallest amount of people. I say this because I have read a bit of one of ebi-hime’s other visual novels called Strawberry Vinegar. I found it far more engaging and it was generally easier to read then Asphyxia. I will definitely need to cover it in the future, along with some of ebi-hime’s other works. If Asphyxia is the worst creation of hers, then she definitely has some serious talent.
This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on May 16th of 2016, and has since been updated with enhanced presentation.
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