Note: I was provided with a free review copy of the game by the developer. All opinions are solely my own.
Sequels to obscure, low budget EVNs are always a slightly awkward topic to tackle. They are inevitably tied to games which few people are familiar with and which can be, at least in some aspects, of subpar quality simply due to their indie nature. This makes giving a meaningful rating and recommendation for potential readers tricky – at the very least, any kind of conclusion about them will be served with a good number of caveats, related to the interplay between titles in the particular series and the value proposition they represent both together and on their own. The latest title to create such a conundrum for me is Eldritch University by Jackkel Dragon.
Released on Steam in June 2020, this game is a sequel to early 2019’s Eldritch Academy, a supernatural horror VN combined with a fair dosage of high-school yuri romance. While amusing in its romantic arcs, the prequel had several issues: unlikeable protagonist, repetitive routes, below-average visual and, in my opinion, an unreasonably high price for the level of quality it represented. University, while borrowing the setting and tying itself loosely to the core intrigue of that game, represents a major improvement in most aspects – a better-looking, more focused experience with a price tag way more representative of its entertainment value. Is it, however, good enough to make the whole series worth it, or to be a viable read as a standalone experience? Well, it depends on what you want from it…
The troubled relationship between the protagonist and her girlfriend is the most interesting part of the game – and the most satisfying, when you finally see them succeed
Eldritch University follows the story of Kasumi, a college freshman that was recently reconnected with Misaki, the girlfriend she was separated from three years earlier. A secondary character from Eldritch Academy, Kasumi was the person who unwittingly unleashed the supernatural threat that game's story revolved around and nearly got killed in the process. Still bearing some emotional scars from the incident, she was mostly able to regain her easy-going attitude and is happy to work on rebuilding her relationship with Misaki. However, when the wound she sustained back then starts giving off strange symptoms, and creepy stories of apparitions begin popping out around the campus and the surrounding town, it becomes clear that the horror is far from being over.
I won’t try to hide it: if there’s one thing I deeply enjoyed about Eldritch University it is the love story between Kasumi and Misaki and the way it is tied with the overarching supernatural intrigue. Initially, Kasumi herself is a bit of a bubbly airhead, while Misaki is more timid, but also kind and friendly. As, in the prequel, we briefly observe the couple in their high school days, they are outgoing and over-the-top affectionate to each other. However, the circumstances of their separation (forced by Misaki’s conservative mother) and the time they spend apart change that significantly. Misaki’s is weighed down by the social stigma and rejection she suffered due to being a lesbian, while Kasumi struggles to adapt to her changed behaviour and the doubt on whether the connection they once had can be fully rebuilt. In both of the non-dead-end endings, this dynamic gets resolved in a satisfying and heart-warming fashion, while never overdoing the drama and keeping the emotional and psychological profiles of both girls very believable. Coupled with a romantic, non-explicit sex scene, this makes Eldritch University a real treat for yuri fans such as myself – I was genuinely surprised and impressed with how impactful it was.
The game’s supernatural story feels somewhat rushed and underdeveloped, but also avoids repetition and filler content that plagued Eldritch Academy
The horror intrigue is less developed and is probably the only aspect of the game which I would consider weaker than it was in Academy, which focused a lot on stress and desperation of fighting against a supernatural threat. It ties directly to the events of the first game and creates a few genuinely tense scenes, but its main value is, once more, in the well-executed interplay with the love story. The character most important for the horror arc, Kasumi’s friend Hinata, plays into her insecurities and confusion about Misaki’s behaviour – this leads to a few interesting choices influencing the main couple’s relationship. On the other hand, the are also blind choices with unpredictable consequences in horror scenes and the pacing of the whole mystery plot feels rushed. With frequent time skips and rapid story developments, the sense of looming danger and despair, for which the game was definitely aiming, is only half-there. Also, surprisingly little was added to the series' overall lore and worldbuilding – it neither showed anything truly new about its supernatural elements nor opened interesting story threads for possible continuation.
Then we get to the issue of secondary characters, who can be hardly described as anything more than plot devices. Two girls helping the protagonist and Misaki, Yuri and Shizuka, are a tie-in from the author’s book, Shireishi, but without the extra context someone who read that would probably have, they’re simply exposition props. Other minor characters barely show any personality either – Kasumi’s other friend, Hiroshi, is probably the only meaningful one among them. And at last, there’s the issue of actual relevance of knowing Eldritch Academy, as the really important parts lay not in the main plot of that game, but in the unlockable bonus content – short episodes showing the circumstances of Kasumi and Misaki getting separated and the way they adapted to their new situation. They add weight to the drama of University, but hardly justify investing time (8-10 hours) and money ($12) in the prequel. Honestly, I would just prefer to see a recap of Eldritch Academy and the scenes expanding on Kasumi’s and Misaki’s stories in University, as a skippable prologue – it would make it much easier to recommend it not only to people familiar with the first game (or interested in reading it), but also those that want to jump straight into the sequel.
Outside of Kasumi’s two friends, Hinata and Hiroshi, the secondary characters in the game are more plot devices than anything else – and even these two receive relatively little development
The visuals are a clear improvement over Academy, but are still pretty basic. While the sprite designs look more clean and expressive than they did in the prequel, the low amount of detail and simple shading are still very much visible. CGs look solid most of the time, but are ultimately on the same level as the sprites and occasionally even struggle with perspective. The end effect is hardly an eye candy, but very serviceable. The same can be said about music, which… Exists. It’s a very generic set of background tunes, but never gets in the way or fails to match the climate of the scene, which is good enough in my mind.
So, what’s my conclusion on Eldritch University? It’s a game that struggles a bit with its identity, stylising itself as a horror story but hardly committing to this theme. However, for yuri fans that enjoy a more grounded approach to LGBT+ issues, it has enough to offer to easily justify the $6 price tag (for 3-4 hours of content). Also, for people that enjoyed Eldritch Academy or specifically look for the combination of supernatural thriller and GxG romance, it should prove satisfying. For anyone else, it might be a much harder sell… But if anything I wrote here sounded interesting to you, I still suggest giving it a chance – if not for the full price, then at least grabbing it on sale. And if this dev’s work continues improving in this manner, their next game might be very easy to recommend, even to a broader audience.
Final Rating: 3/5
+ Excellent romantic subplot
+ Likeable and well-developed main cast
– Average-at-best visuals
– Rushed/underdeveloped supernatural horror storyline
– Underdeveloped secondary characters