Aiyoku no Eustia: Angel's Blessing is the all-ages port of Aiyoku no Eustia. In it, you take on the role of Caim, a street-smart, pragmatic ex-assassin who is currently hired by a local gang to mainly be a bouncer at their headquarters/cathouse. The plot, full of fantasy intrigue and mystery, will take Caim all over the small kingdom from the depths of the slums to the holy temple and even the great castle itself. The game boasts 4 routes and a prologue that would put Robert Jordan to shame.
There are many things Eustia got very right.
First, the setting and plot. In fact, it is obvious that this was the focus of the game, rather than the girls. Each girl`s story was meant as a stepping-stone to uncovering all the secrets of the fantastical fantasy world of Eustia. From the very first instant of the game the player is bombarded with heaping helpings of atmosphere and flavor. Beautiful backgrounds, atmospheric music and excellent SFX bring the vibrant world to life. I was especially impressed by how realistic the crowd noises were. Each scene with a crowd had a different set of murmurs, shouts, and other assorted voices. They weren`t looped either! Everything really just came together to suck me in to this amazingly intricate world they had created. From the first moment the main point of the game is not to win the girls, but to delve deep into the mysteries of the world these characters live in.
The characters (aside from one) also help set this game apart. Since the main focus is on the plot and mystery, the girls are more than just cliché fetish-pandering. Instead each girl has a very specific and obvious part to play in the overall plot. They are written well because they are meant to be actual characters in a fantasy epic, not harem-additions for the player to ogle. Nothing makes this more apparent than the fact that the story can only progress if you DON`T chase after a girl`s route. Ending up with a girl means the story ends with no real conclusion to the various threads and mysteries of the plot. The game cannot advance if the player decides to end it and settle down with a girl. It is quite the opposite of many other VNs where ending up with one of the girls is the goal. Anyway, since their purpose is not to attract the player to their ending, the girls instead are written as interesting characters with lots of depth. Let`s take a look at them:
Eustia – Is… you know what? We`ll get to her in one of the other sections.
Fione – The stalwart knight type. She is the young commander of the local Wing Hunters (tl?), and is honored by the weight of the position she bears. She stands unflinching in the face of prejudice from the residents of the slum and the less-than-honorable actions of some of her subordinates. She won`t back down from any job, no matter how dirty, dangerous or dubious, as long as she is doing it to protect the peace of the kingdom. As the story progresses, her faith in the kingdom she protects will be put to the test again and again, but a leader of men cannot falter, and Fione is a born leader.
Eris – An ex-prostitute purchased by Caim. She acts as a medic in the slums, though she only seems really interested in treating Caim. She snaps at any girl that gets close to him and is extremely jealous of his ex-lovers. Though it seems her obsession sometimes approaches dangerous levels, she does have her own dreams; perhaps even a few that don`t involve Caim. If only she and Caim could understand what lies in each other`s hearts.
Saint Irene & Lavria – The current saint whose prayers hold the kingdom aloft in the sky, and her long-time friend and current maid. Irene is prim and proper and used to being obeyed. She has a stubborn streak a mile wide and becomes very upset when things don`t go the way she wants them to. Lavi stands as a kind of barrier between Irene and others, trying to lessen the damage caused by Irene`s selfish temper. The two seem to have a deep bond developed by a shared past, but recently it seems Irene has come to doubt Lavi`s devotion, among other things. Though their friendship may be shaken, what can never be shaken is the faith the two have. Though others may not understand it, the light of belief burns bright in the two, enough so to perhaps lead some lost souls out of the dark as the situation in the kingdom begins to turn sour.
Licia – The young princess who has been left in charge of the kingdom ever since her father, the king, fell ill. She remembers very little of her father, but she tries to live according to the few words from him she has left in her memory. Unfortunately she is seriously sheltered from the real outside world. In her childish mind she believes that dressing up like a maid and doing a few chores will teach her all she needs to know about the way the lower class lives. She trusts everything the nobles in the castle tell her, and is especially attentive to the chancellor, who is almost like a second father to her. Only the captain of the guard seems interested in raising her to be a good monarch, though she chafes under his strict guidance. Despite being in the perfect position to be an uncaring brat, she has a good heart and really does love her kingdom. If only someone could open her eyes to the sad reality being hidden from her.
The sub-characters are great as well, each one adding quite a bit to the story. By the end of the game every character has played their part, with every thread coming together in an amazing whole.
While the mystery and twists themselves may be quite obvious to some players, the strength of the writing in this game is in the fact that it doesn`t matter if you figure things out from the get-go. The revelations, when they come, are usually quite obvious if you pay attention to the story. But the key is the emotional impact the revelations have on the characters. Because the characters are well-written you care when they care. You want to see the mysteries resolved not because the answer itself bothers you, but because you want to see how Caim and the gang will deal with the huge, earth-shaking bombshells the plot drops.
All this is helped even more by an excellent pace, which keeps things edgy and progressing quickly from the very first scene of the game.
So I would say the very best thing about this game is how everything; the writing, the characters, the backgrounds, the music, the SFX, the plot, the setting, the route structure… EVERYTHING comes together to make a very complete, solid fantasy tale that is easy to get sucked into and enjoy.
So let`s talk about what they didn`t get right. There are just a few things, with one of them being bad enough that I`m going to relegate it to The Ugly section and leave it for the end.
And of course you can take this with a grain of salt. Though I personally didn`t like these things, that doesn`t mean that they are universally and objectively `bad`. I just thought they were.
First is the endings. All of them aside from the True Ending, of course. Basically the game is structured so that there is a single, common route. The common route is broken up into chapters, each one dedicated to one of the girls. During a girl`s chapter you will eventually be given a choice which will determine whether you continue on to the next chapter or stop progressing to settle down with that girl.
The problem is, stopping in the middle of the mystery with tons of unresolved plot threads doesn`t seem like a very good ending to me. It literally feels like Caim is turning his back on everyone else who is having trouble and saying `forget you, got mine`. In many of the endings the player is given hand-wavy wrap-ups that just don`t make sense. In fact, the further you get into the game the less sense the earlier endings will make.
I was expecting the endings to be more along the lines of `And then Caim and the girl continued investigating the mysteries of their world together` but instead they were more `And then Caim and the girl stopped caring and settled down to live happily ever after`. They`re bizarrely upbeat and feel kind of tacked-on, since it`s obvious you`re intended to blow off the good endings and press forward in the plot. I guess the best way to put it is that these endings don`t really seem like good endings, but rather arbitrary stopping points shoved in so that people playing the adult version could see the H scenes. In an all-ages version they were just strangely out-of-place fairy-tale endings that I only glanced at for completions sake before diving right back in to the actual story.
Another thing they do wrong is trumpets. Yeah, simple thing. All the songs that have trumpets in them tend to be pretty bad. I recommend not listening to them with headphones on, since they hit what I think is pretty close to some brown notes and I can`t guarantee you`ll come away with clean pants. Considering how great all the rest of the music is in the game, the trumpet songs stand out quite starkly. Sad, since one of them is the theme of one of my favorite sub-characters.
Finally, the second opening and ending are crap. The second opening is a bunch of boring panning around with a few quotes and stuff. I`m not sure what mood they were trying to evoke with it, but it just came across as boring and uninspired. What were they going for? The final ending was equally bad, and I wished they had just used the same ending from the rest of the game. Sadly, the bad opening and ending were just sort of par for the course for the final route, but we`ll get to that later. For now let`s just chalk these up as another bad decision.
There are a few things that made me really sad during this game.
First is the characters who don`t make it to the end. Obviously it`s not bad to off a character as part of a dramatic plot. I don`t blame them for doing so, but that doesn`t make it easier to face the fact that some of these excellently crafted personalities won`t be around for the whole game. I guess you could even count this as a good thing, since you really feel it when these characters are gone.
Second is one specific story element. Basically to keep going in the plot you need to make choices to avoid getting any of the girls` endings. At one point this involves saying some very mean things to one of the girls (for her own good of course) for which she never really forgives you. Though most of the rest of the girls are okay with being turned down at the end, that one girl really does act cold and distant for the rest of the story because of the things Caim says. I really liked her, so I was really sad at how things ended up with her.
See `The Ugly`. In this game, the worst element of it was also the element that made me the most upset.
Let`s take a look at my favorite costumes from the game:
Ooo, rockin` that trench coat. Definitely got that assassin vibe down pat.
I`m not the kind of guy who calls other guys hot all the time, but man he is hot. There really should have been a route where him and Caim get together. Bromance my brothers, can I get an amen?
The fights in this game are pretty awesome. Though very little happens on screen besides a few simple swiping animations, reading them will definitely get your heart pumping. Most of the fights in the story are between very evenly-matched opponents and there is often more on the line than just the fighters` lives. I would love to see an anime adaptation of this series if only to see the awesome fight scenes in motion.
Licia, during her private moments when she can stop being the commanding princess for a while, is really cute. Her `whatchu talkin` bout?` face is absolutely adorable, and really peels back the regal exterior to show you her pure, youthful, curious side. August has always had very distinct character design, and I`d say they should be in no hurry to change it, as the expressions for all the characters in this game were very impressive. But, the snuggliest was definitely the little princess.
Though many of the more confusing parts of the story are explained by the end, there are still a few things about the setting as a whole that I have trouble figuring out even now in hindsight. Without getting in too deep and spoiling anything, I`m not sure the explanation given for why exactly the world is in the state it is in was quite sufficient. To be a bit more specific it`s not the kingdom where everyone currently lives that confuses me but the world in general that weirds me out.
Also the birth-story of one of the characters is shrouded in mystery and you can really only figure it out if you read between the lines, but even then it`s still pretty bizarre and never really confirmed explicitly in the text. I guess it wouldn`t be fun if they spelled out every little thing for you, but the two things mentioned aren`t exactly small things.
Then again, maybe these things were explained and I just missed it. Full disclosure: I`m not 100% confident in my Japanese reading, and I did skip large chunks of the final chapter due to reasons I will explain below. The explanations COULD have been hidden there, but I don`t remember them coming up in my skimming through those sections.
No animal mascots or other creatures to talk about this time around! Actually, can we call Eustia the animal mascot? I feel like we should. Let`s do that. Eustia is a horrible animal mascot because she is a girl not a dog. She should have been a dog. Then she would have made a much better animal mascot.
Let`s talk about the bad guys.
The bad guys in this game are great!
Seriously, aside from some minor idiots early on the major villains of the plot are just awesome. I love villains who are written so that you can sympathize with their point of view. You know why they`re doing the bad things they`re doing. It`s not that they`re just inherently evil and want to do evil for evil`s sake. No they have their motives, and the motives make sense. They just happen to be at cross-purposes with the protagonists, or perhaps they are letting the ends justify the means a bit too much.
Anyway, the main villains are written so well that I often found myself agreeing with them on many points. The last chapter is an especially interesting point at which `good` and `bad` are thrown to the roadside and everyone is just doing things for reasons they believe are correct and just.
Of course, the villains aren`t perfect. The first few you meet are just goons, motivated by petty, selfish character flaws. Even the later villains sometimes sink to moustache-twirling, but for the most part it is easy to see where they are coming from, especially when looking back at the story as a whole from the ending.
I really don`t like Eustia. She started as an enigma, became an annoyance, then basically checked herself out of the plot and was relegated to being a running-joke sub-character for a while, then came back for her own chapter, the last chapter, to be the cause of everything that made the last chapter the ugliest, most rage-inducing part of this game.
Eustia is not poorly written, let`s get that out of the way first. She is a very realistic type of character. Sadly she is written based on a very, very annoying subset of humanity. It took me a while of thinking to finally put my finger on what kind of person Eustia reminded me of the most, but then suddenly it came to me.
Eustia is like a social-networking drama queen. That`s what she is. She`s the type of girl that would make ambiguous, passive-aggressive `*sigh* some days I don`t even know why I try` posts, only to say `oh it`s nothing, don`t worry about me` when her friends try to ask her what`s wrong. She always has a `positive` face so that people will praise her for how strong she is in the face of the great adversity she is obviously facing, considering all the depressed comments she makes. When drama happens, such as someone calling her out on her BS, she expects white knights to come to her aid so that she never has to act like anything other than the martyr (and yet still win the argument vicariously). At the same time she has to be the greatest sufferer and the one with the greatest destiny in the room. That`s Eustia. No seriously that`s exactly how she is.
During the last chapter there is literally a part where she`s hurting and Caim is like `let me help you` and she`s like `no I`m fine I`ll be strong for everyone`s sake *brave smile*` and then when Caim doesn`t speak up to stop the suffering for her she gets depressed because Caim wouldn`t speak up in her behalf despite HER HERSELF not speaking up and, in fact, showing no sign that she wanted to be rescued from her situation. No! Bad! You don`t get to be sad because someone won`t white knight for you when you told them not to! You don`t get to play up your whole martyr angle and then expect people to save you from the fate you yourself have obviously been wishing for all this time! You do not get to have your cake and eat it too!
Now some might think that Eustia really is just an innocent girl who believes in her own big destiny and doesn`t want anyone to suffer so she`s willing to suffer for them. I`m sure whoever wrote the last chapter expected the player to feel that way. Too bad one of the first scenes early in the game where we see inside Eustia`s mind reveal that she is fully capable of assessing her situation and using her own pathetic image to manipulate people. She KNOWS the effect her `oh woe is me` BS has on people and she uses it to protect herself. Now obviously this is a legit defense mechanism and is totally understandable, but once you`ve revealed that she is capable of faking and manipulating it kind of makes any emotion she shows have less impact.
It becomes especially apparent toward the end that Eustia really doesn`t actually care that much about everyone else. She gets sad when Caim doesn`t stop her suffering because obviously she was only suffering to win Caim`s sympathy. When she thinks Caim has stopped caring about her, she basically just goes `well, not like anyone else matters`.
During most of the middle portion of the game Eustia is treated like a puppy that keeps sticking its nose into everyone`s business when it isn`t welcome. Most of the time she misinterprets situations and is told to be quiet because she doesn`t know what`s going on, and even when she does know what`s going on she never offers any advice that might be helpful, or insight into the situation. She seriously spends most of the game as a mascot character, being cute in the background while the real characters talk about important matters. Why couldn`t she have been a dog? Why is she considered the `main` girl? Why is this game named after her? Graaah!
Which brings me to the last chapter. I`ve basically revealed most of what makes it bad above, since it`s all about miss-martyr Eustia, but her part in it didn`t make me quite as angry as Caim`s part in it did.
Throughout the game Caim is shown to be a competent and intelligent character. He is kind, in a gruff sort of way, but isn`t so tender-hearted as to ignore the reality of a situation. He knows sacrifices need to be made. He has prejudice and anger in his heart that makes him seem more real. He is decisive and swift to action, not caring what rules or promises he needs to break to get the things done that need to be done. One could say that he doesn`t play by anybody`s rules, but he gets results.
Then in the last chapter he becomes a weak-willed wet-noodle, pushed around by events but taking little to no action himself. This is especially jarring since every other character (except Eustia) is shining their brightest during this chapter. With all the lies and mysteries stripped away, we finally see everyone`s true character in the end. With `good` and `bad` thrown out the window, everyone must simply act as their conscience dictates. We see what is truly important to each and every person in the story, and we can see and judge the actions they take.
… and among all this Caim just sort of mopes around, going from person to person and talking to them but not really doing anything with the situation. His normally entertaining wry banter starts to sound petty and sarcastic as he prods at the people who are actually doing something. He basically waits for someone to tell him what to do, and then does what he`s told only to wallow in self-loathing for the things he is told to do.
Worst of all is the failure in the storytelling of the chapter. It feels almost like an entirely different writer took over for this section, and I wouldn`t be surprised if that was exactly the case. Without spoiling too much, Caim is given a choice that is essentially `Do this or something very bad will happen`. Given everything we know, both Caim and the player have no reason to doubt that the choice was really that black-and-white. There is no hint of a third option. Caim does what he has to do because he HAS to do it. And yet he beats himself up over it, becomes full of self-loathing. It becomes obvious to the player that the writers have a third option in mind, but there has been no hint of it in the story. The writers want Caim to choose an option he didn`t even know it was possible to choose.
To use a spoiler-less example, Caim is on a trapeze. He knows there is no safety net, so obviously he would never think of letting go of the trapeze. Then he starts to think that his arms are getting really tired so he lets go of the trapeze. Miraculously there is a safety net beneath him that he had no idea was there.
While the stakes and circumstances don`t match up with the above example, the crappiness of the writing is the same. Caim`s feelings and actions only make sense in hindsight due to author intervention. Nobody would just let go of a trapeze in mid-flight, believing there was no safety net. It would be idiotic. Caim`s actions were equally idiotic, but lucky for him the author swooped in to make it all turn out alright so Caim`s actions and feelings would retroactively become correct.
For such a realistic and strong character it`s just disgusting to see him become a puppet to the plot and to other characters. By the end I felt like Caim deserved to end up with Eustia and that is a very bad thing. Even though Eustia was given an annoying personality, at least she stayed true to her character as opposed to Caim who just flipped on his plot-puppet switch as soon as the writers needed him to.
Now despite the massive `Ugly` section, don`t get me wrong. This game is great. Even during the last chapter there are tons of good scenes involving all the characters who aren`t Caim or Eustia. It is 100% worth a read. I`m sure there will even be people who find the last chapter enjoyable, and even folks who love Eustia as a cute pseudo-imouto type of thing. Sure. The bottom line is the writing, music, characters, art, etc. are all very solid and even the worst part of the game can still be enjoyed by some readers.
Though everyone might be happier if they just consider Licia`s to be the `true end` and stop playing there