After reviewing many cheerful yuri visual novels I figured it would be time to cover a “not-so-cheerful” yuri vn. This is Ebi-Hime‘s Asphyxia.
Themes: Depression, Poetry, Pessimism, Anxiety
Length: Short (2-10 hours)
Plot Summary: Samantha is depressed. She’s been depressed for a long time, almost as long as she can remember, but it’s slowly been getting worse. She thought Lillian was her friend, her best friend. Perhaps she even thought of her as more than that. Why, then, did their relationship have to fall apart? Was it really her fault? She didn’t do anything wrong. At least, she didn’t intend to. Now, three months later, Samantha finally has her chance. Forced together on their geography field trip to the Lake District, will she finally be able to repair her relationship with Lillian – or will it collapse all over again?
Right off the bat Asphyxia’s story made it is clear what kind of tone it presents itself, gloomy and depressing. Promotions all across the net made it clear that this game would be dreary and after playing it it did not disappoint. From the self-demoralizing narration of Samantha’s emotions to the interactions between Samantha and the other girls, there is very little positivity to be found in the story and the few crumbs of cheerfulness there are are just that, crumbs that had fallen off a decrepit cookie. This was to be expected. After all, the characters are based off of historical poets and from the media I have seen in my life revolving around historical writers and poets they usually have a somber tone to them or become somber as they progress. Having said that, I could not see this story being told any other way. The game was marketed as being gloomy and it lived up to it. In fact, I dare say it is actually a pretty well written story in spite of its dreary narrative, setting and characters. Also it is educational giving readers a sort of history on romanticism and the writers the girls are based on.
The writing is a huge part of what makes this visual novel worth trying. It has a poetic tone to it. Not in the rhyming sense but that it feels like reading a book with occasional pretty pictures. That is what visual novels technically are but Asphyxia’s case, or Ebi-Hime’s writing in general feels like reading a sad, yet intriguing tale that takes place in the countryside and in modern times because of the technology available and mentioned.
Besides Samantha’s depression, pessimism and anxiety, the story features other heavy topics brought up both during relevant and irrelevant moments that somehow fit the narrative without feeling like padding, depending on which ending the player is after. I will not spoil which ones but suffice to say very few of them are positive.
The game plays like a standard visual novel with occasional 2 option (and one 3 option) choices where the player aims to get one of four endings ranging from (bitter)sweet to depressing. The interesting thing is that it is recommended to discover all endings as not only do players learn about the other girls but get more details about Samantha herself making it clearer and more comprehensible why she is the so…”Samantha-ey”.
Samantha, her classmates and teacher are all interesting in that they all have different ideals, worldviews and approaches to life. It can be said that the dialogues are just as important, if not more, than Samantha’s quest to try and rekindle her relationship with Lillian. Basically it gives a look at people going through the emotions they have. Now whether the girls are all likable, even a certain jerk clad in red who is the main source of the surprisingly amusing dark humor in the story, is subjective.
Besides the writing, Asphyxia’s other major strong points are its superb painting like CGs, backgrounds and character art and its melancholic (except 1 chipper tune) yet soothing soundtrack. Besides the main menu theme, the first song that plays when the game starts is my favorite tune.
As for the yuri, Samantha’s feelings for Lillian definitely surpass friendship. How much though readers will have to find out for themselves. The same goes for whether the other routes are yurirific.
Overall, despite my having sung Asphyxia’s praises several times in the review, it is still a very gloomy tale and not for everyone. Depending on players’ emotional levels and tolerance of the somber this game may be a bit too much for some. Those wwho can take the gloom can pick it up and see how it goes.
PS: Of course the game brings up the economy and politics at some point.
The interested can buy the game on Steam:
Screenshots taken from the below review: