What do you do when God forsakes you? You build a flying city. (Sections may fall periodically, use caution.)
Aiyoku no Eustia is a 2011 by August.
After the surface of the world broke down, the city of Novus Aether floats in the sky, thanks to the prayers of the Holy Maiden. Years ago, when the Holy Maiden’s prayer was interrupted, an incident known as the “Gran Forte” occurred, causing a portion of the land to fall and split the lower city into two, separated by a cliff.
In time, the lowest layer became the dwelling of all kinds of low-lives, people who lost much of their former lives during the “Gran Forte”, becoming known as the “Prison”. However, a contagious disease which causes people to grow wings has spread throughout the city, and a unit has been formed to deal with these people swiftly.
In this “Prison” resides Caim Astraea, a freelance ex-assassin who does odd jobs for his friends for money, refusing jobs that require him to kill people. During one request, Caim finds a girl who contracts the wing-disease, enveloped in a light that reminds Caim of the “Gran Forte” years ago…[from vndb]
I mentioned before that usually August games seem like an attempt to have both a moe chara-ge and an interesting plot. This is what happens when they decide to focus in the plot, and the results are outstanding. It also abandons the usual structure of multiple routes + true route for a sequential chapter scheme (which can branch into short endings for the heroines); and thus since the go this game doesn’t have what are usually biggest gripes with August games.
And once again a departure from the usual, here the plot and overall atmosphere are considerably grim. Other August games had usually some dark components, but always in the background, giving little more than a bit of depth to the setting; here the darkness comes to the foreground in full force. In plain view since the very start: the protagonist is an ex-assassin working for a brothel in a section of the city nicknamed “Prison”. And it gets worse from there. Eustia doesn’t pack its punches.
Even the game system itself is great; the same one as daitosho (or, well, you know, the other way around), is customizable, functional, handy, and pretty. The game doesn’t have the richness of visual gags daitosho had, but that’s as well given its more somber tone. There can’t be much complaints about the graphical aspect, either, and Bekkankou designs really get to shine (there are usually complaints about his sameface syndrome, but I don’t find it really as a problem).
The chapter system does wonders for the plot progression. Each chapter consists in a self contained story and is focused on one of the heroines, and in his interactions with her the protagonist (fully voiced!) ends up involved in some deal through which he discovers part of the greater mystery of the city. Some of the earlier reveals are kind of predictable (it should come as no surprise that the institution to where the winged people were carried off was up to no good), but for the most part the mystery component works in generating intrigue and suspense, and the questions and answers come at a steady pace. The plot progresses chapter by chapter upwards, metaphorically but also physically, as the setting moves to higher sections of the city. And the plot of each individual chapter also have a good pace, exploding in full awesomeness by the end.
The cast is pretty big, and basically all characters are interesting and important. All the antagonists have sound motivations, even when those motivations amount to ambition or greed (though I have a problem with the final antagonist, see later). And the heroines, and the main character himself, all see a fair amount of development, and seeing their growth is one of the main points of each chapter.
After the main issue of the chapter is solved, it can branch into the heroine route, which is more of a short epilogue, where Caim enters a romantic relationship with her. Since everything was already solved, there’s not really any conflict, and it’s basically a while of icha icha with a bit of ero (in this respect, is actually kind of amazing that even in this setting they managed to have only virgin heroines). These routes do lose steam, and don’t add much; and if anything their merry tone dilutes the grim atmosphere of the game (which may be either a minus or a plus). You may skip them without losing much. However, even if not a whole lot happen, since the climax of the chapter was already over they don’t really break the flow, either, so you wouldn’t be losing anything either by reading them. They also unlock omake scenes, most of which are more H scenes; over half of the total of H scenes are in these omakes, so if you like them but feel that most of the time they just break the flow you are in luck. And if you don’t like them, by skipping the routes you’d see a grand total of 1 (one) H scene in the whole game. Personally, I read them and don’t regret it; if you are going to have just a bit of moe in you grimdark game, this is a good way of doing it. But looking back, by leaving them for the end the story would have been even more focused.
A definition I have read about fantasy and science fiction speaks of the former as about spiritual exploration, and the later as about a neat idea. In this sense, Eustia is closer to the later: in the foundation, what we have here is a single idea that’s then thoroughly explored, in all its perspectives and consequences, until the bitter end; and everything in the story turns around that idea. Through police investigations, gang fights, intrigue, conspiracies, and full out war, each chapter bring us closer to the true nature of the winged people, the Gran Forte, and of Novus Aether itself. And the answers are not pretty.
And there aren’t really low moments; but I have a big problem about the last chapter.
(Slight spoilers for the last chapter follow)
My main complaints here turn around the main antagonist; not only, or maybe even mainly, in his actions, but in the attitude the other characters and the game itself take against him (this is a problem I also had a couple of times in Fortune Arterial, so it may have something to do with the writer). He justifies himself saying that everything is for the city’s greater good, and even though he does make sense, with a little more of thought it becomes obvious that his plan and ideology are full of holes, even by his own standards. The “sacrifice two to save eight instead of letting ten die” sounds great in paper, but like the end of Fate/Zero shows us, it can easily escalate into “sacrifice everybody else to save a few”. And even in this particular situation, dire as it was, there were alternatives, that were never discussed. And of course is easy making the choice when you are the one choosing. And tactically, once he fell back to just gaining enough time, he had already lost; and he was big part of the cause that started such situation. One could guess that he was just not very bright, or a hypocrite; and while these may be valid interpretations, nobody ever call him out on those points, when they had all the resources and motivations to do it. And when they finally go against him is according to different standards. All this means that, according to the game, his course of action was valid.
The main themes in this chapter (present since the beginning, but fully crystallized here) are the meaning of one’s life, and the sacrifice of a few for the greater good. But the game doesn’t make a good case for the second one; and so the main antagonist, who is presented as a well intentioned extremist, comes out as just a jerk. And since he’s never called out on that, and even goes out in his own terms, there wasn’t any chance for catharsis.
There are similar, though not nearly as grave, problems with the final actions of the main character; even though they can be criticized, those criticisms are acknowledged. But the only reason everything ended up fine (for some definition of fine) was sheer luck; had the main character acted a little earlier, or a little later, there would have been a horrible, horrible death for everybody. Which leaves a complicated feeling about the whole thing.
(End of spoilers)
So, the ending left me a profoundly bad aftertaste (and even that may be an understatement), but not the one that was probably intended. This doesn’t really diminishes the rest of the game, though, and I don’t regret playing this. But I won’t be coming back.
And in any case, checking some other reviews this doesn’t seem to be a common complaint, being if anything sympathy for the antagonist (the usual complaints seem to be more oriented to the fact of Caim becoming full hetare in this chapter, which may be valid critics). If this is your case, the final chapter will leave you much more satisfied. Even if it’s unlikely to leave you “happy”.
You won’t find here a fluffy romance story where everybody is nice and lives happily ever after. But you’ll find a serious, grim low fantasy story that knows what it’s trying to do, and does it without remorse, in a interesting, original, and developed setting, with unique characters whose growth you see first hand. It any of that seems interesting by all means give this a try.