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Aiyoku no Eustia: The Better Angels of Our Nature

Nobody welcomes their birth in Novus Aether.

Separated by a cliff, most people live in the lowest strata of the floating city, nicknamed the gaol. Good-natured citizens fall into this ghetto from an unfortunate tragedy and turn into brutish beasts. What else can they do? It’s a dog-eat-dog world. The gaol is divided up by two gangs; a drug war ensues in the background. An unknown endemic has caused the mobilization of one so-called emergency squad. Prostitutes and beggars wander in confusion. Hopelessness permeates the strata, but the people there desire to survive. Despite all the flak, all the shit, and all the prejudices generated by the upper-class, they endure the excruciating pain and humiliation to see one more day. They challenge their destiny.

Nobody welcomes their birth in Novus Aether.

A girl was blinded during that tragedy and hugged her friend for warmth and assurance. She played the harp to soothe their fears. But then, she claimed she can hear the voices of the Maiden, the savior of this city. The girl is bestowed upon the title of Saint Irene and she is now a respectable messianic figure for. St. Irene however finds that her fate is locked as a puppet ever since the church brought her in. And she questions her role as this figure. Is she fit to ‘save’ people? And is her power even real?

Nobody welcomes their birth in Novus Aether.

A princess wonders why her father, the king of all of Novus Aether, has been ignoring her. She dresses up as a maid and wastes her time doing laundry for the nobles. The princess has no interest in politics, even though she knows that she will lead the country one day. She is more interested in romantic adventure stories, especially ones set in the gaol. The princess will do anything to get away from this stifling position.

You can probably tell Aiyoku no Eustia is not a moege.

Instead, it resembles more of a low fantasy novel than anything else. Which is highly unusual in a visual novel. Even the well-regarded visual novels don’t go for what looks like a standard fantasy premise. Usually, fantasy VNs have high school kids (who are 18 years old) dropped into a fantasy world ala Duel Savior or an urban fantasy work arises in the style of Nasuverse or Persona. And when works do go for that generic fantasy feel, it’s just a way to place well-endowed elven women in armor.

No, not Eustia. It does care about its setting. The visual novel twines its arms around you slowly with a hefty prologue, introducing the main characters in the gaol setting and how the society work there. Then, the setting inches you in with its photorealistic backgrounds and the solemn, atmospheric music. And we can hear the denizens talk or the eerie silence at nights. There is not one instance of the art direction that distracts the reader from the experience.

It is this immersion that makes Eustia rather special for me. I have been looking for works that share this characteristic and started reading fantasy literature for fun, but it seems to be a futile search. While I am enjoying the genre, it seems that Eustia is rather unique. It uses the strengths of the visual novel too well to be real; it makes Subarashiki Hibi look like Lego bricks. I miss Eustia badly after a month or so because I don’t think I have ever lost track of time when reading something. Playing video games, yes, but never reading something. Time stops whenever I read Eustia, I claimed one day, my clocks are trying to deceive me.

With Eustia‘s leisurely slow pacing, immersion does not stop with setting; characters drop their guard and unveil their true selves bit by bit. When Caim plays chess with St. Irene, we see a display of various emotions emerge from the stolid saint. She is not as maidenly as previously thought; she has an attitude and a yearning to best her opponents. A perfectionist, St. Irene refuses to lose to Caim and looks forward to their chess games in this rather droll pious life. This personality of hers will later haunt her in the future.

Each chapter focuses on one female character and each of their stories builds up to the climax and the overall themes of Eustia. The interactions Caim has will become a crucial point. He acts differently with each person he hangs out. Sometimes, this leads into an inevitable spiral of hypocrisy. And this is what makes Caim an interesting protagonist; he is a survivor who can grasp to any ideal whenever he needs to. Caim is inconsistent with his values because he knows when to let go and when to adhere. This is what survivors, especially in the gaol, do.

If there is indeed a criticism one can give to Eustia, it is the grave mistake of being too inconsistent like its protagonist. The writers are taking a gamble by trying out a new genre they’re not known for. The first three chapters suffer from abysmal pacing and the sometimes sketchy, sometimes blunt writing. And the second chapter in particular does not contribute to the work; it downplays the main characters there and is not sure what it wants to be. But in all these chapters, it is best to be like Caim and hold onto certain likeable aspects of the game.

The payoff is tremendous once you go beyond chapter three: chapter four involves a thrilling round of politics and backhanded dealings, and the final chapter makes the visual novel — for lack of a better word — snap. Eustia’s ending relies on the immersion and investment into characters one has accumulated over the duration of one’s reading. There is nothing more satisfying than putting the pieces altogether and let them crumble with precision. All those welled-up emotions now bloom into catharsis.

Eustia has a chord of hope in these pessimistic times. The mystic art known as survival should not be branded as that Darwinian tagline, “survival of the fittest”. It is an art form. Without it, we will not be able to alleviate this crushing pressure that seeks to destroy our fragile souls. Survival is not a war fought by enemies but friends. We fight by our oaths and allegiance to beliefs, not hatred or despair.

And once we have fought well shall we rest peacefully on a bed of asphodels and let our body be embraced by the better angels of our nature. Everyone welcomes a happy ending.

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