Euphoria’s reputation precedes itself. Its hardcore content makes many potential readers balk. As a result, it’s not a universally beloved VN. However, those who do love it, love it a lot. People literally cried tears of joy at MangaGamer’s Otakon 2014 panel when they announced their localization. But isn’t this just some rape-themed nukige? What do all of the fans see in this? As it turns out, there is much more to this visual novel than meets the eye.
Euphoria opens with our protagonist, Keisuke, waking up alone in a featureless white room. Upon exploring his surroundings, he finds six other people in an identical predicament, all of them women. All seven of them are trapped in this facility and their only means of escape is to follow the rules of the game laid out for them. Thus the stage is set. The rules are as follows: The women are designated as keyholes, and Keisuke is the unlocker. There are five doors leading out of the facility, and to unlock each one Keisuke must commit a designated sex act on the “keyhole” of his choosing.
Before we proceed any further, I must lay this out very clearly. This eroge has over fifty h-scenes, and many of them are very graphic. As I said in the opening paragraph, the content can be extreme. There is rape, there is bondage, there is sexual slavery, and there is scat. Coprophagia, even. Now I’ll tell you what isn’t there: guro. This is a misconception that I’ve seen in many places. While there is gore, it is never fetishized. And while there is also scat, it’s not a prominent feature of the h-scenes, as there are only a few that contain it. There are also toggles for whether or not you want non-scat CG variants, as well as a gore toggle. This level of customization is one of euphoria‘s strong points.
The VN opens with a shock, figuratively and literally. One of the female players immediately rejects the game being forced upon her and is sentenced to death for it. The execution is via electric chair, and this death is presented for all other players to see. It is here that euphoria shows its bristles in an attempt to scare off any unsuspecting readers. The scene is surprisingly lengthy and detailed as they narrate her long, loud, and agonizing death. This scene serves as a gatekeeper guarding the rest of the VN’s dark and sometimes grisly content. If you can’t endure it, you’re encouraged to get out while you can. If you can endure it, however, you’re ready for anything else euphoria has to throw at you. I found this opening event to actually be its single most discomforting scene.
Indeed, the rest of the VN is not quite as extreme as many people seem to expect. If you go into it looking for something equivalent to a Black Cyc title you may leave disappointed. This isn’t even Empress (Starless) levels of extreme content. Instead, euphoria caters to a staggering range of fetishes. The bulk of the sexual content actually falls on the tamer end of the spectrum. Tickle play, footjobs, blowjobs, paraphilic infantilism, rope bondage, and boobjobs are some examples of what you can expect. There are even several purely vanilla romantic sex scenes. The point I’m trying to get across here is that if you think you can tolerate a little bit of extreme content and brutality, then you should be willing to open your mind a little and give euphoria a shot.
Going back to the story, at this point we are pretty well acclimated to the surviving players. Kanae Hokari is Keisuke’s kind and caring childhood friend, Rika Makiba is the bratty kouhai and fellow member of their school’s astronomy club with Keisuke and Kanae, Rinne Byakuya is the calm and stoic girl from the class next door, Natsuki Aoi is the sociable but unassertive English teacher, and Nemu Makaba is the cunning and conniving unapproachable beauty. Euphoria scrutinizes each and every one of its characters’ personalities, picking out their flaws and putting them on display. It’s in part a case study on the character traits and situations that lead to submissive and dominant personalities. The well-written and convincing dialogue carries this part of the VN. Each character completely owns their personality type, and their interactions with Keisuke become more fascinating the more and more you select them for the game. The most central of these interactions are those between Nemu and Keisuke. You see, Keisuke holds a dark secret. He fetishizes violence, rape, and degradation, and fantasizes about them on a regular basis. Nemu learns of this secret early and uses it to control him for her own cryptic purposes.
This is where euphoria gets its story. The mysteries of who is running this game, and for what purpose the players have been assembled, are almost immaterial to the happenings in the white facility. The real story is about Keisuke and his desperate attempt to keep his secret intact and desires in check so he can maintain his ordinary everyday life, while being drawn over to the dark side by the immoral acts he’s forced to commit. He is far from an unwilling subject, he thoroughly enjoys and revels in the debauchery of the game he’s being forced to play. This internal struggle of his is one I find relatable, as it represents the hypocrisies we all possess and live with in our daily lives. Nemu wants him to let loose and embrace his darkest desires, and Keisuke quite frankly doesn’t know what he wants. For him, it’s a precarious balancing act up until the moment they leave the facility.
Their escape from the facility is provided in a desperate and climactic manner that will rapidly get your blood pumping. And once they take those first steps outside, you realize things have only just begun. For the truth of the matter is that euphoria is a far bigger title than it at first seems. These are perhaps minor spoilers, but I cannot in good faith write a review without bringing it up. Euphoria brings us to a new, larger environment with bigger stakes, more players, and a new set of rules. New themes are introduced, ranging from tyrannical oppression to religious zealotry, and many characters take on whole new roles. The action is thrilling. New mysteries are introduced that will completely hook you. But this is also where the VN starts its slow backslide into the overly convoluted mess it eventually becomes.
Euphoria tries to do too much at once, and it breaks down when all of its moving pieces start to clash with one another. New mysteries are introduced more rapidly than answers to the old ones are given. The answers they do give sometimes feel unsatisfactory, and the characters’ motivations seem almost impenetrable. Earlier sections of the story feel at odds with what they try to accomplish later. Eventually these sudden twists and turns get justified, but they don’t do this until very late in the story. Until this point you’re left flapping in the wind, grasping at straws. Some of the character routes also feel extraneous, and two of them share perhaps a little too much content. This isn’t quite as bad as it might seem. Many of the moment-to-moment story beats are compelling. People who enjoy being mindscrewed will also get their fill. And to euphoria‘s credit, its final climactic moments are pretty thrilling and put a satisfying conclusion to the story. But when I go back and analyze things, I can’t help but notice the important plot threads that were left abandoned and hanging in the process. Possibly the most prominent example that comes to mind is Keisuke’s aforementioned internal struggle with his inner demons. At some point they simply stop bringing this up. Maybe he just got over it without us noticing? It’s things like this that hamper the genuine enjoyment I’ve felt throughout many parts of the visual novel.
On the technical side of things, euphoria is a very well put-together product. It’s highly configurable and able to cater to your specific tastes or distastes. You can disable gory art, scat, “orgasm facial expressions” (or “ahegaos“), and the various event cut-ins. They also give you a number of features for better h-scene viewing. There is a “synchronized finish” function if you want to time your climax with the in-game climaxes. You also can zoom in on and pan around CGs by closing the text box and using the mouse wheel. You can manipulate and lock the position of the text box as well. The biggest omission from modern visual novels is the lack of a jump back function in the backlog.
The art is also quite good. The character designs are surprisingly cute for such a dark story. This is likely done on purpose, the characters’ cute and innocent appearance is made to be in stark contrast to the horrible acts they’re forced to commit, giving an increased sense of defilement and breakdown of their moral code. Unlike Clock Up’s previous work Eroge!, the coloring is more subdued and the characters give off less of a glossy feel. The white tiled backgrounds are plain but fitting for the setting. It may not be the most detailed art, but I found it highly effective. While the art is solid, the music is pretty average. Some of the tracks are good at setting the proper mood, but many others are simple and forgettable.
For all the talk of the story in this review, it’s undeniable that euphoria is a highly eroticized work. The VN is peppered with h-scenes throughout almost the entirety of it, and they nail a huge spectrum of fetishes in the process. Not every scene is going to work for everyone, but each scene caters to their respective fetishes very well. You can’t say Clock Up doesn’t know their fetishes, they are on top of their game as always in this regard. The bondage scenes, the more hardcore rape scenes, and even the handful of scat scenes all do a good job at what they’re setting out to do. The exception is perhaps the romantic vanilla sex scenes. Clock Up seemingly forgot to dial it back down, and the end result is that these scenes are often unconvincing, and you get some of the most intense missionary sex you’ll ever see.
When all’s said and done, I enjoyed my time with euphoria. Once you see the “real” euphoria, it gets its hooks in you and doesn’t let go. It is an intriguing, thought-provoking, and exciting experience that doesn’t pull any punches, and I can see why euphoria has been able to build such an ardent following around it. I can now say beyond a doubt that euphoria’s story is a deep and complex web that overshadows its plentiful and extreme erotic content. However, it’s also the type of story where if you poke and prod at it too much, it starts to fall apart. If you’re the type who can ignore these faults then you will thoroughly enjoy it. I couldn’t avert my eyes, however, and as a result, euphoria’s clumsy storytelling prevents it from being great. Despite that, it was a memorable experience that I don’t regret my time with.
Review submitted by Decay. He does stuff for the Fuwazette, too; be sure to check him out!
Review Key kindly provided by Mangagamer. Thank you!