Alicesoft was a developer that wasn’t really on my radar before I played the English releases of Rance 5D and Rance VI, and chances are if you haven’t explored eroge in any great detail you may not be overly familiar with them either.
However, between the Rance games and my experiences with Evenicle so far, I’m very comfortable with saying that they are an excellent developer that any fans of high-quality enjoyable RPGs with interesting mechanics, solid narratives and extremely memorable characters would do well to check out. Particularly if you’re keen for your games to actually treat you like an adult — and I’m not just talking about sexual content here.
So what is Evenicle? Let’s take a closer look.
The development history of Evenicle is nowhere near as well-documented as that of AliceSoft’s flagship Rance series, unfortunately, but it is nonetheless noteworthy for a few reasons.
Firstly, its 2015 Japanese release saw it become one of AliceSoft’s most well-received non-Rance games since 2008’s Daiakuji. You may recall that Daiakuji is the game that is most commonly celebrated as reversing the company’s ailing fortunes after three failed attempts at making a fifth Rance game, so it was a significant milestone in AliceSoft’s history. And as such, hearing Evenicle compared favourably to it is likewise significant; any time a developer primarily known for one big series finds success with something from outside that series, it’s worth paying attention to.
Secondly is the fact that Evenicle draws on the talents of one Nan Yaegashi for its character designs and extremely distinctive look. A distinctive look that you might recognise, in fact, since Yaegashi is also responsible for the character designs and overall visual aesthetic of Kenichiro Takaki’s popular Senran Kagura series. His use of vibrant colours and flat shading is immediately recognisable; there’s an almost palpably “soft” feeling about his art that is immensely pleasing to look at and immediately eye-catching.
Many people only know Yaegashi for his work on Senran Kagura due to that being a series that has enjoyed a certain amount of (relatively) mainstream success, so seeing his work on a full 18+ eroge will doubtless be eye-opening if this has been your sole exposure to his work. This is far from his first adults-only rodeo, however; besides everyone’s favourite well-endowed ninja girls, he’s also worked with visual novel studio Circus (under the pen name Mochi Chinochi) as an artist on, among other things, the Da Capo series, and his art also made a guest appearance in strategy RPG eroge Eiyu*Senki GOLD. Back in the all-ages space, he also contributed some “special guest CG” art to fighting game BlazBlue: Central Fiction.
The third reason Evenicle is noteworthy is the fact it demonstrates localisation specialist MangaGamer’s continued commitment to bringing AliceSoft’s most well-regarded games to the West — and not just the Rance titles, either. Import gamers enthused passionately about Evenicle upon its original release, so it was clear there was a market for an English language version; okay, it took a good three years to make it over here, but we got it in the end, and that’s something to be celebrated.
So Evenicle’s credentials are certainly in order. How is the game itself? Well, at the time of writing I can only comment on the early hours, so this is strictly a case of “first impressions” at this point. But so far I’m very impressed; in terms of style, slickness and overall “enjoyment” the game compares very favourably to the Rance games I had the pleasure of playing last year. And from what I understand its gameplay is somewhat akin to what we can expect from Rance Quest Magnum, the eighth game in the series that, as I type this, MangaGamer is also working on a localisation of.
The first thing to note for those who are less familiar with AliceSoft’s work is that Evenicle, like Rance, is a full-on role-playing game, not a visual novel with a fantasy theme. This may seem obvious to some of you, but I know I certainly went into my first AliceSoft games last year expecting them to be rather more… visual novel-y. This isn’t to say they’re light on story or anything, mind you — just that they keep the pace up nicely and provide plenty of opportunity to explore interesting gameplay systems and mechanics as well as character interactions and overall narrative.
In Evenicle, you take on the role of a young man named Asterisk, typically referred to simply as Aster. Aster grew up in the middle of nowhere with no parents, instead raised by the twin girls next door who he came to think of as his “sisters” of sorts. I say “of sorts”, because he also very much wants to have sex with them. He’s no Rance, though — at least partly because the world of Evenicle is dominated by strictly enforced divine law that states a person may only enjoy sexual congress with one person: the person that they marry. Anyone who breaches this law — or indeed any of the other commandments set by “Mother Eve” — becomes an Outlaw with a black ring on their finger, doomed to be forever ostracised by society and unable to grow or raise anything.
There’s a loophole, though: the Knights that protect the land are, according to their rank, allowed to marry more than one person — the theory being that anyone admirable enough to become a Knight should be encouraged to procreate as much as possible. Since he is unable to choose between his two adoptive sisters, Aster reaches the entirely logical and not at all irrational conclusion that if he wants to do them both, he’ll have to become a Knight. And so it is that he wakes up on the shore of a new land having accidentally fallen asleep while attempting to swim from his home island to the capital city.
As you can probably infer from all this, Evenicle is not a game that takes itself altogether seriously — but this most certainly doesn’t mean that it is in any way shallow fluff. Much like the Rance series, many of whose installments may initially appear to be on similarly shaky narrative ground were you to read a synopsis of the setup, Evenicle cleverly subverts your expectations by delivering not only an enjoyable and amusing tale of a perverted eroge protagonist, but also a more thoughtful narrative set within a well-crafted world; a story that genuinely has something to say.
It’s clear from the early hours that at least part of Evenicle’s main narrative is going to deal with the problems that overly strict adherence to religious dogma brings with it. An early quest sees you meeting a young woman beloved by her community for the cows she raises and the excellent milk they produce, but she ends up abducted by a group of Outlaws based near to her home town, and she is gang-raped before Aster and Ramius, the local Knight, are able to rescue her. Because, in the eyes of “Mother Eve”, this means she has had multiple sexual partners outside of wedlock, she, too, becomes an Outlaw, forever unable to return to her old life.
This is, of course, completely unfair, but to a certain degree it mirrors a number of regrettable real-world influences and practices — most notably the concepts of “victim blaming” and of rules being enforced (often in a punitive manner) regardless of the context in which they were “broken”. Even in these early hours of the game, we see people acknowledging the fact that yes, the way things are done in situations like this is unfair — but it’s the way things have “always” been for most people, and so no-one feels willing (or able) to stand up against them, particularly when the reward for staying within those rules (“Mother Eve’s blessing”) is seen as such a positive thing.
It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this angle of the narrative develops as the story progresses; Aster, I get the impression, is not someone who takes unfair situations all that lightly, and so I anticipate there will be a certain amount of tension in this regard throughout the narrative. I’m looking forward to it.
In gameplay terms, Evenicle primarily unfolds from a top-down perspective with an abstract-scale overworld map, discrete dungeons and menu-driven towns. Moving around on the map causes an “encounter bar” in the upper left of the screen to gradually fill up; when this hits its maximum, a battle ensues. The speed at which this fills up varies according to the “safety” of the terrain on which Aster is moving; staying on paths and roads Zelda II-style causes it to fill more slowly, while going off the beaten track or into forests makes it fill up a bit more quickly.
There are a few twists on this format, too. Glowing red spiky balls on the map represent enemy encounters in which you earn 1.5x the normal amount of experience, and regions such as forests often have hard-to-see clouds of black mist floating around in them, triggering a battle against a tough enemy. At predefined locations around the world, there are also “Megamonsters” that are significantly more powerful than normal enemies; these are essentially optional boss fights, and attaining 100% completion on the game involves tracking all of them down and adding a record of their defeat to your “Collection”.
As the game progresses, there are also other aspects to the Collection, too. Scattered around the world are a hundred scenic viewpoints, for example, with each giving you a little snippet of background information about the world or just a humorous mini-scene. As Aster adds new party members, there are also “flirting” events around the place to trigger and, like Rance VI, you later acquire the ability to capture “Gal Monsters” and add them to the Collection, too.
One particularly nice thing about Evenicle is its customisability. This is true both in terms of the game’s core mechanics and the way it presents its information to you. In the former case, characters acquire new skills from treasure chests, levelling up and completing sidequests, and these can be equipped according to how many skill points the character has available, with this number increasing at certain level milestones. Some of these skills are used in battle, while others are utilitarian in nature; Aster learns an automapping ability early on, for example, but this takes a skill point to equip, so you are free to try and get by without it if you wish.
In the latter case, meanwhile, a really nice touch is that you can choose several options from the game’s main menu to add to a “hotbar” at the bottom of the screen for easy access, saving you a click or two to, say, get to your inventory, the Collection or the save screen. It’s a little thing, but it’s very convenient indeed.
Battles are turn-based and feature a visible turn order, allowing you to plan ahead. The various skills you have equipped each cost varying amounts of “BP” to trigger, with BP recharging at a rate of one per turn. You can always use a normal attack, defend or flee with no BP. Many skills have a combination of effects; simple ones might provide a multiplier to basic damage and additional damage to a particular enemy type, while others might trigger a basic attack and buff the user at the same time. Setting up a good “deck” of skills is evidently going to become important as the game progresses.
Much like the Rance games, levelling up is not an automatic process. Instead, you bank experience points and then cash this in for levels either by visiting a level shop in a town or by making use of a levelling ticket while out in the wild. Taking the latter choice upsets Aster’s personal “level up person” Sora (a take on Rance’s “Level Gods”) but it does allow you to gain levels while out and about without having to make your way back to the nearest town.
Equipment is handled in quite an interesting way. Loot acquired from monsters will never be completely new equipment, but instead just slightly better versions of what you currently have equipped, perhaps with additional secondary stats or increased basic effectiveness, represented via a “+[x]” modifier. In order to “unlock” new equipment to loot, you have to actually buy weapons and armour from shops and equip it, at which point monsters will start having a chance of dropping improved versions of the new gear. An exception to this is each character’s “item” slot into which they can equip various peculiar items, each of which carries some sort of passive benefit; since these don’t have discrete “tiers” in the same way as weapons and armour they can simply be found as loot around the world.
I’m just a few hours in so far, but the game as a whole has already intrigued me with its mechanics, its setting, its story and its characters. I can already tell I’m going to have a good time with this — and I’m looking forward to exploring it with you further over the course of the coming month.
More about Evenicle
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