As the old saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword. Epistory: Typing Chronicles takes this old adage quite literally by centering every aspect—from its setting to its mechanics—around pen and paper. Made by Fishing Cactus, the game focuses on a woman and her struggle with writer’s block. Ensconced within this narrative frame is another story: that of a girl and her giant fox fighting insectile corruption within a magical world. As this story rather literally unfolds from paper, both fiction and reality become intertwined in surprising ways.
As a typing game, Epistory is both novel and well-executed. Enemies are defeated by typing the words above their heads; “tougher” enemies come equipped with numerous, increasingly complex words. Environmental debris can be cleared in a similar fashion, though their words cheekily reference their surroundings. Exploring the world unlocks elemental powers, and players can alternate between these powers during combat by typing “fire,” “ice,” or other similar terms. Doing so gives any subsequently typed words a certain effect. While the fire skill is active, for example, the enemy burns after a successfully typed word and turns the next word to ash. Colored words above some enemies indicate that they’re only susceptible to specific abilities, which adds another layer of complexity to combat.
The importance of typing—and typing well, at that— is underscored by the inclusion of an alternative control scheme. This scheme, unlike the traditional WASD, allows players to keep their fingers poised near the home keys. I’ll admit that I immediately forgot these new controls. As a writer and PhD Candidate, I assumed that Epistory’s typing would pose little to no challenge to me (or my vocabulary, for that matter).
I was wrong.
I first suspected that the game had figured me out when I typed “dissertate” to vanquish a spider. From that point on, the words appearing above tougher enemies began to test the limits of my lexicon. This was thanks to an adaptive difficulty setting, which changes the complexity of the words and number of enemies based on player performance. Though I still rarely died, this setting resulted in satisfactorily challenging gameplay. I found my fingers flying faster than my thoughts, tapping out enemy words before I’d consciously taken note of them.
Epistory’s setting meshes seamlessly with its adulation of words. The entire world is comprised of books and paper. New areas literally unfold like origami from blank sheets of paper. Both the fox and the girl look as though they, too, are the result of meticulous paper craft. Bright colors and stark shadows emphasize the texture of every surface and fold. I could easily envision how the world would feel, all coarse paper and creased edges beneath my fingertips.
As players explore the different realms, spoken narrative appears on the landscape and fills the pages with words. I was often struck by the clever playfulness with which these words decorated the scenery. At times, they subtly provided me with direction; their presence often indicated that I was on the right path or gave me clues about where to go next. At other points, the words provided comfort or encouragement, playing with landscape and alliteration alike to bring the story to life. The voice work is simply compelling, nailing both the tonal heft of an epic story but also the vulnerability of its author.
I did encounter a few rough patches during my play through, however. There were moments when enemy animations glitched, causing them to linger onscreen a touch too long after dying. I also found that fast, single-letter enemies caused some complications. If one of their letters coincided with the first letter of an ability, the game anticipated that I was changing skills rather than attacking a small enemy, and so it wouldn’t recognize any other keystrokes until I finished typing the ability word or hit backspace to opt out. I adapted to using backspace regularly once I realized what was occurring, but it still felt like an unnecessary complication (especially in a game where one touch from an enemy is lethal).
Epistory is a delightful little game overall. I found myself exploring every nook and cranny of its paper world, determined to unveil the real story lurking between the pages. In the process, I discovered an uplifting, whimsical tale with surprisingly addictive gameplay. Thoughtful details like the adaptive difficulty and fast-paced combat make the gameplay fun for both novice typists and professional writers alike.
This review is based on Steam code sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.