Hello everyone, Laevatein here, and this will be my first VN review in a long time. Aselia the Eternal, known as Eien no Aselia, was released by Xuse in Japan back in 2003, was translated by Dakkodango Translations in 2010, but eventually received an official US release two years ago by JAST’s Densetsu branch. Aselia the Eternal is unique among visual novels for featuring gameplay elements.
By gameplay elements, I’m not referring to just making choices or playing minigames (though there are plenty of choices). Aselia the Eternal contains a full blown strategy campaign that feels like a cross between Fire Emblem and Risk or Total War. With the story that works its way into greatness, and a surprising amount of gameplay and story integration, Aselia is a rather surprising gem among visual novels.
Aselia the Eternal initially starts off in a normal Japanese school setting. The main character, Yuuto, works hard to ensure he can live a stable life with his sister, since the two of them live alone after their parents died years back. Soon enough, Yuuto, his sister, and a few of his friends get transported to a fantasy world which bares little resemblance to the world he calls home. In this new world, Yuuto’s sister is held hostage by the king of a country and he is forced to use his strength as an outsider (called an Etranger in-universe) to lead their armies of Spirits against other kingdoms.
Though the plot takes a while to get going, the slow parts of the plot are on their own quite competent. Many elements of the early plot are established that seek to turn “transported to a whole new world” cliches on their heads, and in my mind, they do a great job of it. A painstaking amount of detail went into designing the language used in the fantasy world, and though it took a long time, Yuuto’s inability to grasp it quickly enough felt very fitting. Soon enough, the plot picks up the pace, soon developing into all-out war, while keeping its subversion of fantasy elements. Beyond a certain point in the story, it’s hard not to be engaged with what’s occurring.
Characterization, on the other hand, starts out a bit cliche, which is bizarre considering how subversive the plot can be. You have Yuuto, who is essentially a fish out of water. Unlike most of the other characters, he has understandable qualms about killing other people in warfare, as well as a rather unhealthy love for his sister. Aselia, one of the Spirits, is a cold-looking girl who is unopposed to killing and warfare, and her counterpart, Esperia, who is sweet and kind to Yuuto, but is also not mindful of warfare.
Other characters, such as the little Spirit Oruphaliru (quite a mouthful, so usually shortened to Orpha), who treats Yuuto as an awesome older brother, but actually revels in bloodshed. While I wasn’t too fond of Yuuto’s interactions with the other characters come across as pretty well done, from the camaraderie he shares with his army, to the new-founded awkwardness he experiences with his friends, who have also been thrust into similar situations, character interactions soon develop quite brilliantly.
As mentioned, the gameplay feels like a cross between Fire Emblem and Risk or Total War. Squads, consisting of one character in the offense position, one character in the defense position, and one character in the support position, move around the map one space per turn. The player can command up to four squads, which should be used effectively to take down other enemy squads, capture neutral and enemy cities and resourcs, and assault enemy capitals. Each spirit (or Etranger) has skills for each position, which will activate when needed. Battles between squads play out automatically, where the attacker will attack the defender (or other units if there is no defender or if the defender has been slain), the defender will try to keep the squad safe from enemy attacks, while the support cast spells that have a variety of effects, such as offensive magic that can hit the entire squad, support magic that can raise resistances, or healing magic.
Spirits are divided into different colors, which denote what position they have an affinity for. Blue Spirits prefer offense, Green Spirits prefer defense, and Red Spirits prefer support. Black Spirits and Etrangers don’t fit fit into this paradigm, but can generally fulfill any role. In fact, it’s not necessary for a Spirit to fill a role they have an affinity for; in fact, you’re often encouraged to switch positions if you want to achieve victory. These elements, along with permanent death, and management of towns, buildings, and resources, create an environment that asks for a good deal of strategy to achieve victory.
Unfortunately, I found the gameplay not entirely perfect. The field of play starts as the entire kingdom, and soon grows to contain the entire continent. While this makes for an impressive field of scope, it can severely throttle the speed of the gameplay, as you may need to cross half the kingdom to reach the action. Additionally, it seems pretty easy to screw up character development and town building, which is jarring, since building in certain ways, like constructing high-level towers (which boost attack and defense while in town), can make the game remarkably easy. I fear it may be easy to throw off the balance entirely, which may make Aselia much less exciting. I also found the art and music not too great, but those didn’t hamper my enjoyment much.
What I found best of all was the substantial levels of integration between story and gameplay. Characters have stats that determine both performance in battle and whether you unlock certain scenes or even entire routes. Certain stats raise and lower depending on how many units they kill, who they’re grouped up with, and certain other abilities, in addition to dialogue choices you pick in the story sequences. These stats can determine how characters develop when they level up, determine which main route you will stay on, and if they go too low, may even cause them to permanently die. These two stats are important to look out for, and will cause you to consider how battles will go for you when making choices in the story, and vice versa. If nothing else, I found Xuse’s efforts in tying the gameplay into the story their strongest effort when creating this game.
Overall, Xuse’s Aselia the Eternal is a great little strategy VN, with a gripping plot, compelling character dynamics, and strategic gameplay. Though it has some missteps here and there, Xuse also succeeds at strongly combining a strategy game and a VN narrative in intricately believable ways.
– Subversive fantasy plot is highly intense.
– Character interactions are diverse and very believable.
– Gameplay has enough depth to satiate fans of strategy games.
– Excellent degree of integration between plot and gameplay.
– Plot takes a while to get going.
– Characterization starts out a little cliche.
– Interactions between Yuuto and his sister feel underwhelming.
– Art and music are mediocre.
– Easy to make the game either much harder or much easier for yourself without even realizing it.
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