Rage games are a sort of visceral fun, aren’t they? Games intentionally made difficult to test the player’s skill and anger management abilities. Games that you keep playing because of that deep desire inherent in all gamers to not let the game be better than you. You have to beat it, and you will continue forever until you do. Accomplishing a game that is frustrating and challenging, but still inspires players to keep trying is an art in itself. Do it the wrong way, though, and you end up with a game that doesn’t leave players angry to the point they need to defeat the game to show it who the true master is, but just disappointed with the experience. That latter is the unfortunate place EPΘCH finds itself in.
EPΘCH (not to be confused with the iOS game EPOCH) is a fantasy game that advertises itself as a Zelda, Metroidvania, and Dark Souls inspired co-op or solo RPG, is exactly as described. You can see all the inspirations in the gameplay and design, and it’s obvious that it was made to appeal to a nostalgia factor. The graphics are in a pixelated style very reminiscent of A Link to the Past. The mechanics have aspects of all three. There are several things off about the combination, and the first was the difficulty. Very faithful to its inspiration Dark Souls, the game is quite punishing. There aren’t many checkpoints normally, and certain sections have none at all, so when you die you have to go back in and just keep trying. Much of it is trial and error, but eventually you’ll get through it and figure out the strategies you need.
The difficulty just seems unnecessary in part, or sometimes as a result of the controls. The map and interactions are very much like classic Zelda, and you can move freely instead of on a grid, but it feels somewhat slippery, and the dungeons often feel so small and cramped by comparison. To attack you have to click your mouse but also aim it, and it took me a long time to figure out that you can’t just hold your mouse over an enemy. You have to hold it past them, a fairly considerable amount. This might just be a bug, but if you try to hold it directly in front of your character and attack, your sword will often flail around somewhere else, possibly because your cursor is just too close to the character to pick up where you’re targeting. There are supposedly other bugs like this, but stuff like that just makes an already challenging game more annoying.
A hard game isn’t any excuse, though. Just because a game is difficult doesn’t make it bad. The issue is when a difficult game is also just plain boring. Even with all the nostalgia, I just couldn’t get into it. The graphical style doesn’t have any of the charms of the original Legend of Zelda games, the difficulty and Dark Souls-esque mechanics were more annoying than a worthy challenge. Nothing stood out about the game or made it particularly special. There is the co-op mode, but I couldn’t do anything with it because I don’t know anyone who plays the game, and it’s hard to find public servers when it’s near impossible to even find the Steam page through Google. That wouldn’t fix the boredom problem, though. The game as played in single player doesn’t seem to lend itself to multiplayer much aside from the obvious RPG elements, but there are far more fun games to play with friends or solo that are naturally more interesting.
The most interesting part of EPΘCH was a handful of NPCs (especially Dood. I liked Dood. Don’t think anyone could not like Dood actually) and the Essence system. While exploring the dungeons, forests, and what have you, you will occasionally find an Essence, the life essence and final words of someone who has fallen. Collecting these gives you new abilities and Skill Points to upgrade your abilities and characteristics. This method of upgrading skills is kind of weird, functioning more as a free upgrade system than any sort of skill tree. However, the concept seems solid, harkening back to the Souls system in Dark Souls. That isn’t enough to keep me coming back, especially since you don’t know what’s going on either. The story is told in increments, as with many games of this type. So you start off with some vague encouragement from a few NPCs you don’t know and then slowly learn more from the Essences over time. However, you don’t know the people behind the Essences either. The environment doesn’t tell much of a story either so you’re left with a very generic feeling RPG setting and there isn’t much that motivates you to keep going.
This could just be me of course. If you can get a handle on the combat and find yourself enjoying that aspect, you can likely overlook it and enjoy EPΘCH. But the story is such an integral part of any RPG that having such a vague reason to go on adds to the frustration of the difficulty and what you’re left with is not really any anger. That is the strangest part. I was never really mad at this game. Just mildly annoyed. When something makes you angry, you’re going to want to do better to prove that it is wrong. No game, you will not beat me. I am the master, without me, you do not exist! I will play this level until I prove that to you.
When a game is simply annoying and doesn’t elicit any strong feelings, it just makes you want to turn the game off and play something else.
So I couldn’t get through it. Objectively I can’t call it a bad game since I didn’t see all the content it has to offer, but I can objectively say that it couldn’t hold my attention. Maybe it’s just not the game for me, and you still find from this description that you might enjoy it, but it made me ache to play the games it was inspired by more than anything, which isn’t the worst thing ever since its inspirations are fantastic games we should all replay. To be fair, this game was made by a single person, which is always an impressive feat. Making a game, especially an RPG, from the ground up, is daunting no matter what kind of graphics you elect to use, and I applaud the creators for taking the plunge and coming out with a game that at the very least feels complete. Try it out at your own discretion.
EPΘCH was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.