Of the many words you’ll have to type throughout Epistory - Typing Chronicles, “gimmick” is conspicuously not one of them. The game attempts to do for isometric action RPGs what The Typing of the Dead did for light-gun shooters, but succeeds only on the most fundamental level, in that combat is handled via keyboard. However, no reason is given as to why our female, fox-riding protagonist casts attack spells by typing out the words that appear above each insectine enemy. Battles have no strategy or variety; they’re just a question of how quickly players can type the limited number of vocabulary words associated with each enemy, from the one-lettered gnats to the giant snakes who have 40-character words straight out of Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. There’s no context to these fights, which means the majority of the game relies on the rote writing of random words. This barebones, too-literal welding of typing mechanics to the action-adventure genre lacks the playfulness and subversion of a title like Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing.
In the more exploratory, battle-free sections, Epistory is slightly more creative, though ultimately just as repetitive. Inanimate obstacles are labeled by what they are, like DOLOMITE or QUARTZ rocks and ASH and ELM logs; accordingly, this gives these objects more of a physical identity in the world. There’s a sense of discovery to some of the game’s words as well: A thornbush must be burnt down, but until the elemental language of FIRE is learned, untypable runes are what appear. Sadly, this novelty is fast-fleeting. Once players acquire the proper spells, the translated words are just more of the same: dull, color-coded alphanumerics to be methodically, meaninglessly typed. A story is interesting because of the specific sequence of words, the stirrings of plot. Strip that out, as Epistory has, and this might as well be a game about monkeys sitting at typewriters attempting to randomly peck out Hamlet.
The game gets lost in metonymy, the act of substituting a label for something of a real substance or meaning.
The more that Epistory manages to step away from the repetitious typing, then, or to at least tie its mechanics more directly to the in-game world’s physical properties, the more the gameplay springs to life. The appropriation of Tearaway’s aesthetic—a world made up of papery scraps—fits the loose, allegorical narrative, which seems to be telling the story of a brain-injured girl who’s slowly piecing her world (and language) back together. The more the girl types and defines things, the more “inspiration” she earns, an in-game currency that can be redeemed to unfurl new locations on the initially barren map, such as a series of icy catacombs or the vast steamworks of Creation City, with its web of steel scaffolding and spark-powered engines. While combat remains the same throughout the game, these areas at least offer unique puzzles, like crank-operated bridges that are extended by repeated, sequential keystrokes (like ASDFASDFASDF) or bioluminescent shards whose words must constantly be retyped in order to keep the cavern well-lit.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but as Epistory continues to heap words atop its scenery, those pictures are diminished, especially since these words are just words. They don’t contribute to a plot that ties things together, nor do they provide a compelling reason to seek out all the treasures scattered across the game’s worlds or to clear out the optional enemy nests. Instead of dealing with the actual horrors of, say, aphasia, Epistory gets lost in metonymy, the act of substituting a label for something of a real substance or meaning. The game is a self-proclaimed chronicle, which sets it closer to being the diluted record of a quest than an adventure in of itself.