When someone near me utters the phrase “typing game,” images of 90s era edutainment games flash before my eyes, complete with brightly colored snowboards and slightly outdated slang. As fun (and occasionally instructive) as those were, few of us likely have a desire to return to them, even if doing so would improve our typing skills tenfold. You can only look at neon X-treme sports equipment for so long before butterfly clips and snap bracelets begin to appear on your body, and it’s best not to risk it with things like that.
However, Epistory – Typing Chronicles contains zero sideways baseball hats and skateboards. Instead, it features a beautiful folded paper world, excellent typing challenges, and adaptive narration in the vein of Bastion.
As you move around the world, typing your way past enemies and obstacles, the voice of the narrator follows you. If you decide not to explore a certain area or fail to stroll down a path in the woods, you might miss a snippet of narration or a brief, scrawled thought from the protagonist. While this style of narration and the literal unfolding of the world very much give the impression of the story being written as you go, Epistory’s narrative structure also stumbles in keeping some of the unfortunate realities of the writing process intact in the gameplay.
Depending on which way you walk in the origami-like world, you might get pieces of the story out of order, or you might go along for a long time without hearing any narration at all. While these are things that commonly happen during the creation of a story, it felt a bit awkward playing through it. After all, those are the low points of writing; you generally do your best to avoid them.
One of the fascinating things about adaptive narration is that it can be used to make the player feel as though they are truly crafting the story as they go along. Nothing makes a player feel more like they have agency than taking some action (such as smashing a crate or opening a chest) and hearing their endeavor described by the narrative, whether written or spoken aloud. If Epistory had executed a smoother flow of words and prose it would have allowed players to be immersed in the story without distraction, the way other games with adaptive narration such as Bastion and Transistor do.
What I felt was a much stronger and more innovative expression of narrative in Epistory was the words that the player typed throughout the game. By grouping the words in each section according to a different theme, a real sense of what the protagonist was going through emerged, and would have been able to tell the story effectively even without the voiced narration.
Just as students are told that taking notes helps reinforce what they are learning, typing certain words over and over effectively drove home the themes of Epistory. Since all actions in Epistory are done through typing, this “word cluster” method of storytelling was extremely well integrated with the gameplay. Since the word clusters worked so well, the adaptive voice over narration ended up seeming redundant and disconnected from the game mechanics.
Though Epistory – Typing Chronicles was certainly not perfect from a narrative standpoint, I enjoyed seeing a new and interesting way of telling a story through clustered words. It’s always exciting to see innovations like this and to see developers pushing outside the boundaries of traditional storytelling. I hope to see more of it in the future.