Eustia is not a work which does any one part excellently – it only does everything greatly. For that reason, it’s one of the best works out there.
This article was originally written on 7/28/2014. May contain conceptual/structural spoilers.I endear the visual novel as a medium. I believe that the medium’s primary strength lies within its immersion and characterization; anime may be able to provide the characters with more life, and a light novel, may be able to meticulously construct a world held together by idiosyncratic, arcane mechanics, but on the topic of characterization, a visual novel is nonpareil in what it does. Nonetheless, despite this inherent strength, a visual novel suffers from numerous crippling weaknesses. The most blatant would be in length — while modern physics posit that time dilation occurs only in the vicinity of areas of high mass or speed, I’d be enthused to posit that by playing a visual novel, an individual is absorbed to the point of forgetting the hour, and often, the day of the week. With that given, it’s no surprise that a typical visual novel takes an estimated fifteen or more hours to complete.
Yet, despite the daunting length of the medium, once you get to a certain point, reading becomes as much of a bliss as breathing is natural. You no longer stumble through each and every line, hoping for excitement, or an inevitable, and at times, wishful end to the story. Once you’re immersed into the story, you begin to challenge conventional physics in providing an counterexample to the claim that time dilation exists only near areas of extremity. For most visual novels, their largest weakness is the time it takes to get acclimated to the work. For some acclaimed series, perhaps an average prequel is needed to precede, and to further supplement a renowned sequel. For other series, the requirement is less severe — only two, perhaps three hours. Aiyoku no Eustia is not one of these works. It’s a work which pulls the viewer in from the get-go, like a dark hole everything within its event horizon.
The story is centered within the floating city of Novus Aether. The city’s structure of organization is akin to one you’d find in medieval Europe. The clergy, or more specifically, the Saint is credited with supporting the city from its fall. While the city itself is divided into three regions, the protagonist begins his journey within the “Jail”, the lowest spectrum of the city. With a boundary dividing the jail from the lower and upper parts of the city, the denizens of the prison struggle for survival. Individuals within the upper part of the city derive primarily from nobility, whereas those in the lower-part, a more established bourgeois. At the onset of the story, the prison’s ‘ruling party’ is split into two, whereas the lower and upper parts of the city, are ruled in the name of the King. The protagonist initially begins the story bereft of ambitions, seeking only to continue life as it is, like a leaf flowing at the heed of the river. Nonetheless, as parts of the city adventitiously fall due to earthquakes, the protagonist’s ineptitude for change quakes alongside.
With a setting summary like that, you’d suspect a rather straightforward, conventional story. If that’s what you’re expecting, then you may be dismayed at the story’s frequent penchant for casual, albeit entirely understandable, and perhaps, predictable twists. While admittedly, I may not have seen most of the twists coming; so perhaps like a mystery novel, they’re more obvious in retrospect. But despite a supporting, and able plot, I don’t think that’s the novel’s greatest strength. The novel excels at two, perhaps three areas. The most obvious one is its worldbuilding: within a few minutes, the reader’s entirely immersed into the world. Whether it’d be the work’s fantastic, orchestral soundtrack, which collection boasts sixty-seven tracks over five discs, or whether it’d be the work’s incredible production quality, or its sleek, modern user interface, the reader’s becomes attuned to prison life through the protagonist’s eyes very quickly. If you’re a fan of a traditionally-done, medieval fantasy series, then you shouldn’t be disappointed; despite Eustia’s direction at times, it never strays from its initial intention. If there would be a fault to find with consistency, then perhaps Eustia would be a victim of it; but in this case, it’s not consistently passable, it’s consistently great. To which, it suffers in that it never surprises the viewer with a sublime twist, nor a commendable, finely-done shift in direction or tone. Yet to which, all the same, it never disappoints the viewer; it began with the intention of building a fine castle, and at the end, the viewer got not just another fort, but the intended castle. Throughout the novel itself, the reader witnesses each block being steadily layered with brilliantly-written care and attention. It has its twists, but they stray not from the root of the series, and the work has its moments of sublimity anticipated, not surprised.
The work’s structure of progression is similar to G-Senjou no Maou’s. There’s one giant common route, with a true ending in mind; the reader at the end of each respective segment of the common route [dedicated to a particular heroine], gets to choose between going for the heroine’s end [a fifteen or so minute read; typically includes two h-scenes], or a continuation of the common routes to the eventual true route. After each ending, the player unlocks appendix routes, which include the after stories of the heroines, alternate endings, and physical bonding with other members of the cast. When it comes to the heroine ends, they’re for the most part, saccharine and awful thematically-wise. They’re generally not to be taken as genuine endings, as most of them ignore the plot itself. Despite that, they do a relatively fine job in providing a reader with a ‘happy ending’ to their favorite heroine.
The work’s primary themes include duty and the reason for existence. Each character has a burden of some sort. The protagonist, alongside every denizen of the prison, were born, or forced into the prison, an area laden with strife, disease, and poverty. They had done nothing to have ‘deserved’ the fate. On the other hand, the clergy, and the Saint are tasked with protecting, and ensuring the populace’s peace of mind, despite some members having preferred a simpler life. And of course, the nobles of the city, while they live in luxury, have the duty of ruling, and ensuring protection over the entire populace despite hostilities, thankless contempt, inner conflict, among other problems. The work itself is a clash of duties, or a clash of philosophies; while at the beginning of the story, the story itself may seem simple, with each arc, that notion changes. The majority of the arcs focus on alternate parts of the city; with each arc’s completion, a new party’s introduced. The protagonist begins the story bearing a burden that predates his introduction to the prison; with a duty from the get-go, he struggles in finding a meaning for existence. Throughout the course of the story, he gradually settles it. While some of the heroines have particularly irking routes [and while they make some dumb choices], thematically and ‘objectively’, there is no flaw with it; it’s a matter of sentiments in the end. During the final arc, I had difficulty picking a particular side; I was conflicted. While the choice progressively got simpler, I was impressed by how the novel managed to craft flawed, but genuinely-ardent, honest characters.
I was particularly surprised to find that I actually liked all the major characters at the end of the story. While there wasn’t a particular heroine that I absolutely fell for, I disliked none of them, while respecting, if not, liking the rest. Eustia, the titular heroine, is best-described as an angel. She never does anything that you’d find a fault with, and she’s incredibly adorable. The more time you spend with her, the longer the story progresses, the more you grow to like her character. Fione, or Saber with brown hair and less power, was also much more dynamic than her archetype had initially shown her as. And Eris, despite some of her questionable acts of rebellion, is at the end, a really endearing character. The Saint and her aide share a route; I found myself liking the two of them a lot. The Saint from image alone, seemed to be the timid type; yet she was absolutely antithetical to that; her aide, while not as different as expected, was still really, really likable. The princess, like the Saint, from image alone, might be perceived as just another archetype; yet, she’s as dynamic as any of the other characters within the work. When it came to the supporting characters, and the primary male characters, and even the notable antagonists, none of them were detestable; Eustia at its core, is a work centered on conflicting interests; it’s all a matter of perspective. There is no ‘right’ answer, and there is no argument of ‘more passion’, or ‘more righteousness’ — all parties are eventually willing to stake their lives for their goals. That in itself, is a feat.