JP title: 穢翼のユースティア
Well, after a solid 2-3 weeks of reading, I’ve successfully reached the true end of Aiyoku no Eustia, August’s highly-praised fantasy VN. Despite coming from a developer that seems to specialize in moege, Eustia actually tells a serious story with several dark twists and turns, as well as a decent amount of food for thought that you might not come to expect judging only by the art style itself. I really wish they’d do stuff like this more often, though, we have more than enough moege on the market as it is. But I digress – here are my thoughts on Aiyoku no Eustia.
The story takes place in the floating city of Novus Aether, safely kept in the sky by the Church’s Holy Maiden, whose continued prayers let the island stay among the clouds. There is, of course, a catch. If the Holy Maiden, for some reason, neglects her duties and prayers, the city -or at least, parts of it- will fall. The darkest moment in Novus Aether’s history, a huge fall called the Gran Forte that split the city in two, occurred 10 years prior to the start of the game, robbing our protagonist, Caim Astraea of his house and family, forcing him into poverty and desperation.The fallen land became a lower district called “The Prison”, inhabited only by the lowest of the low, thugs, beggars and like, and separated from the upper, more luxurious districts by a huge cliff, more or less trapping Prison-dwellers inside.
Caim, with the only other option being the job of a male prostitute, decides to instead earn his keep as an assassin, and proceeds to become somewhat of a badass. He eventually gives up this lifestyle and comes to live as a bodyguard-for-hire, doing the odd job here and there while helping out the local mafia/prostitution ring and its leader, Sieg, who also happens to be a long-time friend of his. To seemingly add insult to injury, a mysterious illness causing people to sprout angel wings is apparently taking victims within the Prison, while an elite organization of knights known as the Wing Hunters are tasked with seeking out and “taking into custody” (more often than not resorting to violence) all those who contract the disease, causing even more unrest within the city. And this is more or less where the VN starts.
By far the strongest asset of Eustia is its great cast of characters. In fact, this aspect of the VN, in my eyes, is far stronger than the actual plot being told. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the game as much as I did, had it not been for the likable cast, the witty banter and the unique quirks of each and every character in the game. This is the kind of VN that becomes a joy to read simply due to being able to watch various members of the cast interact with each other, no matter how trivial the subject matter is, and reveling in the often fascinating chemistry and back-and-forth between certain individuals.
As you would expect, Caim is quite an interesting protagonist. Ex-killer and sufficiently cold and calculating when the situation demands it, but you know he’s a good guy deep down, and a total lady-killer to boot. No, seriously, even the in-game characters make a mention of how much women flock to him. At the same time, he’s very practical, lies when he needs to, and is generally not the usual goody-two-shoes you would expect in other games. Well, at least for the majority of the game… but more on that later. The heroines and other supporting characters, too, easily stand on their own, having their own dilemmas and particular ways of thinking. As I’ve noted above, just having them in the same room talking to each other is fun to read in itself, which should illustrate how good of a job August did with the cast.
Another praise-worthy aspect of the VN is its unique setting, rich in mysteries and peculiar customs. This is further complicated by the wing infection, as well as many other reveals and developments that take place during the course of the story. Before long, you’ll come to know what it means to live in the Prison, how people get their daily bread in this environment, and get to experience first hand the constant tension between the haves and the have-nots: this, along with a colorful set of characters, makes the world of Eustia surprisingly immersive and believable… well, as far as cities floating in the sky can be believable. Simply put: once started, I found this VN to be very hard to put down.
The story is divided into a prologue and five bigger story arcs, each focusing on one particular heroine. I have to mention right here that Eustia suffers from having somewhat of a slow start. The beginning few hours only serve to establish the world and the main cast, which is great, but the plot itself does not really move forward for quite a while. In fact, the first two story arcs, Fione’s chapter and Eris’ chapter, respectively, are relatively lackluster as far as actual plot content is concerned; the pace only starts to pick up from Chapter 3 onwards, with the introduction of Saint Irene and the Church. From then on, it is a steady buildup towards the final chapter.
The issues dealt with in each chapter are all quite fascinating: personal freedom, duty, honor, faith, one’s own raison d’etre, to name a few. My personal favorites were probably the Saint Irene and Licia chapters, the former for introducing the heart-wrenchingly sad circumstances of the Holy Maiden and her responsibilities, while the latter for exploring the difficulties of being a monarch, topping it off with a very touching ending scene involving Licia. However, by far the most hard-hitting question tackled by the game is the age-old question: “does the end justify the means?”. Even I was surprised by how torn I was at one point in the VN, and found myself seeing reason in the logic of the apparent “bad guy” (who isn’t really a bad guy at all, hence the quotation marks). This question leads to some of the most intense VN dialogue I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite a while, lending a highly thought-provoking edge to an already quite interesting situation.
…which is why it saddened me a great deal to have such a weak, cliché-ridden follow-up to what was easily the best scene in the VN. Without going into spoilers, I was disappointed by the usual, shounen-y turn taken by the story, where the power of love conquers all, and the main dude rushes to his sweetheart shouting her name in one huge trainwreck of corny shounen melodrama. I was sincerely hoping the game would take “the end justifies the means” concept to its full potential, but unfortunately the story never quite went into the dark and exciting directions I was hoping for. The ending is still quite beautiful, and there are a number of very interesting developments in the final arc and even a bit earlier, but I had the feeling it could’ve been much, much more.
The same can be said about the plot as well, both the overarching story and the individual heroine plotlines. It’s a solid story, with a number of very cool issues tackled, but there was nothing that really made me go “wow”. Similarly, the game is painfully obvious about some of its twists – they’re about as subtle as being hit in the head by a warhammer labeled “foreshadowing”. A number of twists can be seen coming a mile away, and even the ones that can’t end up being nothing too special in the end. This is not to say there are no awesome moments in the game -especially a certain very depressing revelation in Saint Irene’s arc-, but still. Then again, maybe I merely set my expectations too high.
All in all, Aiyoku no Eustia is a good VN – a very good one, even. But despite its unique setting and fantastic cast, it just barely falls short of true excellence. In the end, though, I’m still quite pleased with what I got, and with the exception of a few parts here and there, I really enjoyed reading this. Highly recommended.