JP title: ユーフォリア
So, here’s a VN that’s wildly misrepresented both by its 2-episode OVA and its general reputation as a mere nukige with nothing but a whole array of weird porn, while in reality it actually has a proper story of its own — a story I wasn’t massively blown away by, I must add (I might be holding an unpopular opinion by saying that), although it wasn’t too bad, either.
The basic setup goes like this: our protagonist, Takatou Keisuke (along with a bunch of girls from his school), one day wakes up in a white facility of sorts with no idea about why or how he got there. He is then basically forced to play a twisted game orchestrated by his unknown captors in order to escape — 5 rounds in total, and witch each round, he has to choose one of the girls also trapped in the facility with him and do horrible things to them, mostly rape and torture. If he doesn’t, it’s Game Over and they all die. So at this point, your main question is probably… who created the Game and what purpose does it serve? Well, that can’t really be answered without spoilers. In fact, most of this game is fairly hard to discuss without spoilers, so I apologize if the review is a bit less coherent than usual. Needless to say, Euphoria *isn’t* just about the Game itself — there’s more – a lot more – to it, and by the time you get towards the end, the entire plot will have already turned into something entirely different, which is pretty cool in itself.
With that said, though… I wasn’t as amazed by the plot and its twists and turns as I thought I would be. Don’t get me wrong, Euphoria’s a pretty alright VN, but in retrospect it’s not something I would likely put on my “all-time favorites” list. I do believe I set my expectations extremely high, which ultimately came back to bite me in the ass, so I guess I have myself to blame. It does have its moments, this much is certain, and I particularly enjoyed parts of Rinne’s route (I came to like her quite a bit so certain bits of this route hit hard) and the later half of the True route for making me see a certain character in a completely different light. But overall, I don’t feel *that* strongly about most of the characters, or the story itself.
By the way, the violence in this game, purely from a visual/artwork standpoint is not as graphic and horrifying as people make it out to be. I personally found the infamous “Glasgow smile” scene in Kara no Shoujo far more disturbing than anything in Euphoria. Of course, if your preferred genre is the happy-go-lucky moege or otome games, then sure, some of the things in this might… upset you. But people that read Euphoria are, I would assume, used to seeing hardcore shit, and this game probably won’t top their lists in terms of nightmare fuel. Not even close. There are also a few proper/vanilla H-scenes, so there’s that, too.
There *could’ve* been some really horrifying moments, but ultimately the game doesn’t make use of them (for those that played the game and still remember, I’m talking about the chainsaw/eyeball/fingernail thing that never happens). The Game could’ve been far, *far* darker — I still remember dreading every single new day in Kara no Shoujo, not knowing when the murderer would pick off yet another likable character. Here, I didn’t really feel any of that despair. What’s even worse is that the so-called “second half” of the story that happens after the Game’s 5 rounds are cleared is tremendously boring and really tested my endurance, lacking even the little tension that was present in the first half. (the exception here would be Rinne’s route, which was pretty awesome and genuinely creeped me the hell out — this is the sort of stuff I would’ve loved to see more of! Remember kids, when in doubt: 凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様凛音様)
Unfortunately, it also takes a whole lot of time (most of the VN, in fact) for the reader to actually get to the interesting story bits, and even then I wasn’t as satisfied with the payoff and execution as I thought I would be. I could actually more or less predict a few of the twist that would happen due to some of the foreshadowing earlier, although there was one thing that came as sort of a shock. Also, I sort of expected the VN to try to make a point through the protagonist’s repressed urges and violent impulses, or that it would tie deeply into the game’s major themes somehow, but then the True route happens, a lot of things change, and all that is suddenly not the focus anymore. The VN spends a lot of time trying to flesh out Keisuke’s duality and inner struggles — that he truly wants to do all these horrible things (and not just because the Game is forcing him to), but at the same time, finds this part of himself utterly despicable and is constantly trying to repress it. It’s a promising idea that I enjoyed quite a bit, but in the end, this dilemma has little to no baring on the True route and the game’s real story, which made it feel a bit like wasted potential. For those that read the VN (and I’ll be super vague to avoid spoilers): considering why the Game in the white facility was created — was it really a need for that? Surely what happens in the second half is more than enough to achieve its goals and trigger what needs to be triggered. Same goes for the “bet” — the main villain was already in a winning position without proposing that bet, so I’m not sure why that was necessary. Maybe I’m overlooking something, but I don’t think there was a need to have Keisuke rape girls in the white chambers in order to achieve what needed to be achieved.
Also, mainly due to how dull some of the routes are (more about this below), and how abruptly the True route concludes (I honestly didn’t think it would end where it did, it was that sudden), the VN still left me with a sort of lukewarm-ish “huh so I guess I’m done with this vn, not bad but let’s move on to something else now” feeling. I do like the main theme of “the world is harsh but there’s beauty to be found in it, therefore it’s worth living in it” that’s sort of explored in the True route, though. It’s just that, I usually keep thinking/speculating about a story in my head hours and days after I’m done if it had a strong enough impact on me (MuvLuv says hi), but that kinda never happened with Euphoria, unfortunately. If the True route had ended when the credits first rolled without including the epilogue that followed, it would’ve been a touch more powerful, I think. Far less conclusive, sure, but it wouldn’t have bothered me *that* much. I’m sure certain people would’ve raged hard, though. :p
Quickly about the routes. Basically, there are five heroines and five routes, and my quick impressions of them go like this (this is also my recommended reading order of the routes, provided you wish to read all):
Rika: boring route/boring heroine.
Natsuki: same as above.
Rinne: pretty cool heroine (and cute as hell in some of her HCGs) and a crazy route that made me go “what the fuck” on several occasions (in a good way).
Nemu: This entire route is basically just the prologue for the True route. Nothing very interesting happens here, either. Its ending scene (the last CG) is its most important hint, pretty much, otherwise the True route has all of its content.
Kanae/True route: the actual story of the game begins, after you’ve already soldiered through most of the VN’s content.
If you’re gonna read this, have someone spoil the contents of the Rika and Natsuki routes and just play the other three. Seriously. It will make for an overall more pleasant experience. On several occasions I had to force myself to continue reading, and if it weren’t for people saying that the story was good, I might’ve even dropped the game altogether after a while.
In any case, like I said before, this wasn’t a bad VN at all, nor am I trying go against the flow simply because everyone else seems to love it. Even though this review is like 90% complaints. I’m really digging my own grave here. But the fact remains that the VN sadly wasn’t *that* mind-blowing to me on the whole, and while it more or less got its act together in the True route, most of the previous routes were less than stellar. It probably has a better story than what you’ll ever find in most nukige, but if it has to go up against other highly regarded VNs I’ve enjoyed in the past, then Euphoria is only “decent” in my eyes.