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About the StoryFor untold years you have been trapped, a spirit without a body, incarcerated by an evil mage. Finally your chance has come to free yourself and escape. Run wild in a body-swapping, race against time to escape the tower before sun-up. Can you free the Eidolon in time?
30th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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This goal is clearly communicated, and it doesn’t take long before you’re able to learn the steps needed to carry it out – there are a couple, but they don’t feel needlessly convoluted. The main gameplay is more puzzle-focused than exploration-focused – you usually only have two choices at a time, and a large number of these are false choices that shunt you back to the main thread. There are challenges and wrong answers, though, most of which revolve around social interaction: you might need to fool the cook into telling you something she’s meant to keep secret, or bluff your way past a skeptical guard. While it’s not too hard to figure out the right approaches in these situations, the eponymous eidolon doesn’t really understand humans so you’re not given too much prompting, meaning it feels satisfying to succeed. Adding to the gravity of the challenge, there’s no save game option and incorrect choices can quickly lead to game over – replays go reasonably fast as there’s no timed text, so this isn’t too annoying, but it does provide an incentive to get things right the first time.
These puzzles and situations, while well-constructed, aren’t that interesting by themselves – it’s all stuff you’ll have seen before. The eidolon’s character and way of understanding the world are what give the game its flavor. I was struck by the way that the choices on offer really only allowed for two ways of playing the eidolon: either as an imperious figure commanding others to do its bidding, or a master manipulator disgusted at how easy it is to twist people around their finger. It’s not very good at social cues much of the time, though, and is usually stuck doing blunt imitations of behavior it’s seen people perform, with the aping only occasionally convincing. Guiding such a character, and engaging with whether its behavior and attitudes are just a reflection of how alien it is from humanity, or if there is something truly sinister about it, adds a welcome note of mystery the otherwise rather quotidian proceedings.
The writing is – I’m going to back to the well of “workmanlike.” I think I only caught one stray typo, and it usually focuses on the right things. But it describes more than it evokes. Take this passage when you possess one of the youths and are embodied for the first time in ages:
"You clutch at the rough cloth of his shirt as your mind wheels. He continues to talk to you but you cannot take any of it in; lights and images blind you, burn into your mind’s eye and blur with new images. Sounds boom, rip and echo through your head, incessant waves of unbearable odours assault your nose, every touch sends lightning through your nerves and your mouth feels as though it has been packed with all the vilest effluvia that the world has to offer."
This is all solid enough, and touches on the right elements to highlight – you’d imagine this is what the experience would be like. But it’s a little vague, and it never sings. There are also some odd anachronisms (the eidolon can attempt to dress someone down by asking “did I stutter?”, and try to seduce another by praising their “symmetrically aligned features”) that undermine the immersion somewhat.
Eidolon’s Escape is smoothly put together – I enjoyed scheming my way to freedom and found the various obstacles on offer fair to work through. The first ending I got, while a victory, was a bit anticlimactic, so I went back and played to a second one that, while technically a failure, was more satisfying and hinted at a resolution to the questions about what exactly the deal is with the eidolon (Spoiler - click to show)(as best I can tell, it’s actually a fragment – and probably not a very nice fragment – of the soul of the mage’s long-dead lover). I wish there was a little more of a spark here, but I can’t be sure that’s because something’s missing in the game, or just personal preference for writing with a bit more flair, and for weird-protagonist games that do more to lean into their odd conceit, rather than EE’s way of playing things fairly down-the-middle.
The protagonist itself is one of the main draws of the game. Everything is seen and interpreted through the (figurative) eyes of the somewhat misanthropic Eidolon, and it’s written convincingly. The protagonist has an idiosyncratic way of viewing the world, taking a non-human’s view toward human behavior that varies between analytical/opportunistic and judgmental/repulsed. Its unique perspective is palpable at every turn, lending a strong and distinctive narrative flavor throughout.
The design of the choices and branching is, for me, a mixed bag. There are many choices that look like they’re calling for the player to make an inductive leap, levering the Eidolon’s limited insights on human psychology to choose the most effective way to manipulate other characters. And that works very well and feels quite satisfying - as long as the illusion is preserved. But on repeated playthroughs, I found that most of these choices don’t have any importance to the direction of the story, actually serving only to punctuate events and change some flavor text. In many cases, if you select the “wrong” choice, the game will just correct it for you (i.e. that didn’t work, so now you’re doing the other thing instead), the exception being a few landmines where the wrong choice leads to an immediate game-over.
By creating the illusion of important choices to engage the player through at least the first playthrough, the author probably made a judicious use of time and effort, and that’s cool. But I feel that the whole thing would have been more powerful, especially on repeated playthroughs, if there were more choices with actual gameplay consequences other than the occasional possibility of insta-loss.
There are a handful of more-important choices stacked at the end of the game, leaving us with a branching structure that’s less of a tree and more of a spork.
One of the endings makes clear the conceptual underpinnings of the action: (Spoiler - click to show)that the Mage is holding the Eidolon against its will because it is a metaphysical remnant of the Mage’s dead loved one, and the Mage desperately wants the Eidolon to identify with this person even though the Eidolon does not. This is an outstanding concept which intrigues me immensely. It has huge emotional gravity and lots of potential to be interpreted in a metaphorical light.
But I wish that the game had done more to explore and develop this awesome concept. As is, it’s all explicated in a few short paragraphs right at an ending, where the player no longer has any ability to respond in-character. There’s a bit of foreshadowing near the start (which can be easily missed), but that’s about it. I feel that, had this weighty relationship been developed in richer detail and been more present throughout the experience, it would have taken the story from good to excellent.
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