I know, I know. I said before that I wasn’t going to talk about videogames. This one is different, though. If you are a language professional, like a writer, an editor or a translator, it’s vital to have a decent typing speed and being a touch typist helps a lot. If you don’t touch type already, you should check some of those out in this previous article.
Mentioning touch typing in the introduction isn’t random, for Epistory is an edutainment game that wants to teach touch typing. Developed by Belgian developer Fishing Cactus and available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, Epistory’s aim is to entertain in the first place, not educate, by the developer’s admission. The gameplay clearly shows. As soon as you start the game, you’re treated to a brief introduction to your character, a girl with the passion for writing that rides a fox with three tails. Yes, I know, it sounds weird to me as much as it does to you, but bear with me. The premise of the game is that the fantasy world created by the girl’s words is decaying and becoming corrupt and drab. It is her task to fix things. To do this, the player controls her through a hub world called The Bridge that she can explore at will. Exploring and removing sings of the decay, like mud, fallen logs, and monsters, award the player with points that unlock new skills and areas, which are revealed through a bird view of the newly-discovered segment of the world, that literally unfolds in front of her eyes in the form of printed pages. It’s really a sight to behold.
Really, the whole art direction in Epistory is superb. Despite the simplicity of the graphics, the origami style used by the developers to craft their worlds give the game a simple, yet stylish look. It may not be the most advanced videogame of all time, graphically speaking, but the visuals are pleasing. I really like them, despite being used to true-to-life graphics in other games, and they’re definitely a welcome departure from the desolate brownish looks of many modern games.
The obvious advantage of using a simple art style is that the game runs rather well on less powerful systems: it runs more than adequately even on the Intel Integrated Graphics on my MacBook Air.
The game’s sound is rather minimalistic and, at times, uninspired. After playing it for four hours or so, I can’t seem to recall any of the tracks from the various worlds. I honestly had to look them up on YouTube to describe them. And that’s when it struck me: all the tracks are atmospheric, with minimal percussions and a lot of synth pads. They’d make for good mall muzak, actually, but this is also their downfall: muzak, by its very nature, isn’t memorable.
The player controls the fox using one of three control methods: the arrow keys, the WASD keys, very common among people who play on the computer, and a control scheme specifically made for Epistory that uses the EFJI letters. According to the developer, this scheme is supposed to keep the player’s index fingers on the home row to make for a more natural transition between exploration and typing, but in practice this didn’t work for me: I’m too used to WASD to get accustomed to this new control scheme and the fact that I could swap from one control method to the other didn’t really help. I found myself constantly switching to WASD when in reality I should have been using EFJI. Not that it made me play any worse, mind you.
Pressing the spacebar enters combat mode, where it’s possible to type words to attack enemies, remove decaying elements and switching between spells by typing the appropriate word. This irks me a little bit because I’m used to pressing the spacebar whenever I finish typing a words and I’ve been killed more times than I’m willing to admit because I inadvertently exited combat mode.
Exploration and the accumulation of points allows the player to visit other worlds, like the forest, an ancient temple, a volcanic cavern and so on. Each has a theme attached to it that it’s relevant to the spell it unlocks. So, the volcanic cavern has a fire theme going on, and words related to fire are more common, whereas the abandoned industrial city has an electricity theme and it’s more common to see words like “electrocute” or “shock”. It’s an interesting touch, but unfortunately the game’s vocabulary isn’t that huge, especially for short words that constitute the bulk of the typing the player is presented with. It is indeed possible to expand it using mods, but the ones that are available are few and far between and generally not that interesting. It’s a shame, really, because it hinders the replayability quite a bit. Some enemies can only be defeated using a specific magic, adding an extra layer of strategy, compared to other similar videogames like The Typing of the Dead.
In addition to story mode, Epistory also offers an Arena mode where moving is disabled, all spells are unlocked and the player is presented with an endless horde of enemies to defeat. Attaining a high score allows to upload said score to the billboard, for bragging right and shit. It’s an interesting mode, but nothing to lose your sleep over.
In the main menu also is a Statistics page where it’s possible to read a few insights about your typing speed and other stuff. It’s not immediately clear how some of those are calculated, like words per minute.
Can this be a good way to learn or teach touch typing?
No. Not really. Despite Fishing Cactus being an edutainment videogame developer and offering educational licensing for use in schools, Epistory offers no real lessons or typing tips, greatly undermining its potential as a teaching tool. If used to diversify other touch typing teaching tools, however, Epistory can add great value to your experience, whether you’re teaching someone to touch type or learning it. And for less than 15 € on Steam, it’s definitely a valid purchase.