Circus Reviews - Asphyxia
I've been meaning to play this game for a while now, but didn't get around to buying it until very recently. I fully intended to review it Christmas day, but then the whole Steam nonsense happened, and here we are a couple days later.
Asphyxia follows Samantha "Sam" Coleridge, a seventeen-year-old boarding school attendee in London whose lifelong depression has recently worsened thanks to a falling out with her best friend/idol, Lillian Wordsworth (and also a separate falling out with her decidedly-not-best friend, Tabitha De Quincy). Despite Roberta Southey's attempts to comfort her, Sam is despondent. Will a school field trip give Sam the chance to set things right...or is there no hope left for her and Lillian?
The characters are apparently all based off British Romantic poets, and the game provides literature files about the poet each girl is based on. I personally did not play through with this information (and reading it all prior to playing may spoil some plot events), but it can give you a lot of insight into the characters' actions and why things happen the way they do. It's an interesting choice, although it seems to have caused some people confusion about why the game itself isn't actually set in the time when these poets lived. The writing is also meant to evoke the time period, and it serves its purpose well even if it's a bit flowery at times.
Samantha herself is a spot-on portrayal of a depressed teenager, and I identified with her quite strongly. Other than how Sam feels about each of them respectively, Lillian and Roberta are extremely similar: they've done their best to take care of Sam but find it overwhelming to the point of draining their patience at times, and they're flawed but ultimately want what's best for their friend. De Quincey (I don't know why her teenage schoolmates only refer to her by her last name, it's a bit odd) is a creepy and obsessive stalker, and while I won't spoil the event that caused her and Sam to stop speaking, let's just say it ends up making her look very bad, and if the game wanted me to feel sympathy for her it failed miserably on that point. Georgia and Percy are mostly background characters; although Georgia gets a bit more limelight in one of the endings, Percy feels tacked on. Miss Alexandra Pope is a concerningly sadistic teacher, and while it's commented that she looks young for her age, her sprite takes that too far; she looks roughly the same age as her students, and it's distracting.
There are four endings you can get, and while all of them are well-written, none feels complete without the others. Each path has information vital to who Sam is, information that you don't get on other paths. It feels like this was meant to be one full novel with everything presented together rather than spread out across different paths. I did like all the paths, though, and was quite eager to finish them and get the big picture.
The art is gorgeous, and the soundtrack is pleasant. I enjoyed the story despite the above-listed issues. I suspect that Samantha might be hard to relate to for a player who hasn't dealt with clinical depression, but I found her quite relatable myself. I still find myself thinking that a more concise novel focusing on Samantha, Roberta, and Lillian that included all relevant events might have been more enjoyable. Regardless, there were enough positive notes to keep me engaged throughout my entire play through, and I'm glad I finally picked this up.
Final verdict: While the side characters don't feel as developed as the mains and the branching paths feel like they need connecting, Asphyxia has a wonderful main character and a bittersweet but compelling story.
Asphyxia is developed by ebi-hime and published by Sekai Project. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.