In science fiction literally anything is possible, even a story that rests its entire foundation on the need for society to colonize new planets due to an unusual disease that turns affected children into unapologetically violent versions of themselves. This is the basis for the narrative in Kyodai Ltd & Soedesco’s newest episodic narrative, Elea. Players are in the shoes of the titular character, Elea, whose husband, Ethan, was aboard the spaceship (aptly named Pilgrimage) that set out to find a new home for mankind but mysteriously loses radio contact with Earth during their mission. If you’re sitting there wondering what point A (mystery disease that turns children violent) has to do with point B (space exploration mission gone wrong) then you’re not alone. Elea’s narrative is eccentric and erratic, while the ties that bind the different aspects of the story and gameplay together are noticeably thin.
Elea begins with a frantic, brightly colored flashing light show with a glitched software aesthetic where hints being dropped as to the state of your memories. There’s a disclaimer at the beginning of Elea about photosensitivity along with the standard issue seizure warning, but even this isn’t enough to prepare you for the hardcore sensory onslaught that is the prologue. Following the ominously vague prologue, players take over Elea as she awakens in a disheveled nursery to answer a call from her husband. This is the point where we learn that Elea is currently pregnant with her and Ethan’s second son, and also that Elea’s relationship with her first son, Francis, is a bit contentious. During this sequence players explore Elea’s home and carry out mundane tasks while tiny bits of backstory about Ethan’s voyage on the Pilgrimage is filled in.
Initially exploring Elea’s home can be frustratingly slow and mundane, but at this point in the game it is seemingly forgivable given that we know Elea is heavily pregnant. There is a button that is supposed to serve as a run option, but that button doesn’t ever actually work. Instead, a message flashes across the screen to remind you that “You cannot run at this time.” As forgivable as the slow movement may be in the early chapter, it becomes more frustrating and stressful when you are stuck with the same pace later in the game. Elea’s story erratically cuts from her being at home anticipating her youngest son to being in a surreal dream like room with floating heads and sharks attacking the windows to waking up on her own space mission. Throughout all of this, the player spends most of their time trapped in certain rooms, watching events unfold around them. Short of moments where you know you’re supposed to strike out and search for a puzzle solution such as a security code, Elea plays less like a game and more like an experience where you’re just tagging along for the ride.
It is important to mention that the developers for Elea have stated that Episode 1 is (obviously) just the beginning, and as it currently stands there are plans for two additional episodes in the future. While the choppy timeline and disjointed plot points seem out of sorts now, it is entirely possible that later episodes could pull the story together more effectively than what we currently have in episode one alone. The super futuristic setting for Elea lends itself to the creation of a stunningly aesthetic world, and Kyodai Ltd have pushed the limits of Unreal Engine 4 to make their world stand out. The ambient lighting and attention to deal in reflections and atmosphere are Elea’s greatest accomplishments. Unfortunately, this impressive polish does not expand to the additional characters that Elea interacts with, as their animations and models appear awkward or just plain stiff.
Elea has potential to create a unique sci fi narrative, and episode one does lay plenty of groundwork for the future of the story. As a stand alone, however, it is difficult to recommend a narrative game that has so little in the way of an active plot. With any hope, Kyodai and Soedesco will continue with the Elea franchise, however, to flesh out the story and provide a more complete experience than what episode one alone offers.