Review: Asphyxia

Despite being a fan of visual novels, I’ll readily admit that there’s a lot in the genre space that feels repetitive and overused. In many instances, stories about high schoolers relate to some young man suddenly discovering a great power within him to save the world — or maybe he’s just got some impossibly attractive traits which make every one of his female classmates fall in love. Asphyxia is a tale of a group of high school girls that doesn’t fall too far into trope territory. No one is super powered here, nor is the entire Earth in danger. Instead, the drama is much more localized to that of a few young women and the issues they’re in the midst of resolving. Even if you never experienced what it’s like to grow up as a girl specifically, all players are likely to find at least a little to relate to in their plight. 

The story itself is situated around that of Samantha. Despite being quite intelligent, she seems to be a total childish klutz. But that’s not all there is to this character. We also quickly realize that she is incredibly sad, facing depression head on in relation to some mysterious events which transpired three months ago. Apparently, at that time, an argument between her and her best friend led to that relationship’s destruction. Now, her old pal Lillian has been completely avoiding her since. Having gotten so obsessively wrapped up with her own devotion to Lillian, Samantha has found it difficult to get out of her distressed state, even with other friends and classmates to interact with.

Even so, Samantha embarks on a school trip with the rest of her classmates. As they venture through the countryside, challenges continue to pile up on her. Students such as the incredibly cruel Georgia, or the also Lillian-obsessed Tabitha prove obstacles for Samantha to have any fun at all. Through it all, she maintains a bit of black humor alongside a lot of apparent self-loathing. Although the first thing folks will notice about Asphyxia is its stunning artwork, they’ll likely next pick up on the dark, gloomy tone of the protagonist and storyline. If you were expecting a happy-go-lucky girls love tale then you’re in the wrong place.

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With that said, this artwork definitely compliments the narrative of Asphyxia. Each character has wondrously detailed hairstyles, bright-colored uniforms with distinct flourishes, and backdrops look suitably serene. As far as visual novels go, it still does offer an anime art style, but one that stands out far above many of its contemporaries. The music follows in these footsteps, providing a soft soundtrack to experience every emotional turn of the storyline. Is there anything troublesome from a visual or audio standpoint? Well, there’s no voice acting to be had which may disappoint some. The main issue actually stands with UI. Reading the white text sometimes proves a bit challenging because there’s not a strong dark-colored background to make text totally clear in all instances.

There’s another uniquely interesting aspect about Asphyxia beyond its gorgeous art style. If you’re a literary fan then you’ll quickly realize that each character is modeled directly after British writers from the 18th and 19th century. Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Wordsworth, and others are represented in the form of teenage girls. As odd as it may seem, it works out surprisingly well. You don’t need to be aware of this aspect to enjoy the game, though. Even without ever catching on to the literary connection, you should still be able to enjoy the storyline. Each character is compelling on her own, even without being aware of the associated artist’s life.

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As odd as it may seem, it works out surprisingly well. You don’t need to be aware of this aspect to enjoy the game, though. Even without ever catching on to the literary connection, you should still be able to enjoy the storyline. Each character is compelling on her own, though being aware of the associated artist’s life will no doubt enhance your enjoyment of the experience.

Do you happen to fear kinetic visual novels? Worry not, as Asphyxia offers a handful of dialogue choices to make throughout the storyline. Depending on which responses are chosen, the player will be led down the path toward one of four endings. A few could certainly be considered happier than the others, but all seem believable in their own way. It’s just a shame that everything wraps up so quickly. It took around 2 ½ hours for me to make it through one playthrough. In that timespan I began to learn more about each cast member but found everything resolved a bit too quickly. This is an instance where lingering more on dialogue or events between characters would work in a game’s favor rather than detracting from the experience.

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Closing Comments:

Asphyxia serves up a visual novel with a darker tone than was expected. That’s a good thing, as it helps to challenge the growing stigma that the genre is only capable of producing action-packed tales, romantic comedies, or fanservice-focused flights of fancy. Sure, it might not be a perfect experience either, but there’s a lot to the drama which players may find quite relateable. Visual novel fans should experience it, while those not typically into the genre may also be able to appreciate the somber experience thanks to its brief, well-written and visually stunning nature.