The Eidolon's Escape

by Mark Clarke

2020

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A very beautiful story, October 1, 2021

This is a moderately short hypertext game (it says one hour on the ballot, and it took me about one hour to play through several times and find all the endings) in which the player character is a spirit captured by a mage who wants to study you. For years, you have been imprisoned in a crystal in the mage’s laboratory, biding your time, growing stronger. Your greatest asset is your power to possess people, binding their minds and bodies to your will, but this only works on malleable, immature minds. Fortunately, the mage’s young apprentice Sam and a girl named Ygrette who works in the mage’s tower have taken to sneaking into the laboratory (which has been little used of late) to conduct a disgusting human romantic affair. This is your opportunity.

As that summary should make clear, this is a game where the PC is characterized very distinctly, and their feelings about things are not likely to match the human player’s. Humans in general are of no interest to the PC except insofar as they’re useful. You know something about how their feelings work and how to manipulate them, but you constantly have to fight the urge to express your contempt openly, even though you know this is not an effective way to achieve your goal. All you want to do is escape the tower, but this requires talking to various people inside, convincing them to help you. Human communication is your toolset, which you wield in a detached and objective way, often to comic effect (“You pull your host’s lips back to display her teeth in the hopes of calming the boy”).

Sam and Ygrette can fairly easily be used to manipulate each other. The quirks of romantic attachment and sexuality that young embodied beings display are gross (to say nothing of this “kissing” business, for which they don’t even have the excuse of reproduction), but you can use them. Other characters require subtler treatment. The PC doesn’t fully appreciate this, but some of the minor characters have vivid personalities which keep this part of the game interesting. Many players will find a new and fascinating complexity in an outside view of these seemingly basic human interactions. (Others might laugh ruefully in recognition.)

The story unfolds in a fairly straightforward way, with the PC most likely having more trouble deciding what to do than the player. There are only a few major branches and many of the choices are cosmetic. However, the cosmetic ones often felt significant: there are emotions and relationships at stake, and the PC’s lack of interest in these only highlights my interest as a player.

(Spoiler - click to show)
Moreover, it becomes clear that the PC’s goal is only part of the story. You can get out of the mage’s tower, but something is missing:

You may never know exactly why the mage chose to imprison you there for all those years and, frankly, you don’t care.

It’s hard to believe it, after all this time but, you’ve done it: you’re finally free.


But our feelings are not the spirit’s. We’re not done with the story yet. We’re also looking for answers about how this situation was brought about and why. This is where it really gets interesting.

The PC seems to think of itself as an unspecified “spirit,” but an eidolon is more than that. Sam confirms this during the story, in a passage that it’s possible to skip, and the PC would probably want to skip:

The Mage’s notes say that the Eidolon is the spirit of someone special, someone they once knew.

An eidolon is a specter, phantom, or insubstantial image, but often the image of a particular person. An eidolon can be thought of as a shadow or reflection of someone who has or used to have a more substantial existence. This possibility makes the PC’s current state even more tragic, and makes you wonder if their ruthlessness and single-minded focus on their goal of escaping is making them miss deeper truths than the feelings of the humans running around the tower.

I only found out on my second playthrough (if you’re too goal-oriented, you won’t see this information) that you haven’t even seen the mage for years when the game begins. Back when you did see her, the “experiments” she did on you were unusual:

Nothing the Mage said had made any sense; relating old memories, listing names. You would try to reason, to wheedle, to manipulate and to cajole, but never to any avail. Each session you would inevitably lose your temper and end up screaming to be released.

The Mage would simply sit, and stare, and occasionally cry.


This suggests that the eidolon does not fully grasp the situation or understand the mage’s motives. You can pass over this without thinking too much about it, but you’ll remember it later, if you get as far as confronting the mage herself (you can play through the game, and win, as it seems, without doing so; you don’t have to care about this), and it becomes clear that her motivation is not at all the malice you attributed to her at the beginning of the game. There is weakness there, perhaps, and the peculiar selfishness of being unable to leave the past buried in the past, unable to let go of those you love, unable to leave the departed at peace.

This reframes the scenario: your true prison is not the crystal cage in the mage’s laboratory, but your whole current form of existence. You are now only a spiteful remnant of spirit, but you were once a whole person, with a love and a name of your own. A successful escape is not the true ending. The real resolution to the story does not occur until you have learned the truth about yourself and the mage has learned that clean sorrow is better than clinging to a mockery of something you once had that is now unattainable:

She gestures sharply and your world blazes white.

“I love you, Corinne.” You hear her say as the world fades away.

You feel yourself coming apart, your essence drifting away into the ether and it feels good and right and peaceful.


This is a very beautiful story and a good demonstration, within a fairly small compass, of the way that the branches of a story can enrich each other.