“Eliza” is a fantastic indie sci-fi visual novel game but not much else – Review

Eliza is an indie visual novel game that was developed by Zachtronics, the studio most famous for its puzzle games like TIS-100, SpaceChem, and Infinifactory.

As the game’s nominated for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at this year’s Independent Game Festival, along with Slay the Spire and A Short Hike, I thought I’d give it a go for our podcast. I should say that I’m not a fan of visual novels as most of my day is spent reading things on a screen so when I want to unwind, this type of game isn’t the first thing I look to.

In the game, you play as Evelyn, a woman working as a human proxy for ELIZA, a virtual counselling programme. Evelyn’s job is to repeat the script suggested by the programme to counselling patients.

The premise is pretty intriguing, but is it enough to convert someone who’s just not that into the genre?

Pros

  • Intriguing story
  • Mesmerising visuals
  • Good voice acting

Cons

  • Dull gameplay
  • Lack of animation

In terms of gameplay, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a visual novel; you click to advance the text, look more closely at your surroundings, and make dialogue choices. While I’m not averse to games that just involve clicking a mouse (I’m a huge fan of management and RTS games, after all), it won’t be the gameplay that pulls you into this game.

What will pull you into the game is the narrative. I’m a die-hard sci-fi fan and anything with AI or robots is right up my street. Furthermore, the game deals with the subject of mental health tastefully and if games want to be taken seriously as art, this is one of the games that can help.

The writing is good and the characters speak like real human beings (except ELIZA, of course) and all the written elements of the game are engaging. I like the dialogue and the voice acting supports the writing quite well. However, not all dialogue is voiced which means there are parts of Evelyn’s inner monologue that you will have to read, causing you to look away from the visuals.

Similarly, the other core part of a visual novel is how it looks and this game has some fantastic visuals. The static images have a lot of work to do since there’s no animation but the hand-painted visuals are exceptional and really bring the world to life.

The Verdict

Eliza is a good visual novel and while I enjoyed the game, it’s only really because the subject matter is something I’m interested in. I wasn’t so blown away by the great story and visuals that I felt I wanted to pick up another visual novel.

If you like sci-fi stories, you’ll probably enjoy this game even if you don’t like the genre. If you do like the genre, you’ll definitely enjoy the game but it’d be a hard sell to anyone who doesn’t like visual novels or sci-fi.

Eliza is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.

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