Sometimes, tabletop games get game adaptations, like Vampires: The Masquerade or Cyberpunk 2077. And honestly, given how Cyberpunk 2077 ended up and the behind-the-scenes fuckery going on with the Vampires sequel, we’re due for a good video game tabletop adaptation. So, I’m pleased to have gotten a look at the game adaptations of Luke Varner and Molly Rhinebeck’s EIDOLON: Become Your Best Self.
EIDOLON: Become Your Best Self is an upcoming tabletop game inspired by the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona games and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, where characters fight with eidolons – representations of their inner selves.
Instead of one game adaptation, EIDOLON came out with two: POP and ROCK. You know how Fire Emblem: Fates was arbitrarily split into two games? Well, it’s sort of the same thing, though unlike Fire Emblem, it doesn’t feel arbitrary because they do feel like completely different games besides a few shared elements. They do however end up blending together in the TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART shared DLC chapter.
EIDOLON: POP is more in line with what you’d expect from Persona, except it isn’t shitty about queer people. James Studebaker, Sloane Parker, Alexis Lorentzen and “Ursula” Ursa “Bear” is attending a college class by Professor Quentin Brooks, who is totally a legitimate college professor. However, on the eve of an inspection, the class discovers the sound of a ringing telephone. Answering it leads to the class getting whisked to the supernatural realm of the Undertow. They find themselves at the Estate, the otherworldly manor that lies at the heart of reality, whose rooms captures moments in time that can be altered to change time and space. As it happens, Quentin has had a history with the Estate. What’s his deal with the master, Ron Eui, and who is this Lady Luck character lurking in the shadows (she’s the Joker)?
EIDOLON: ROCK on the other hand is more in line with the Jojo part of its inspirations. More specifically, it’s Golden Wind except actually good. Virginia Valentine, Chris Masters and Harvey D. Godlove are members of the Alta Drive Jawbreakers, a sub-group of the Dead Pharaoh criminal organization; they also have a fox hanging around named Chili, who’s not a pet and is more of a formal associate. In an attempt to screw with a rival group, they find a case full of mysterious syringes that grants all four of them eidolons. Now branded as traitors by the Dead Pharaoh, the Jawbreakers rush to New Jersey to sell off the eidolon syringes in a mysterious deal while they’re chased by the Pharaoh’s squad of assassins, The Killers, while also being screwed around by Lady Luck.
Part of what makes this being separated into two games feel meaningful is that their structures are completely different. POP is a much more open-ended game, allowing you to explore the college and the Estate to do sidequests and letting you swap around party members. It’s also open-ended with regards to how you progress the main story as well; for instance, there’s one whole big hedge maze dungeon that can be skipped if you make some creative decisions. ROCK, on the other hand, is more linear with a static classic four RPG member party. The reason for the linearity becomes clear later on in the first day, as a story death and the ever present harassment from The Killers and The Police pretty much forces the party on a main path. That said, there are some creative divergences you can take that leads to alternative scenes, like the user of Houses in Motion showing up to support in a later fight if Harvey gives her advice (and as long as she survives The Distance arc). In a way, POP is more like a SaGa game while ROCK is kinda like a Telltale game in terms of narrative structure.
The characters are a strong point of these games, bringing in a lot of drama and goofs to the EIDOLON experience. For instance, let’s talk about Ursa. Ursa grapples with her existence as a shade and her desire to live a human life. In the real world, she’s an enthusiastic student no matter how obviously bullshit the classes are and strongly seeks friendship – to the point that she has trouble recognizing if a friendship is toxic, such is the case with Sloane (initially). When it comes to the Undertow however, Ursa is initially rather downcast to be there – and that cynicism winds up evolving into seeking violence against the angelic members of the Estate. Ursa is made into a very complex character with the situations she’s thrown into, while simultaneously exposing the darker aspects of the Estate that somewhat justifies the worst aspects of herself.
A fun contrast from playing POP and ROCK side-by-side is seeing how their group dynamics contrast with each other. The ROCK crew is lovable and everyone has a genuine bond with each other. Virginia embraces the gang as her own family with her lack of a proper one, Chili is more like a little sister than a talking pet, and Harvey and Chris is honestly the power couple of the EIDOLON duology. In sheer contrast, everyone in POP constantly has beef with each other, especially against Quentin, who has and will continue to screw people over during the course of the game. Of course, that makes it all the more satisfying when they come together toward the end. It’s just kinda funny to me that the game with the cast of criminals is the one where everyone unconditionally loves each other, y’know?
Outside of the strong character moments, the big boss fights are what takes the stage. A lot of the fights are absurd multiphase battles that really push the imagination on what you can do in RPG Maker’s battle system. POP‘s Stapleton, for instance, really makes the most out of his Life is a Highway, constantly summoning vehicles to ram the party that they can turn against him if you play your cards right.
Though, there are plenty of fights that takes you out of combat. The confrontation with Satan Genesius in POP occasionally cuts to Ace Attorney-like sections, the Neon Tiger fight in ROCK has RPG Maker horror game segments where you have to navigate through the dark and avoid light sources, etc. These segments wind up turning the fights into something more than straight RPG combat, which makes them feel grander.
Which is not to say that the straight RPG combat parts aren’t fun. The EIDOLON games have a lot of fun with their playable cast, making their skillsets based off of character playbooks from EIDOLON: Become Your Best Self and the unique skills their eidolons would logically have. James can use Time After Time to uncover an enemy’s attack patterns and can set himself to counterattack, Chili can have Little Lies talk to people to inflict reliable status effects like confusion or berserk while she tries to maul them, etc. Their movesets can get surprisingly versatile and they can carry into exploration out of combat, like Chris’ Iron Spy eventually mastering the technique of hopping into metal and electrical things to unlock fast travel via hopping into the internet.
Ursa and Alexis though are characters that you’ll need to put time into using. Ursa is a Blue Mage type character that can transform Revolutionary Lover into any weapon she’s touched or is knowledgeable about and Alexis is kind of a Chemist that requires you to engage in her photography minigames since Vivid Memories Turned to Fantasies depends on her transforming objects out of photos she took. If you put the time into actually building them up though, they can easily become the strongest characters in POP.
I think the only weird part of the duology with regards to gameplay is how you get experience. Instead of getting experience from fights, you gain it through the characters experiencing failure in the story. On one hand, I understand it because experiencing failure and working to overcome it is a sign of growth that EIDOLON: Become Your Best Self embraces for its own experience system. On the other hand… it’s just a weird thing to have in a JRPG style game. Though at the very least, the experience system removes the need for grinding besides getting money.
Another weird thing is that there are some plot elements across the games that don’t get brought up again or are different early on. Like with ROCK, there’s a side-plot with the Jawbreakers’ boss, Ruby Tuesday, that doesn’t really go anywhere. Chili also can only talk to Chris at the beginning for some reason and then everyone with an eidolon can suddenly hear her later on? It’s weird. Also hey, what’s with Chili’s alley cat friend that we never get to see again? I dunno, it feels like the creators were writing this game as they were going along or something. Maybe the creators will follow up on or change or remove some of these elements in the future updates leading up to TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART.
That said though, you may not notice those frayed plot threads because the main plots of POP and ROCK are so captivating. Who cares about the logistics of melted time when Sloane walks away from the experience with a better understanding of herself and a drive to be a better person? Who gives a shit that Harvey pulls out plans out of nowhere when they’re always so good?
Uniting the EIDOLON POP and ROCK experience is the soundtrack by Maxie Satan. Each character has their own theme, which tends to stick to the genre that their game is named after. Though, there a few more general themes that tend to steal the show. The villain themes are particularly fun, like the menacing though relaxed song that accompanies Lady Luck’s appearances and the more bombastic rock that plays for a certain villain that starts showing up toward the end.
If you love strong JRPG-like games with fun casts of characters, these games are for you – especially if you’re a fan of their inspirations. While they can be played separately, playing both and seeing how the games intermingle and contrast each other makes for a stronger experience and they’re required reading anyway if you want to get that crossover DLC.
…Anyway, this is clearly an April Fool’s post, but I sincerely do invite you to check out the EIDOLON: POP and ROCK podcasts that this post is based on. EIDOLON: Become Your Best Self is a real in-development tabletop game and if you’re interested in it and supporting the playtest podcasts, I invite you to check out its Patreon.