Back in the ’80s, I first encountered the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which allowed the reader to be more proactive in the story by choosing the protagonist’s actions. While I soon moved on to more serious literature (relatively speaking; I know my English teachers despaired of my fascination for fantasy and science fiction), I enjoyed the diversions these adventure stories provided. This format of storytelling has occasionally appeared in webcomics, with Damonk’s Framed!!! having had an HTML-coded “find your own adventure” for several strips and the comic Ctrl-Alt-Del likewise having several reader vote-directed adventures appear when the cartoonist was bored with his own storyline.
Following in these footsteps is Aetheria Epics. AE follows more in the footsteps of CAD rather than Framed!!! in that there is one storyline that reader votes is directing, rather than the continuous choices (and in-jokes) that Damonk scattered in his name-coded strips. AE is designed as a roleplaying game (very likely similar to some Japanese roleplaying computer games) allowing the readers to decide through majority vote on the protagonist’s posture, decisions, and dialogue choices. In fact, many aspects of the story have been selected by fans voting for it, from the genre to which character (of three) would be focused on to her personality type.
As part of the decision-making aspect of the comic, readers were able to select what part of the game world (Aetheria) the game would take place in, with a mixture of science fiction and fantasy settings available. The first story is a fantasy setting following the story of a young somewhat aloof female Summoner named Allete and her two friends Lily and Iris. The choices provided actually help drive aspects of the comic; one example lies with an early choice where readers decided Allete would dress casually instead of wearing the mandated uniform for Summoners, which resulted in a confrontational encounter with Instructor Magius shortly before class began.
That is not to say that the readers have complete control over the storyline. Certain parts of the comic are undoubtedly intended on occurring, such as the protagonist’s search for a nonpareil creature to form a contract with. At one point of the comic, the readers were given a choice: to apply herself on her own terms, to seek out Instructor Magius and apologize, or to run away. Undoubtedly the first two choices would have led to the quest for nonpareil summon, either through Allete’s own desire to prove herself or through her teacher’s suggestions.
While other comics have delved into the “Choose Your Own Story” genre in the past, I’m not aware of any that have consistently stuck with this theme or given their readers as wide a variety of options in terms of shaping the characters and their personalities. What’s even more impressive is that Kristof S. is writing this comic five times a week (mostly) while simultaneously writing and drawing another comic, Circumstances of the Revenant Braves. And while Aetheria Epics might not possess the vivid lines and crisp colors of other comics, the minimalism to line art and the glowing coloring style help give the comic an ethereal feel that fits the comic nicely and helps it stand out from its peers.