The title screen of Psycholonials, put for the sake of having at least one image in this post.
If you don’t know what Psycholonials is, it’s a visual novel released sequentially in February through April 2021 by Andrew Hussie, the creator of the legendary webcomic Problem Sleuth.
… what, are you telling me that there’s another webcomic Hussie wrote after Problem Sleuth that’s much more famous? OK, fine, I’ll drop the act. I’ve accepted long ago that I can never escape Homestuck and that it’ll always be with me, as the visual novel reminds readers near the start. This review will contain spoilers for Psycholonials, so read at your own risk!
Comparison to Homestuck
Where do I begin with Psycholonials? It’s the first work of fiction written entirely by Andrew Hussie since Homestuck ended in 2016, and it’s far shorter than Homestuck, which I find relieving. Not because I didn’t enjoy Psycholonials—quite the opposite! It’s more that Hussie intended for Homestuck to run for only a year at first, and it spiraled WAY out of control as he expanded Homestuck and started various side projects related to it, making the comic instead run for seven years. Hussie had long promised Homestuck to be merely a precursor to later works to come, and with Psycholonials, he’s fulfilling that promise at long last.
Psycholonials does borrow plenty of elements and storytelling styles from Homestuck, just like Homestuck did with Hussie’s prior comics. The most interesting thing carried over is perhaps Homestuck’s style of dialogue, with each character given their own text color and typing style, not just when typing over text but also when speaking aloud. I’m quite a fan of this style of presenting dialogue because typing styles and colors both help give characters personality. The two main characters of Psycholonials, Z and Abby, have distinct typing styles (Z all lowercase and almost no punctuation, Abby capitalizing only the starts of sentences and omitting apostrophes and ending punctuation), and those help make it easy to tell what sorts of characters they are. Same goes for all the other characters.
I think it’s perfectly fine to use this style of dialogue writing in media unrelated to Homestuck! Many webcomics inspired by Homestuck but otherwise unrelated to it use such colorful dialogue. Even Undertale does it with a few of its characters, and I shouldn’t have to tell you that Homestuck is to thank for Undertale’s existence. Another good example is some works by JohnJRenns such as Prologue to Actualize: A Video Novel.
Other similarities to Homestuck include symbolic duality (sword/crown and clown/horse in Psycholonials, too many to list in Homestuck), satire of social media, presence of very specific celebrities, jokes about horses and clowns, stylish loading screens… it goes on. Psycholonials has Andrew Hussie written all over it, which I mean in a good way. I’ll go over many of these points I listed in unique headers, but without as much comparison to Homestuck.
Social Media Satire
Just like how Homestuck has satire of social media from the late 2000s to the mid-2010s, Psycholonials presents a parody of how we know it today. But in Psycholonials, social media is actively integral to the plot as Z builds up a social media presence, first by mooching off Abby’s following (Abby starts the story as an Internet celebrity of sorts) and then vastly eclipsing her in popularity. Z uses her social media to start a clown-themed political cult called the Jubilites, based on a manifesto that she had written years prior after her father died—the same manifesto that plays a pivotal role in starting Z’s life as a criminal on the loose, when a police officer shoots the manifesto and Z kills the officer. Z’s cult eventually blows up into a full-scale rebellion, spreading her philosophy (which heavily involves clowns) to overthrow the government of the island she lives on, turning it into a nation called New Whimsiphae. The perils of social media and the discomforting ease of exploiting it are explored in full depth here. Z scams Abby’s wealthy parents and ropes a fan of hers named Percy into impersonating Abby’s father to help with that, and Z and Abby earn billions of dollars from there, which helps them start the whole rebellion.
Hussie is clearly using all this social media satire (with social media that exists in real life, unlike early Homestuck) to make a point about how gullible and malleable people on there are, and about how much social media can screw people’s brains up. Excessive use of websites like Twitter or Instagram can turn people into weird robotic drones who repeat statements and opinions that they’re told are correct and demonize anyone whose views don’t perfectly align with theirs—at least, that’s how it comes off to me. And don’t even get me started on cancel culture, the idea of trying to ruin people’s lives on social media through fabrications or exaggerations in the hopes that you’d be seen as a vigilant hero (again, that’s how it comes off to me). Psycholonials takes the idea that social media can so easily reshape people to the logical extreme with the Jubilites, and though it’s probably an exaggeration of what social media is like, I still find it terrifying in just the right way.
The Gender Triangle
… is basically The Quadrants 2.0. I’m going to assume you’ve read Homestuck and know what the quadrants are.
The gender triangle is one of my favorite things in Psycholonials. It’s a fascinating new way to think about the concept of gender identity, which is a topic that I think about far more often than I’d like to admit. The concepts of male, female, and non-binary are expanded on not just to form a linear spectrum, but a triangle with a clown symbol on top to indicate pure apathy on gender identity, and “horse” versions of male, female, and non-binary on the bottom to indicate especially strong feelings about one’s identity. Clown represents how Z identifies, and horse female represents Abby; the cast page gives gender symbols for every character in Psycholonials, even those who appear only in one scene and don’t speak.
I find it strangely endearing to see Hussie go philosophical about the concept of gender identity; “clown gender” is quite evidently how Hussie himself identifies. I can’t help but think that back when I first read Homestuck, or even when Homestuck finished, I would have thought the gender triangle was complete imaginary bogus. But when I got to the gender triangle part of Psycholonials as I played through it, I immediately thought, “holy shit, this makes so much sense!” It probably helps that I’ve gone on many, many trains of thought on gender identity and have greatly struggled to make sense of it all. Like, I have a male body and look like a man and don’t feel wrong looking like a man, but what does it mean to identify as a man? I draw a blank every time I ask myself that question, and I’m never sure if that’s a sign of anything, but that’s an aside. What’s next to discuss?
I normally hate talking about politics, especially on the Internet, but it’s impossible to talk about Psycholonials without talking about politics, so I’ll make an exception here. Psycholonials contains loads and loads of political satire and discussion how messed up human society is—sometimes specifically American society, sometimes the world in general. I found the political conversations in Psycholonials very intriguing and poignant, with a bleak view on the gigantic mess and supposed “land of freedom” that is the United States. The Jubilites’ rebellion eventually goes to lengths far beyond anything that Z ever anticipated, and Abby tries to stay out of all the mayhem and increasingly drowns herself in alcohol and K-pop boy band fantasies (more on that later). The two have lots of discussions on the inherent greed and selfishness that drove human society and got them to where they are now, and even to where they were before the story started.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Psycholonials takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lot of the political discussion revolves around the United States’ massive struggle to properly deal with the disease. But I hate talking about the pandemic just as much as I hate talking about politics, so I’ll just say that the pandemic feels like all of humanity is being punished for no reason and leave it at that.
I’m going to take this blog post into a bit of a silly interlude by discussing three things that Hussie loves to joke about, the first of which is horses. Horse jokes are littered throughout Homestuck, starting with the pony named Maplehoof and gradually ramping up from there until we get a recurring motif of demise ironically happening in proximity to horses, which continues all the way up to [S] Collide, the comic’s second-last animation. Many fans of Homestuck find that Hussie’s horse jokes have worn thin over the years (especially in his post-Homestuck interviews), and I can’t say I disagree.
For this reason, I am relieved that horse jokes aren’t too oversaturated in Psycholonials; they’re present to just the right degree to make this an unmistakable Hussie work without being overbearing. The gender triangle uses horses as a symbol of strength that contrasts against clowns, and Abby has a horse named David Hasselhoof, who is her dear, sweet, loving best friend that can do no wrong. Hasselhoof is tragically killed when the war starts to reach its climax—no joke, the horse’s death is incredibly crushing. And in the end, Abby and Z adopt a horse and name him after Percy, who was similarly killed in a gunfight, which is incredibly heartwarming. More about the story’s ending after this interlude.
In more recent years after finishing Homestuck, Hussie has taken an ENORMOUS shining to joking about clowns and posting bizarre clown cosplays to social media, which we now know of course was foreshadowing Psycholonials. Clowns and juggalo satire are prevalent in Homestuck from start to finish, but for some reason I still only view clowns as Hussie’s second favorite thing to joke about.
If you thought Homestuck was oversaturated with clowns, wait until you hear about Psycholonials. The Jubilites, Z’s clown cult that I mentioned earlier, use lots of clown-related terms like “pranxis” and “Supreme Honkifex”, and the cult ignites many countries throughout the world, most of all Russia and the United States, into complete chaos. Every character who is part of the Jubilites has a clown persona, and some of them we only know by those personas. All those clown names feel like names that only Hussie would come up with—after all this time, he still has an extremely unique writing style that I’m happy to report is as resounding as ever in Psycholonials.
K-pop is another topic that Hussie has joked a lot about in recent years, but unlike horses and clowns, it’s nowhere to be seen in Homestuck, probably because the Western K-pop craze ramped up enormously after Homestuck ended. And I don’t think I can blame Hussie for finding the massive craze over K-pop, especially its boy bands, so hilarious. In Psycholonials, Abby is a gigantic fan of the K-pop boy band BTS and has written tons of gay fanfictions about its members. She eventually talks to the band’s members directly as they peacefully take over the government of South Korea. It’s clear that Abby takes genuine delight and comfort in those K-pop boy bands, which adds quite a bit of realism to her character.
All in all, I view Psycholonials as the grand culmination of Hussie’s jokes about horses, clowns, and K-pop. All those jokes were leading up to this visual novel the whole time, hence the myserty. That isn’t the only thing I view Psycholonials as, but it’s still a big one. Now I can end this interlude about things Hussie likes to joke about! What’s next to discuss?
is awesome, the end. Homestuck has some insanely talented musicians, and Clark Powell is no exception.
I already have discussed Z and Abby’s characters quite a bit and will have plenty more to say about them, but before that, there are a few supporting characters I’d like to discuss.
Percy is perhaps the biggest tragic figure in this story. He’s a testament to how perfectly friendly and good-hearted people can get tangled up into social media schemes, making all the horror blow up in their faces. As a loyal follower of Z’s social media, he willingly goes along with whatever schemes she tells him to participate in, including the whole money scam impersonation business I mentioned earlier. But then when Percy gets arrested and Z meets him in person, he stops saying even a word, and his facial expressions tell us everything about how much he’s realized he lost all his innocence. He simply doesn’t know what to say and is probably reflecting on how he’s permanently stuck living life as a felon instead of whatever ordinary, healthy life he dreamed of. And then police officers kill him in a gunfire while Z is shot in the leg. Even though Z is a morally dubious figure from start to finish, she clearly reflects on him post-death as a good kid who didn’t deserve any of this.
Joculine is a testament to how fandom rivalry can escalate into full-out backstabbing. Early in the story, we learn of a user named “candace_shmandace” who is one of Z’s supposed “antis” on social media, having a grudge against her and intending to ruin her reputation for unexplained reasons. Later, a figure named Joculine joins the Z’s cult, and Z gradually puts the pieces together and shoots the backstabber, but not before Joculine set up a bomb to kill Abby’s parents. But in the post-ending letter from Z, she reveals that the two used to be acquaintances in Internet fandom, which I’ll go over a little later. For now, just know that Joculine demonstrates the scary truth about how social media can amplify grudges and rivalry.
Riotus is a mythical god who Z dreams about several times and who may or may not be the product of her imagination. He provides exposition aplenty about the concept of successors and teases the idea of making choices, which I’ll again discuss a bit later. I find it interesting that unlike in Homestuck, Psycholonials leaves it ambiguous whether anything that happens in dreams is anything more than the product of the dreamer’s imagination. This ambiguity regarding dreams makes Psycholonials significantly more grounded in reality than Homestuck or Problem Sleuth, which both have a great deal of unique dream mechanics.
Mizzlebip is the first successor in line to Z’s throne of Supreme Honkifex; the first of disturbingly many to come, as we see in the credits. She speaks only in emojis and serves as a lead-up to the incomprehensible chaos that the United States turns into at the end of the story. Speaking of which…
After Z gives a grandiose speech to a stadium of her cult members about overthrowing the American government, everything starts to blow up in her face, and she and Abby go on a series of sneaky flights to escape to an island in Fiji. They have a very poignant conversation about the complete chaos that the United States has become; Mizzlebip is assassinated shortly after the two escape, then her further successors inherit the throne and are assassinated at similarly swift speeds. Z and Abby discuss how all those plans to destroy the American government didn’t quite go as either hoped and raise some interesting points that I had already discussed in prior sections.
In a dream, Z (who has decided to go by her real name, Zhen) talks to not Riotus, but a god personification of the identity Z. She is faced with one final decision to make, this time seemingly one that the player can choose for themselves. In several prior interludes between chapters, the story fakes out the option of giving the player a choice, saying that only a true successor can make a choice. But here, the choices are finally opened for real (or so it seems). The two choices are crown and sword, which is reminiscent of the meat/candy duality in the Homestuck Epilogues. The crown represents Zhen becoming an immortal god and successor to Riotus’ throne, while the sword represents Zhen resorting to mortal life on the island, with a metaphorical sword over her head slowly descending to represent eventual death. The player seemingly gets to choose and has to confirm it five times, but Zhen ends up overriding the choice and goes with the sword. There’s probably a whole bunch of metafictional interpretation one could give to this subversion of the concept of visual novels letting you make choices, but I find it more interesting to talk about Zhen’s ending choice as is.
Zhen and Abby live life on the island and get married as the rest of the world becomes more and more incomprehensible. Their decision to flee from the gigantic mess that they caused gives off a somewhat nihilist message; maybe not a message that readers are meant to take to heart, but a message no less. The world has turned into a lunatic hellfire and nothing makes the slightest bit of sense anymore, and if you’re the one who caused all this, what are you supposed to do about it? Maybe the intent here was more to tell readers, especially those familiar with Homestuck (which I presume is virtually Psycholonials’ entire audience), not to let social media get to them too much lest something like THIS were to happen.
After the ending montage with Zhen and Abby living life on the island, the credits show us a montage of many successors to the Jubilites’ throne ascending to Supreme Honkifex and then getting assassinated, which shows full force how haywire and muddled beyond recognition the clown cult has become.
After the Ending
When given the choice between sword and crown, Hussie rightly presumed readers would save at this point, assuming they could then load the save to try out all possibilities. But if the reader tries to load a save after the ending credits, they are instead met with a message in a bottle from Zhen, and it’s very, very poignant.
The message starts with a discussion of her and Abby’s life on Fiji and on Zhen’s fondness for the concept of islands, whose boundaries are defined by nature rather than people. Then comes a section directed at Homestuck fans, where Zhen reveals that she and Joculine were at one point online acquaintances who talked about Homestuck, and that she still thinks about Joculine a lot for this reason. You know what I’m talking about, right? Random people who you’ve talked with about Homestuck (or other fandoms) online plenty, but who you don’t really know beyond that. Maybe you have some of those people listed as “friends” in whatever forum or chatroom you use, but they aren’t really your friends. They’re people who you can very well start an online rivalry with, which could linger for years as was the case with Zhen and Joculine.
Through the character of Zhen, Hussie is providing honest advice to Homestuck fans through this letter: there’s a human being behind every username in whatever social media you use, and you can’t let debates and arguments boil to the point where you forget that. Perhaps Hussie was incited to give this advice when he saw many of the people who work (or worked) on official Homestuck media get into complete shitfires on Twitter that led to a lot of nasty hatred and threats from many sides of the fandom. Homestuck Twitter, Homestuck Tumblr (or what’s left of it), Homestuck Mastodon, the unofficial Homestuck Discord*, sub-communities like Vast Error… there’s been so much nasty fandom drama that I’ve made an honest attempt to stay out of, and I’m not sure I’ve entirely succeeded at that. But I am hopeful that some fans have taken that message to heart and maybe tried to be at least a little more respectful to each other on the Internet.
* Not to say that the other things I mentioned are official. It’s just that in this case, I’m referring to a specific Discord server that’s branded as unofficial.
I’m glad I finally played through Psycholonials. It’s an engaging work of fiction that shows that Hussie’s still got it after all those years: humorous writing, poignant writing, stylized art, dramatic animations, deeper messages to take away, and most of all, a unique sense of humor that I can only describe as “Andrew Hussie”.
With this post finished, I can finally continue the very last leg of my Homestuck blog post series! I only have 14 posts left, guys. I can do this, I can TOTALLY do this.