You’re graduating high school in a few days and you want to keep in touch with your best friend for five years who ends up going to a different college. You set up a chat client on your rusty Windows XP laptop to talk to them. Everything’s fine for a while until you find out your best friend is dating that grade-A jerk from the graduation party, and you have to decide between pretending to be happy for them and convincing her to break up with him. You know that both choices won’t end well, so what are you going to do?
That’s basically how the story goes. Emily is Away is about an unlucky guy’s relationship with his friend, Emily, and how it changes over the span of five years. The game is an interactive visual novel that allows you to affect the flow of the gameplay through choices. The story is divided into five chapters, and the outcome depends on the choices you make and on how you treat Emily. It’s different from the stereotypical visual novel because, other than the fact that it doesn’t include graphics of the characters’ faces and long lines of narrative text, the game showcases a Windows XP environment, complete with the platform’s tones and features to give the players the full experience of a life in the 2000s.
The Fun Factor
Built on the concept of the 2000s culture, the game might look outdated, but you have to admit, the nostalgic environment adds to its charm. The customizable buddy icon from the Instant Chat Messenger is actually one of the fun features of the game.The icon you choose won’t completely affect the gameplay, but it’s still fun to experiment with different profile pictures.
Don’t they remind you of the days when you chilled out to ‘90s songs on cassette tapes with the Muggles? Not to mention the icons are pixelated—who doesn’t dig pixels?
Another cool feature is the buddy list. It contains buddy informations or character bios that change every year, each one using song lyrics to describe a character’s mood. It’s virtually impossible to interact with anyone other than Emily, but the bios of your and Emily’s friends make for a more realistic gameplay.
The main commands consist of clicking around the screen and typing replies using the keyboard. It can be quite confusing at first, especially if you don’t know what to do after selecting a number from a set of choices. After making a choice, the game doesn’t actually instruct you to press keys randomly around the keyboard to advance the conversation with Emily. You would be stuck wondering if it’s a glitch, even though it’s anything but. Once you figure it out, you’ll find that the random keyboard-mashing is what you do in the game to help the story progress, setting it apart from the other interactive story games.
The graphics offer a nice change of scenery from the usual visual novels with 2D figures that help you identify the characters, and the sounds give you the feel of actually using a Windows XP laptop—from the whirring noise it makes while booting up, to the tones of the chat client. In its entirety, the game environment is designed to make you feel like you’re really chatting with someone from a generation of outmoded technology and old punk rock bands and movies.
Maybe after finishing the game, you would be tempted to play it again to get the other endings, but allow me to warn you that it could get frustrating when you don’t get the ending you’re looking for. It gets worse once you find out the painful truth Seeley wants to show. What’s so good about this game is that Seeley is able to realistically portray the pain of heartbreak through the conversations of two clueless characters who could have ended up together but didn’t. Reality bites, and this game definitely made that bite count.
Emily is Away is a game that packs a punch. If you’re one of those people who understand the pain of being friendzoned, or if you’re just looking to try a game of a new genre in general, Emily is Away might just be for you. But, be warned: the ending isn’t always what you want it to be.
This game goes out to the victims of platonic love. May the future Emilys be more forgiving.