I am the last person that you’d think would play a visual novel game, but late in 2015 a little game came out called Emily is Away. The game really took me by surprise and told a story which would be all too familiar to anyone who has had “the one that got away” sort of relationship with someone. Emily is Away Too is the sequel to that game, but just how far can they run with this usually stereotypical genre?
Without wanting to spoil too much about the first game, you basically are in love with a girl and she choses another guy over you. The same characters from the original game return in this, and a new one makes an appearance too. You build relationships with the two characters throughout the game and your ending will greatly depend on your responses to the chat.
The story is the bread and butter for any visual novel game, and Emily is Away Too is an interesting one that kept me playing till the end in one sitting. It’s not very often a game can capture me like that, so it ticks off the most important element for the genre.
You do need to have played the original game if you want to understand the history between the characters; whilst the game only briefly touches on some of the events from the past game you could get by if you skip it, but there is no reason to since the first game is free to play on Steam now.
The basis of Emily is Away Too’s story gives the player two ‘love interests’ to pursue, and if you have played the first game you will be right to think that things don’t always go as planned, with some twists and turns along the eventful few years you spend with this couple of characters.
The entire game is played from an MSN window. Any 90s kid will know what this looks like and will feel right at home with nostalgia hits coming at you from all angles. Your dialog choices are presented to you in three answers. When you make your choice, you can either let the game type it out for you in the chat window, or manically type on your keyboard with the satisfying sound effect and sort of type it for yourself.
A new element that Emily is Away Too has, which the first game didn’t, is clickable hyperlinks. You’ll be chatting away with Emily (one of the characters) and she’ll link you to a song she is listening to, to that hit streaming site YouToob.com. This will open up your actual browser window to the game’s version of YouTube, with embedded videos from YouTube itself, and the attention to detail that has gone into this site is pretty impressive, with comment sections and related video sidebars.
There is actually a whole host of websites that you can visit in the “Emily is Away Too” browser. You should definitely check out the selection here - http://emilyisaway.com/online/
Other than the links that you get sent via the chat messages to official artist songs, there is no actual music in the game, well sort of. Since it’s the 90s, the computer we are using is good ol trusty Windows XP, and you get that beautiful startup music...you know the one...enough to send chills up your spine.
The only other side effects are the ones we touched on in the past; the sound of someone typing on a keyboard...and not just any keyboard, a glorious mechanical one at that.
It’s hard to really call what is going off in this game ‘gameplay’ but there are options and you have to deal with the consequences. Now this game is certainly not going to be for anyone, and normally I am not that one, but given I loved the first game I wanted to give the sequel a try.
Whilst most of the chat options you get presented feel reasonable and believable responses, the ending of the game feels very forced and I felt it could quite easily have been solved with one line of dialog, but the fact you can’t intervene in anyway other than the options you are presented makes you feel hopeless. I guess it may be because I started to feel more of a connection to the character during the gameplay as it's a much more believable situation to be in rather than being a single survivor in a zombie apocalypse game (for example). So the ending did leave a little bit of a disappointment for me, simply because it did not end how I wanted it to. Such is life I guess.
A gameplay mechanic which again is new to the sequel is a timed response section. About half way through the game you get into dialog with two friends who are going through equally troubling times and they want to consol in you for advice, but it all happens at exactly the same time, and you only have a couple of seconds to read, respond and type back to them, if you manage to mess up the timing that will have consequences on the overall story; it’s nice that this mechanic was added to give the game something a little different over the first.
Another new feature that has been added may be a little bit too far for some people. Whilst chatting with your friends, they may send you files, you don’t actually open the files in the game, they actually download onto your actual computers desktop. Now some people may think that this is a bit too much, some may think ‘what happens in the game should stay in the game’ or ‘I didn’t even get a warning that these files will download onto my desktop’. Now one of the items I got downloaded was a poem, but another is a chatlog, and I can’t help but think that if someone’s partner was happen to see said chatlog on the computer (and the other person didn’t know it was downloaded) that it would spark all sorts of arguments and confusion. It was an original idea by the developers, but some prior clear warning is definitely needed for features like that in the future.
At the end of the game, you get the Telltale style screen showing you how your responses and ending compared to everyone else has played. Since the game is still new, the results are pretty split evenly currently, but I suspect that will change over the coming days. Where Emily is Away Too will lend itself to multiple playthroughs is the chance for different endings. Even from the second or third chapter, you will start to see different dialog options depending on your responses prior. On top of the different endings, you also get the chance to unlock different MSN avatars. Woooo!
For the price of a Starbucks coffee, you are getting an interesting story which may tug on your heart strings, the nostalgia hit is strong from the aesthetic of the MSN window, and multiple endings make replayability a factor too. I would still suggest you try out the first game before purchasing the sequel, just to see if you like the format, and if you do, then you’ll be set up for nicely for the second game.