Narrative driven games are a favorite of mine. I love a good story hook to keep me exploring and drive me to the end. It’s why I love events like LudoNarraCon, which is where it just so happens I first encountered No Longer Home. No Longer Home is a story about endings–specifically, the ending of an era for Ao and Bo, two people who have fallen in love over the course of a year, but are forced apart by things they can’t control, like student visas and financial concerns.
No Longer Home’s story begins with a prior piece called Friary Lane that helps to establish Ao and Bo’s relationship. While it’s not compulsory to playing No Longer Home, I’d recommend starting there, as it helps to establish what each main character is feeling and struggling with.
The story takes place at a very specific time in Ao and Bo’s life–right after university, when life “should” be taking off. It’s not long before you figure out that’s the rub, though. Neither of them really feels like they know what they want to do, and even worse, circumstances out of their control are tearing them apart. Ao is being forced to return home to Japan because of visa limitations and both are being uprooted from the flat they shared with friends. Without their flatmates and without the oft-mythical job placement straight after graduation, everyone’s uncertain. Worse, in the past year they’ve come to grips with things like their sexuality and gender identity as well as forming a relationship, and all of it seems to hang in the balance.
No Longer Home features an interesting, detached sort of isometric view, and is structured like many narrative games, with a heavy focus on branching narrative choices, and a little bit of point and click adventure thrown in. You’ll walk around the flat from room to room, either checking out objects of interest or having conversations. In a twist on standard format, you won’t always be speaking as Ao or even Bo, and might end up shaping the direction of the story as an ancillary character like a roommate or friend. I liked how this was implemented so seamlessly, as it really helped the world take shape and the characters have body. The choices you have to make in conversation seem natural, and not, like in so many other games, like there are “right” or “wrong” ones, necessarily, which again serves to help draw you in to the story. Admitting a fear or insecurity can feel cathartic through the lens of these characters, because it won’t automatically take the story to a bad place.
There’s a strange supernatural element to No Longer Home, and without spoilering too much, I will say it’s an unusual addition. At first, I thought it would serve the story, but it doesn’t seem to too much other than to be a “quirky” thing for quirkiness’ sake. If there’s a larger metaphor at play, it wasn’t super obvious to me in my playthrough. As for the story, it seems to move along at a reasonable pace so that you don’t feel bored, and though you go through the same rooms, the situation and conversations change, as well as the things to see. But, there really isn’t a conclusion. It feels intentional, and even a little bit organic to the subject at hand–that there really isn’t always an easy answer, but it’s still a bit of a let down, and in the end kind of makes the whole endeavor feel a bit navel-gazey.
There are important conversations and important questions about identity in No Longer Home, and I like the world of characters and the realistic nature of the conflicts and troubles. I think it’s a fine thing to play to experience life through the eyes of someone else, whether that person shares a cultural or gender identity with you or not. I like the simple but still expressive art style. I just wish for a little more with No Longer Home. It feels almost unfinished, like there should be another episode where we see how it all turned out. That can be considered a compliment to the writing and a criticism of the game overall, in my opinion. Wanting more is great, but unresolved issues with main characters after a buildup to the end is ultimately a letdown. As with anything, your miles may vary, and I still think No Longer Home is worth taking the journey with.
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