Nostalgia is a powerful thing. TONS of game tap into nostalgia to tug at the memories of childhood, be it around the SNES or Atari, capturing the pixelated graphics and frustratingly harsh gameplay of yesteryear. However, it’s not every game that tackles the wild world of Instant messengers of the early 2000’s.
No, that world belongs to Emily.
Emily is Away Too is a spiritual successor to Emily is Away, the interactive story created by Kyle Seeley back in 2015. This revisiting of IM based romantic entanglement has not only made the story more complex, but has also upped the level of immersion, incorporating browser based portions, and more than a few surprises.
Emily is Away Too is an interactive story set in an old instant messenger. Message both Emily and Evelyn as you determine the outcome of your senior year. Extend the story past the chat window with youtube links, facebook profiles and file transfers. And most importantly, change your text color to lime green so everyone knows you’re the coolest kid in school.
We were given the opportunity to preview Emily Is Away Too earlier this year when we talked to Kyle as part of our IndieDev Interview Series, and our opinions from that preview of Chapter 1 in regards to the mechanics and immersion remains the same, even after playing through all five chapters of the game. In Emily Is Away Too, you’ll be responding to two of your female friends, Emily and Evelyn. The format of this interaction is steeped in nostalgic immersion, with era appropriate graphics, whirring and clicking computer sounds in the background and browser based era-appropriate mirrors of websites like YouToob and Facenook.
However, the most immersive aspect of the game is how you respond to the two other characters. Your given an option of 3 different responses to their questions or comments, and after selecting option 1, 2 or 3, you’ll have to physically type on your keyboard to complete and send the message. This isn’t a typing test, and it doesn’t matter what you type (you can just smash the space bar if you want). However, that necessity for you to make an action to respond immediately takes the immersion to another level and makes the entire experience that much more engaging.
It’s all expertly done, and clearly a ton of love and fondness for the era has been poured into this time capsule of a game.
Check out our preview of Chapter 1 of Emily is Away Too and take a look at what we’re talking about:
I was drawn into the story and situation of Emily is Away Too, and the lives of these two characters very quickly. Both are very different people, but they’re easy to identify with. You’ll be asked by them about your likes, dislikes, desires and opinions, and this will impact these characters opinions of you. Over the year, you’ll be presented with some rather intense situations by both people, and have to make some rather important decisions on advice to give that will drastically alter the way these people feel about you. In particular, in a later chapter, two very intense life conversations come up at the same time demanding your attention. Suddenly your responses are timed, having only seconds to respond to the questions being presented by both girls, with both parties calling you out if you aren’t responding quickly enough. Eventually, you’ll almost certainly have to choose one conversation to abandon. It raised the stakes, and demands a decision in a seamless way.
My only gripe with the story of Emily Is Away Too is the responses of the characters, and the options I was given in how to repspond, often felt generic, flat and un-nuanced. As your relationships develop, you start talking about serious topics like abuse, sex, suicide, drinking and more. Yet, sometimes, I wasn’t given an opportunity to respond in a way I’d like to. For instance, when asked if you drink, you’re given the options of either being all for drinking, or never touching the stuff. There’s very little middle ground given, and the responses of Evelyn and Emily often seemed similarly very black or white, with no chance for a nuanced opinion or gray answer. At times, Evelyn and Emily seemed like characters of people I met in High School.
Which is exactly what they are.
Emily is Away Too is meant to be a window into a specific time and way of communicating that has since been lost to the cell phone. These two character are meant to represent two very specific characters of people from that era; (for lack of better qualifiers) The Artsy Girl and The Punk Girl. There is very little nuance because that’s not the way teenagers acted on IM. It was a battlefield of repressed emotions and hormones without a means of indicating sarcasm or body language: OF COURSE people took things the wrong way, and misunderstood each other.
Watch our Interview with Developer Kyle Seeley to learn more about why he sees Emily is Away Too as a form of Time Capsule:
I will say this though: even if I was frustrated by the lack of dialogue options at times, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story, and am eager to play through it again to experience some different options. You can clearly see branches extending out to different paths as you pass them throughout the game, so there’s significant replay value in Emily is Away Too.
There’s also numerous secrets to find withing the game, which I won’t spoil but know this: Emily and Evelyn are NOT the only people that you can talk to in the game.
If you’re a fan of narrative games, or lived in the golden era of AIM, Emily is Away Too is a must try (as is the original). It’s sense of immersion is absolutely astounding, and it’ll draw you into a branching and nostalgic story of high school angst. Sure, it may be a bit frustrating at times that you can’t communicate exactly what you want to in these conversations, but who wasn’t frustrated at their inability to communicate in High School?
Honestly, in some ways it adds to the immersion…