No Longer Home (2021)
Developer: Humble Grove
I'd already made a "definitive" list of my top games of 2021, but I decided to pick up yet another Game Awards nominated indie title as it went on sale on the Switch right when I needed a new game to play during the holidays. I've heard good things about No Longer Home even before the nomination, but I'd held off as I wasn't sure what type of gameplay it had or what it was about. No Longer Home is an unusual point-and-click sort of visual novel about two college graduates dealing with having to move out, move apart, and become part of system that already rejects them. Unfortunately, No Longer Home can be painfully sluggish in its gameplay and lacks enough characterization to make its story as compelling as it could've been.
No Longer Home starts you off with an optional prologue chapter named Friary Road. It's essentially a visual novel with some dialogue choices for the two characters talking. Visually, it's pretty good, showing the environments changing around you during the conversation. It gives a decent set-up of how the two main characters, Ao and Bo, become friends. The next part of the story takes you through dialogue of the two moving in together. It's a little weird the way the dialogue is presented, since you don't know who's talking at first and it takes a while to figure out which dialogue is Bo and which is Ao. The main part of the game involves Ao and Bo, now living together, having a barbecue at their home with their friends. Bo and Ao are preparing to move out of their apartment now that they've graduated and need to find jobs. Ao has to move back to Japan as her student visa is set to expire, leaving Bo behind in England. As they try to reconcile with this change, their apartment begins to have some strange supernatural phenomenon and characters appear.
This was actually a scene I related to a lot. I never wanted to cook because it felt like I was "supposed to do", but I began to love cooking when I started to cook with someone I love.
This is going to sound silly, but when I started playing No Longer Home I literally turned off my game and unplugged my headphones multiple times to make sure my audio was working. I had the audio subtitles on, so I could see the game was telling me when a song was playing, but it was so incredibly soft I couldn't hear it well even with my volume all the way up. The game specifically requests that you use headphones so you can have the best experience as the soundtrack is an important part of the game, and yet: the music is not only really quiet but also just... a little boring. Looking at the soundtrack by Eli Rainsberry, the titular opening track stands out but as a catchy, smooth song but everything else is just too ambient and atonal for me. The art style is minimalist and isometric, showing you the apartment in a little cube which you can spin around. Also, hot take - I'm really over this minimalist art style where no one has a face. Yes, I understand why it's popular, why it works, and I can go as far as excusing it in certain games like Untitled Goose Game, but in a game about an emotional journey it doesn't make much sense at all to have these blank, emotionless faces.
If you've read my review of Kentucky Route Zero, then you already know I didn't love that game like a lot of people did. That's important to note here, because No Longer Home was very clearly inspired by Kentucky Route Zero. Yet, No Longer Home was missing the some of the key things I did like about KRZ such as the lyrical music and the melancholy but wholesome feeling of community at the end. It was definitely similar visually, though, with its stage-like environments and presentation. There were also similarities in aspects I didn't really enjoy about either title, such as the long dialogue with inconsequential choices by different characters at once and the slow-paced, sometimes limiting gameplay movement. Moving around the spaces felt like a chore. The actual gameplay screen was fairly small (especially on the Switch) and I had to make sure I selected the right item to interact with, even if I was right in front of it. After each cutscene or interaction, the game would take way too long to let you get back to playing. I literally counted and it took 15 seconds after a dialogue portion ended for the game to allow me to move again, just because... the camera was panning into place? It feels like it was focusing so much on "setting the stage" less than actually letting us in to experience what the characters are experiencing. There's little direction of what you're supposed to be doing, so you kind of just have to wander around each room looking for new indicators.
I really thought I'd like No Longer Home more, but perhaps I didn't have the patience it required. I genuinely think it was made with a lot of passion for a place and time in life but it just didn't succeed in making its journey as relatable as it should have been. It focused more on pacing and magical realism than on making its characters be understood. I vividly remember what it's like to graduate from college and move out of the apartment where you live with and get to see your best friends every day. I remember what it's like being terrified for the future and just trying to hold on to every moment until this era is over. And yet, this just didn't bring back those feelings for me. Sure, I didn't attend art school so this wasn't exactly like my experience, but it still should've felt more relatable. The characters seem like people I would probably like and want to know, but it's hard to read much more about them than the few opinions they state since emotions aren't shown at all in this art style. The best part of the game was actually a strange game-within-game that the characters play on Bo's computer. It's a text adventure and your choices actually seem to affect what you get to see. It's sort surreal, fantastical and pretty interesting. It just felt like more was happening there that I could get sucked into than in the "real" story.
For me, No Longer Home was a miss, unfortunately. I don't mind games being short - I mind that this game wasted a lot of its time with slow camera panning and gameplay. Its subject matter should've felt relatable to me, but it felt distant and almost made me feel like a stranger watching a very specific play, instead of being part of it. I don't highly recommend it for most players, but If you loved Kentucky Route Zero, then No Longer Home may be a good fit for you. It plays in a very similar way and also leans into a similar form of "magical realism", even though their stories are quite different. I'm glad that No Longer Home features a very real, loving relationship between two young nonbinary people, and I do hope to see more of that in future games.
No Longer Home is available on PC, Switch, and Xbox Series X|S
Played on: Switch
Playtime: 2 hrs