humblegrove's No Longer Home is an invitation to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and watch the tangled and muted vignettes of two ordinary people unsure of what they want. It's a semi-autobiographical narrative presented prettily with inspirations from theatrical stagecraft, shifting and twisting the setting to underline the melancholy. It's the very definition of a rainy day game. And it has a really big cat in it, too.
The game starts with a prologue titled "Friary Road", where the two central characters Bo and Ao strike up a conversation at the end of a summer barbecue. It's the end of their second year of university and they joke candidly about this section of their lives being almost over and what comes next. They chat about their identities and where they would call "home," and it's clear that the two click. It's surprising then to find out that this is one of the first times they've had a proper conversation - they've mixed and mingled in circles but felt that the other was "too cool" to talk to them. Bo and Ao are sad that they didn't make the most of their time together as Bo will be in England while Ao travels back to Japan, and it's tough to tell what the future has in store.
Watch the trailer to this thoughtful and introspective title here.
The story then skips to the point when Bo and Ao have graduated and live together in a ramshackle flat in London, which lets them have the "luxurious" option of a home studio. They're going to move out soon - Bo is going to their parents' place and Ao will accompany them until they have to return to Japan owing to the expiration of their student visa. As a point and click game, the player pilots either Bo or Ao as they arrange a summer barbecue for themselves and their friends as a goodbye to the flat and something to anchor themselves to in an extremely uncertain time in their lives.
Obviously, the standout part of the story for me is the way that the developers have mixed the understated art style with transitions lifted from stage productions. As characters chat, for example, the walls will pull away revealing the cobalt sky and the silhouettes of the surrounding neighbourhood. The diorama will spin very slowly at other times, metaphorically and literally placing the two at the heart of the scene. No Longer Home signposts what is interactable and each of the items trigger a short description of the flat's dilapidated condition. And, in this unremarkable flat, there are remarkable moments where the boundary between worlds becomes fuzzy.
Interacting with the telly in the kitchen causes the cramped room to expand like a supernova as a rotating unidentifiable skull subsumes the screen. And then it's over. Or, Bo will encounter an enormous, fluffy, horned monster in one of the rooms, who is lolling there due to a dispute with their own housemates all the while calling Bo by the wrong name. The game advises you to immerse yourself in these magical or abstract moments and to ascribe as much importance as you wish to them. In point and clicks where everything must mean something, this is refreshing and encourages you to explore every inch of the flat.
(Also, I've just got to say this somewhere - there are two cats who live in the flat named Luna and Autumn. Luna is adorable and Autumn is enormous. I don't know if that was the case in reality too but Autumn is an absolute unit of an animal. humblegrove, please confirm whether or not Autumn is half as tall as a person when standing on their back legs. Because omg.)
Through the ordinariness of planning a barbecue and its wonderfully stark and simple style, the player is invited into the headspaces of Bo and Ao and how their worries manifest. Bo and Ao have a lot in common yet conflict. Bo is quiet, logical and reflective and spends the majority of their time ruminating on what it is they should be doing. Ao is brash, conversational and scatterbrained, and is extremely aware of an invisible hourglass looming over their shoulder. Both bear their own anxieties on the state of the world and are conscious of the unpredictability of living in a country that is hostile to who they are.
In conversations, the player is able to direct the dialogue by selecting one of two replies. One might be optimistic and the other might be distracted. One might be said by Ao and one might be said by one of their friends at the barbecue. All in all, the experience is of a mellow magical realist story playing out before your eyes. No Longer Home is peaceful and purposeful with the way that it lays out these thoughts and emotions swirling round Bo and Ao's flat. For me, the game took up two hours of my rainy Tuesday evening, and it was just the ticket. Playing was like I'd settled in with a book I'd been meaning to get round to for some time, savouring every turn of the page. And what an enviable effect, am I right?
The game was made by a modest team over the course of four years, grappling with the thousands of miles between the two lead developers in the UK and in Japan. There are a small number of quibbles I have, like the fact that it is sometimes difficult to know who is speaking out of the expanded cast of characters and that it'd be great to have a switch that lets the dialogue flow between the two so I can focus on the shifting settings. However, I recognise that it's a deeply personal project and one that has been shared with the world. For those in need of hunkering down while a silent storm rages on every side, I recommend No Longer Home.
Pros: Personal and affecting story, hypnotic presentation, refreshing mix of realism and magic
Cons: Unclear who is talking at times and who characters are, repetitive structure, I'd love a way to let the conversation play out automatically
For Fans Of: Kentucky Route Zero, Life Is Strange, Night In The Woods, enormous cats
No Longer Home will be released for PC and Mac on July 30, 2021. Code provided by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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