Have you experienced a friendly relationship that seemed to be verging into something more?
Are you alive in the early 2000’s era of PC with its Window XP operating system and AOL messenger?
Then, this game might be for you. Without spoiling anything, “Emily is Away” is about your relationship with Emily from senior year of high school to senior year of college; encapsulated by snippets of back and forth online communication throughout the years.
The game itself is very short. It only took me less than an hour to finish. It can also be downloaded for free at steam or here so the time/money commitment is low. And for completionist like me, getting every achievement on steam won’t even take you 20 minutes. (Here is a guide for that) Replayability is low though. In fact, for certain reasons that I will get into later, I think this game would be better served if you played it just ONCE.
One thing is for sure while I cannot say I enjoyed this game, its still thought provoking all the same.
SPOILERS BELOW THIS LINE
The first thing that this game will hit you is with nostalgia. I didn’t even know how different XP to Window 10 until I’ve heard that distinctive beep sound. The next is how organically the communication between you and Emily will develop; the message feels like what my idiotic teenage self would write complete with the typing, deleting and self-censoring involved.
And there is self-censoring involved. Even at the very beginning, you will notice that the protagonist have deeper feelings for Emily. For example this message and my choice says that you’re my best friend. The protagonist rewrote that as “you’re one of my best friend”.
Heh. Funny how adding a few words says a lot. As the one without a censor implies a certain intensity of feelings while the other conveys that the protagonist feels that Emily is “one of the guys”.
And this is the more subtle ones, as you go on the protagonist feelings became incredibly obvious. But, it also becoming obvious that this relationship is not meant to be. Distance, time, other relationship and commitment separate the protagonist and Emily …so much so that at the end, there is hardly a relationship to speak off. Either Emily ignores the protagonist or they are stuck saying meaningless platitudes to one another.
At the end, you are left with a wistful feeling of “that’s life” at the result.
I’m sure, everyone has a person who made their days brighter in the past but whom they barely speak to in the present.
Everyone has a person whom they regret not saying words left unspoken.
And that is why, I think, this game is so relatable.
Everyone has an Emily.
And perhaps this the reason why I’m not recommending a second play-through. This game is built on the premise of lost chances and wishful what if’s of the one who got away.
And I’m not condemning it for that. But, I do believe some of the power of that regret rest in the illusion of choice.
How if we said the right words, picked the correct course of action, things might be different today.
But, if you ever do a second go at this game, it would became increasingly clear that there is no winning. That Emily will reject you whether you choose to became the most supportive best friend one can hope for or go the opposite direction and became an abusive jealous jerk.
Players would realize that there is no choice at all.
And I fear that their wistful regret would quickly turn into bitter disappointment. As their Emily turn into someone they barely know at all. (Which is true, closer look would make one realize that we barely know anything about Emily) But, someone whom they can never please. Whom there is no hope of a happy ending.
In many ways, this VN violate the cardinal rule of of choice filled game. That your choice matters. And yet, I cannot fully condemn it considering the premise. After all, in a relationship no matter how frustrating it is doing good to someone doesn’t oblige them to fall in love with you. It takes two to tango.
Emily has a choice in this as well.
And sometimes no matter what we do her choice is not you.