Emily is Away Too is a romance visual novel that is the spiritual successor to free-to-play older sibling, Emily is Away. The game simulates the AOL chat messenger service and has you talking to your friends Emily and Evelyn about the worries of finishing senior and the prospects of college. This sequel aims to extend the internet universe beyond the single chat window as you can explore 2006 simulated websites of YouToob, FaceNook and even Steam and Newgrounds. It has a branching narrative and multiple endings depending on dialogue choices you make. Emily is Away Too is a nostalgia trip back to cringey screen names and angsty teenage music but also captures the awkwardness and heartache of high school love.
Emily is Away Too is available to buy now on Steam for £3.99
It's the start of senior year in high school and your two friends Emily and Evelyn are messaging you about homework, music and parties. The game is structured into five parts that span over the course of the year, so essentially you have five conversation with both Emily and Evelyn. At the beginning of the game it is established that you an Emily have been long term friends with Evelyn being a new friend that you met in History class this semester. Emily is into alternative rock, plays video games and has a desire to move far away whilst Evelyn is into emo punk music and has plans to settle down straight after college. As the game begins, both the girls seem really genuine and fun to talk to, their character responses have as edge of realism to them. The conversations are a blast to the past and the game really does capture the nature of these ‘talk about nothing’ conversations.
As you continue to talk to both Emily and Evelyn you gradually become closer to them until they both open up to you about some personal relationship issues. Its this part of the game that lets the story down because the dialogue options are different variations of saying essentially the same thing. The dialogue options in the first half of the game have character, some answers being goofy, trying to ‘play it cool’ or even coming off as a bit of a creep. But when you start to have in depth conversations about upsetting subjects, there is no characteristics within the answers you can chose. They are all pretty standard: ‘then what did you do?’, ‘what happened next?’, ‘why did you leave?’ in what feels like a weird robot therapy session.
Having more emotional responses or a variation in tone would have given the the player a more personal voice. There is a small moment in the game where you can give advice on which actions a character should take and those options are different, but there is still no tonal difference. After spending time getting to know these characters I would of liked to have seen more personal responses to the girls’ problems.
This issues continues into several endings of the game most obviously in if you get one of the more dramatic endings then Emily and Evelyn’s arguments become similar in tone, it feels like the same script was used for more than one of the endings. Also the endings in general in Emily is Away Too are pretty standard, you either get the girl you pursue or not. They come across quite teeny and full of high school drama regarding how honest you are, being ‘real’ or ‘fake’. This is quite a contrast to the first game, whose ending was understandably teeny but more powerful. It only had one ending but it had a specific point to make and executed it brilliantly. In comparison, Emily Is Away Too doesn’t keep up with the first game but it does make up through its world expansion and game play.
With Emily is Away Too being a visual novel the game play doesn’t go any further than picking dialogue options in conversations with the characters. You have an option of three answers to choose and the narrative changes with certain responses in critical moments. However, by using the ‘EOL’ chat messenger interface as a place for these conversations there are some clever intricacies that would only work by using these retro chat windows.
The window only allows you to have one conversation up at a time which makes it a pain for two people to keep talking to you but by using the ‘tab’ key the player can quickly switch between conversations. In moments where both Emily and Evelyn are talking to you at the same time the player can quickly tab back and forth between conversations. With this concept combined with answers that have a time limit, it can get kind of stressful. Not wanting to disappoint the other person with no reply, you tab furiously back and forth between conversations, literally juggling the characters. But fits perfectly within the themes of the game, and brings a freshness of this 'EOL' interface from the last game.
Another important detail that Emily is Away Too smartly kept from the first game and from old messengers like AOL and MSN was the ability to see when someone was backspacing and retyping something. In the game, when characters do this a little message that normally would say ‘Emily is typing…’ turns into ‘Emily is deleting…’. adding more dramatics to the conversation and has you asking yourself “what was she going to say?!”. This backspacing is also used by the character that the player is controlling. If the player were to pick a particular dialogue option that was a little too forward the in game character would backspace it, deleting the player’s chosen dialogue option. This clever little device is the perfect way to show some of the character’s personality, a hidden shyness. This dynamic between the player and the character was used masterfully in the end of Emily is Away to create a dramatic and sad ending. This small but meaningful mechanic could have been pushed a little more but it was good to see it return in Emily Was Away Too nonetheless.
Graphics and Audio
Emily is Away Too has a blocky, retro feeling which is simple but fits the feel of 2006 computers. At the beginning of the game you can type in a screen name (or a cringey one from the options) and further personalise your messenger profile by choosing music and films quotes. You can also chose your buddy icon from a number of pixel art renditions of album covers, video games, films or internet memes all which where popular back in 2006.
Another part of the game that Emily is Away Too that its predecessor didn't have is that Emily and Evelyn can send you links to other websites. The girls can be listening to music and then send you a link to that song on Youtoob, where the actual YouTube video is embeded into the website. There are even super retro YouTube gems recommended in the side bar to Sneezing Panda, Numa Numa and Leave Britney Alone, complete with links to the actual videos. The characters also send you links to their FaceNook profiles and document links that download onto your desktop.
Apart from the music links the characters send you, Emily is Away Too doesn’t havean OST. But the game does feature some authentically retro computer ambient hum noises and the click-clacks of typing on an old clunky keyboard. There is even a reference to Window’s old computer load up motif which every 90s kid will remember. These small sounds add to the experience of being transported back into 2006 where you had an old family computer with a dial up tone.
Emily is Away Too is a nostalgic game of first love’s, high school conversations and the awkward cringeyness that just makes you chuckle. Its a heart-warming game in that respect, reminiscent of times where every teenager thought they knew what they wanted and it was all about being ‘real’. Asking people to prom, knowing someone with a fake ID and ditching classes was all part of the high school experience. But overall, it just doesn’t capture the powerful story that the first game had. There are some great conversations and dialogue options at first but when it gets serious it looses all its character.
|+ The characters are fun to talk to||– Dialogue options turn dull towards the end|
|+ Makes you nostalgic for IM days||– Not enough use of self-censoring story mechanic|
|+ Extended world outside the chat window||– No obvious story apart from ‘get the girl you want’|