I think a blunt JP moment is in order; otherwise people will wonder why the review is missing certain references. LongStory by Bloom Digital was created with very specific intentions and its creative team has not been shy about what they want the game to accomplish. In a brief description of a panel they ran at SXSW, the team describes their agenda;
“…By offering a story where queer is the new normal, we’re hoping to convince a generation of gamers that falling in love is fun, it’s liberating, and it can happen outside of the oppressive norms that cause people both children and adults to resort to sexual bullying.”
Now, show of hands; who thinks I care about any of that? No one? You guys know me well.
That isn’t to say that those aren’t legitimate issues. If you agree, I support your right to support any projects that addresses the same issues as LongStory does. However, when I play any game, its agenda isn’t my first concern. My concerns are the concerns I always have: story, presentation and ambition.
So, for those who expected this review to have a discussion on ‘queer-positivity’ in gaming, that’s the last time I mention it in my review. With that said, gather round as we go back into a setting I just love to discuss here on VNs Now: HIGH SCHOOL!
…yes I was being sarcastic…
LongStory follows a namable female teenager who has come back home from France (I’ve been reading the George Smiley books lately so I named her Karla) and only her old enemies know her. On her first day, Karla finds notes in her locker a previous student not only warning her to keep her guard up, but also the remains of a love letter to someone. With that on her mind, Karla begins to navigate new friendships, confronting the hydra of her past and maybe finding intimacy along the way.
One of the good things about the story is how well-balanced all of the different plot points are. It is split three ways between Karla’s conversations with her friend Nora via Instant Messaging, Karla’s interactions with the other characters as school and Karla diving into the mystery of whoever owned the locker before her. Each scene fleshes out one of these three tiers and moves along before overdoing it, allowing the audience to appreciate different situations and motivations without demanding an immediate reaction. This seems like a moot point on paper, but considering another stated goal of the creators is to get the player to empathize with the characters, this approach does allow us to breathe instead of constantly berating us with their other intended agenda points. So, in turn, we actually get a fairly entertaining story that sets up major conflicts as well as the types of relationships you can have in future episodes.
Another great note the game hits is with Karla and the rest of the cast. As much as I despise teenagers and their constant uplifting in fiction to a divine level by a bunch of halfwits who cannot let go of their youths with grace (LOOKING AT YOU TWILIGHT-INSPIRED MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT), here they’re all kept to a relatively mortal level. Their concerns aren’t trivial, but they are mundane. Karla specifically just wants to get through the day without a lot of drama and most of her dialogue options reflect that. I also really enjoyed Marcel: a student who, like Karla, comes to the school from overseas. Unlike Karla, the idea of adjusting to his situation is out of the question. He wants out and he’s not shy about it; which makes him this game’s official Snark Master. Welcome to the fold young one; we have waited for your arrival.
The others fit into familiar territory but aren’t offensive in their presentation. In the beginning we’re not treated with too much time with them: that whole balancing act I mentioned earlier. However, just under the surface are the tropes we’re all familiar with. The biggest offenders are ‘Hanniferjane’: three female students who knew Karla in the past. Their names separate to Hannah, Jennifer and Jane and they will be you stereotypical hive mind bullies for this game. Anything remotely different is targeted for destruction and all done under the banner of ‘normal’. Complexity was never going to be this title’s strong suit as the introduction hints at, but considering they’re the main antagonistic force and de facto movers of the main plot of the locker letters, a little less bluntness would’ve gone a long way.
The other potential friends/love interests work along similar lines and you can feel their original tropes creep in as you get to know them better. Luckily, it never feels as blunt as Hanniferjane and they all come across more or less human: likable to a degree, but also with their own concerns that are currently more vital than the needs of the main character. Also, because not much is asked of them for this entry, they don’t cross that border into pretension. And this is, honestly, something that will have to be watched for future installments.
My opinion on games driven by opinion is WELL known by now, but that doesn’t mean I automatically hate a game because it has an agenda. It’s when the agenda is the only thing the game has going for it when I break out the anvils. In LongStory, its agenda is currently secondary to its plot and while it is brought up from time to time, if you download this title and somehow ignore the creator’s intentions, it would just come across as a good start of a decent high school yarn.
And, no surprise, I like that.
It’s the reason why I stated the intent of the creative team right off the bat and promptly shelved it. Again, if you agree with the creator’s intent there is nothing wrong with that. But the fact that the game’s story stands on its own without it is more refreshing than you can imagine. Of course it can, and most likely will, shift hard to tie in its intended goals. But for now, anyone looking for a good high school story can’t go wrong here.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
This game is freakin’ gorgeous. It’s a stylized Western approach that has become more popular in recent years and it fits the overall tone of the story very well. A great decision was that there are essentially two versions of the character sprites. The first appears right in front of you and doesn’t change. The second appears in the dialogue box and that offers more details of each character’s mood during the conversation. It is a small touch but also a nice one. Also I appreciate the minimal use of soundtrack. It fits in with the moments it was used and doesn’t stick around to become annoying…which could’ve happened. Just sayin’.
Gameplay is actually very engaging. Not only do you get plenty of options to engage through dialogue, but since the only way to interact with Nora is to text her, it provides a very interesting paradox (or parody maybe?) where you text her from a phone in a game on your phone. Yeah, wrap your mind around that one. However, my version didn’t offer an option on saving your progress and simply picks up where you left off when you open and close the game app. Because of this, the only way to pick different choices is to start over. It’s more tedious than anything though, and you can bear it thanks to the enjoyable nature of the story.
Other than that, I found no bugs or glitches.
A single playthrough of LongStory takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes. But once you factor in the different restarts you’ll have to take to explore the different options of the game that can be stretched out beyond an hour. It isn’t available for iOS systems just yet, but those with Google Play can download it now for free. There is value here, even if the premise puts you on edge, but don’t be surprised when it ends sooner than you thought it would.
LongStory intrigues me. While nothing immediately jumps out at me as being impressive, it is a solid title. The characters (for the most part) are fun to explore and the story is well-balanced and offers genuine intrigue in a setting not know for anything genuine. It gives you just enough to keep you invested and it can stand on its own just fine. And although, as I stated, this thing can slip into anvil territory fast; right now LongStory is just a good game. If you own a Google device, you have no excuse not to check it out and hopefully other device will get this project very soon.