STAFF REVIEW of No Longer Home (Xbox One)

Friday, October 29, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

No Longer Home Box art It’s no secret that narrative driven games are my favourite genre. A great story and characters will easily keep me hooked and playing, unable to put the controller down until the end. No Longer Home is a story all about endings, specifically the end of an era for the two main characters Ao and Bo, two non-binary characters who have fallen in love but are being forced apart by things beyond their control.

Humble Grove’s No Longer Home is semi-autobiographical in nature, based on the life experiences of two of the developers. The game was made over the course of four years and many miles between the developers residing in Japan and the UK. Its simplistic mechanics allow you to focus primarily on the story. No Longer Home starts with a preamble called Friary Lane. This is completely optional to play but it does help give you the back story to who Ao and Bo are and what set them on a trajectory to being together. There is also an achievement for playing it if you are an achievement hunter.

The main story takes place one year later, immediately after Ao and Bo finish university. When most people feel like their lives should be taking off, this story shows what a lot of us experience. They are sharing an apartment and trying to make ends meet and have no idea what they really want to do with their lives. On top of that, circumstances beyond their control are tearing them apart. Ao is being forced to move home to Japan because of their Visa restrictions and they both have to move from their London flat that they share with friends. No job, no home, and Ao moving out of the country is creating a lot of uncertainty for them. This also comes after the year they have spent together while coming to terms with their gender identity and starting a relationship together. All of it is now hanging in the balance.

No Longer Home plays like many other narrative games where you have a sort of detached view of the game, using point and click, having an emphasis of branching dialogue choices. You’ll walk around the apartment, and garden/yard, going from room to room, interacting with items or having conversations with people. Your dialogue options in the game seem quite natural and not really as if there are "right" and "wrong" choices. You have the options to admit fear and insecurity, for example, without directing the story to a ‘bad’ place. The dialogue choices have a wide range and ultimately don’t matter to the end game. There are no achievements attached to them at all. What I did find interesting was that not only could you choose what was said, but at times could also choose who said it. This meant you could get a normally quiet person to interrupt a more talkative one in some scenes.

There is a section mid game where you are playing a video game with friends and it takes on a whole story within a story, although it comes across as merely a sideline of the main narrative. There is a strange supernatural element as well, and I found it to be unexpected and a bit out of place. It doesn’t seem to add anything to the story and is just there to create a sort of quirkiness just for the sake of adding one to the game. After playing, I wondered if it stood for a larger metaphor about fears etc., but I think that will be entirely up to each person who plays the game as to what they think of it.

No Longer Home tackles deep, important conversations and ideas about identity, relationships, fear, and loss. Although there are some serious topics covered in the game, it also reminds us that life is nothing if it doesn’t have a bit of humour stirred in, even during times of uncertainty and stress. The characters of Ao and Bo were relatable as were the other characters in the game. The location felt authentic, a flat where you went through rooms, and it even had two lovely pet cats to interact with. Luna was adorable and Autumn was simply enormous. Not sure if that was intentional, but I found myself wondering if they were really half the height of Ao and Bo. I just wish there was more to the game. It felt like it ended abruptly without any real closure, and I even wondered if there should have been an additional chapter to clear some things up. I suspect that could be a compliment to the writing in the game since I was invested in the characters and also a criticism of the game for leaving me with unresolved issues between Ao and Bo.

Graphically, No Longer Home is very minimalistic. It is a style often seen in this genre of game. One of the best things in No Longer Home was that it had a sort of theatre quality to it, the walls would drop in and out between scenes, similar to what you would see in a stage production. Each character feels distinct with their own personalities and quirks, even though they are all faceless, except for noses and bits of facial hair. The text in the game was presented concisely and in a no-frills font. It is all text to read in the game, no audible dialogue. There were some typos and some missed words in sentences, and this normally might not be noteworthy, but in a short game like this, every thing stands out. They didn’t really detract from the experience of the game though, mostly just something I took notice of.

As with all my reviews, I like to comment on the music and soundtrack of a game. Music can really make or break a game for me, and I found the music to be like an additional character in No Longer Home. It lent itself to feelings of eeriness, loneliness, anxiety, everything that this game tried to convey in its short play time of about two hours. Although I wouldn’t say the music was ground-breaking, it definitely amplified feelings in each scene. One thing I really didn’t completely understand though was, at the beginning of the game, it told you the game was best experiences with a headset. I obliged but I’m not really sure it made a difference. Maybe it was more immersive because I could hear floor creaks, and small atmospheric sounds, but I can’t confirm it was better with headphones.

Ultimately how you feel about No Longer Home will depend on the type of feelings and memories it evokes in you. What parts of your life does it make you recall and how do you feel about them? Although I am much older than Ao and Bo, I recall a time directly after university when everything was so important, all decisions were huge, and everything (and nothing) was possible. Now, looking back on my life and at the characters in the game, I see wasted time and a couple of self-absorbed young people who have no idea what is really important. That may sound harsh, but I’ll chalk that up to my age, experiences, and hindsight.

I found myself both relating to the main characters at times, and then also frustrated with them. This was especially evident during a lengthy conversation between them that took about 15 minutes of reading time. It’s not so much the reading but their conversation kept going in a cyclical pattern and nothing was really resolved. They both admitted to living in their heads a lot but wanting social interaction. They discussed topics of gentrification of their community and their role in it. They had little time to do anything fun but spent their time moping around the apartment and hanging with friends. They complained of no jobs or money, but didn’t seem to have the motivation to look, all while affording London rent money. For some reason they talked a lot about doing the dishes, although they never did get washed.

No Longer Home is a thought-provoking game that tackles a lot of really complex ideas and feelings. It has a beautiful design, including elements reminiscent of Broadway productions, an interesting soundtrack and, despite my frustration with Ao and Bo at times, it left me wanting more. I spent a lot of time thinking about this game after playing it while writing this, and that alone means it impacted me in a way. Which, for a narrative loving gamer like myself, is all I really want.

*No Longer Home was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X*

Overall: 7.2 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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