Been away awhile. Working on other projects, and the budget constraints have prevented me from picking up the new releases I've wanted. But I still found time to at least poke around Steam for something interesting (and free) , and that's when I came across this delightful short little game, Emily is Away. Emily is Away is a quasi-Visual novel, its an interactive story that's free on Steam. It was released on November 20th last year, so we're getting close to it's 1st Birthday. We're a bit early but I figured we'd cover it now.
Emily is Away is short, and that's the first thing you should know. It's a short little game but there is a lot packed into it and it's a focused experience, you're lead down a specific road and it's meant to make you feel something. The creator, Kyle Seeley, obviously had a specific vision in mind for the game and he carried it out wonderfully.
It's rare that I find a game that completely stops me in my tracks, but if there was one I'd have to say that it was Emily is Away. The basic premise is that you have a friend, who is named Emily (absolutely connected to the title, by the way) and it involves your interactions over the course of five years. But instead of texting or emailing you've got some good old fashioned, classic instant messager. Technology that's a bit before my time but I can appreciate it the same as any other man I assure you.
Without giving too much of the story away you follow the lives of Emily and your character through college and the ups and downs generally associated with it. Do you know the feeling you have when you're chatting around with your friends online and suddenly something changes. You cant physically see the person and it's a bit harder to pick up on with such an impersonal means of communication but you just feel something is off? So you type out your inner thoughts, your concerns and feelings and right before you hit send, you just delete them. That is this game.
I wish there was more to say, but Emily is Away is a perfectly short little experience you can download quickly and finish in the early evening before moving into the hard liquor to help you sleep that night.
Continuing with our theme of reviewing Dischan Media games, we'll be taking a look at Dysfunctional Systems. As I know it, this was the last game that Dischan released before it went under. But that hasn't affected the quality that I have come to expect from Dischan games and while it's no Juniper's Knot, Dysfunctional Systems is still a very good game and bears all of the hallmark traits of a Dischan game.
It was a 2013 release, available on the PC for free at the Dischan site, Steam for $4.99 and the App Store for $1.99. Take your pick, but I'm a fan of the mobile version because it is far easier to play a game on the phone between subway stops than it is to power up the old computer for an hour or two, because that's how long this game is, if even that.
We'll start with the plot. Just like Juniper's Knot, the game boasts a unique storyline, but unlike Juniper's Knot this is a story where you actually make choices, choices that affect the game and would have affected the series, if Dischan hadn'tfallen apart. It centers around Winter Harrison, a young Mediator-in-training who travels between worlds plagued by chaos to solve their problems, many of them adversely affecting her own home world. These chaotic worlds range from worlds full of magic, to dystopian worlds. The first of the planned series, the first Dysfunctional Systems, centers around Winter's second mission to one of these worlds where she follows Cyrus Addington around on what should have been a routine expedition, this chaotic planet being plagued by a concept that Winter doesn't quite understand. Poverty. But then it wouldn't be an interesting story if it was routine, would it?
Because the characters are more fleshed out than previous works, there's more too them. Winter is by far more interesting and more compelling than the stars of Junipers Knot were, and at the end of it you certainly do feel quite a bit more for Winter, especially at the ending. She's a young kid, thrown into a world and life she isn't entirely sure she wants to be apart of and the ending is (spoiler alert) much more tragic, there isn't any happy ending this time around for our protagonists. You've been warned.
The visuals are top quality in Dysfunctional System. Not quite the same as Dischan's previous works but you can very easily see the similarities in style. It's interesting to see the shift from the two games and every time I look at either I still feel a pang of disappointment that things went south so quickly for Dischan because they had serious potential. In fact we might be discussing where and why they went so wrong sometimes in the future.
Dysfunctional System certainly isn't lacking in that department, and the sound track is equal to if not better than other Dischan works, in fact I enjoy this one more than I do Juniper's Knot. There's not much more to be said about Dysfunctional Systems, its another short game from a short-lived Developer that died well before their time but is well worth the time and energy. I've posted links in the second paragraph to everywhere you can get it, I strongly suggest you look at the free download from Dischan's website.
I have heard it said that there is nothing good to be found on the App Store for gaming. It's a lawless wasteland of microtransactions, puzzle games and cheap Minecraft rip-offs. I tend to point these people towards Juniper's Knot. It's a small little visual novel released on April 13th of 2012, first available for the PC/Mac but now on the App Store. The game was made by Dischan Media (now sadly non gone like the dinosaurs) in little under a month. The game centers around two characters, known only as "Fiend" and "Boy", as they help one another to overcome the others problems.
Firstly I'd like to say that it's a visual novel, and I know that always leads to the question of if a visual novel is really a video game or not. We'll dive into that argument one day, just not today. The reason I picked it to discuss first is because I really like it, and it always pains me to see something that is genuinely good go ignored.
You'll have noticed in the first paragraph that it was made in less than 30 days and this is by no means something you're going to notice while playing the game. The attention to detail is astounding and right off the bat I found myself thinking that it must have taken around a year to make considering how small the list of people who worked at Dischan Media was. I finished Junipers Knot in about thirty minutes when I first played it but despite its length the visual presentation and writing are superb, which is always a pleasant surprise when you look at anything advertising itself as a game on the app store.
I don't want to spoil the plot for you too badly because I do think you will enjoy it more going in knowing as little as possible and figuring it all out for yourself but here's a basic summary: Boy is lost and stumbles upon Fiend as she muses on her current predicament and the two begin to talk. Juniper's Knot centers around the ensuing conversation and the soundtrack that is constantly playing in the background the entire time is very good at helping set the mood and tone, as there is no voice acting. The most interaction you get with the game is clicking the screen to bring up the next panel of the story, but I that's the same with most every game on the App Store. The soundtrack is emotive but it isn't at all overbearing in the slightest and you'll quickly forget there is even music playing as you become immersed in what's happening on your screen.
All in all, Juniper's Knot has a odd but unique plot and was a great read and every few months I find myself going back to re-play it. My only regret is that Dischan Media no longer exists because I would gladly pay another dollar or even five for a sequel. It's perfect for if you get stuck on the train or bus, or need to kill some time. Right now its $0.99 on the App Store but is free to download for your computer from the Dischan website.