Emily is Away 3 Review — Thnks Fr Th Mmrs
It's 2008 and AIM is dead.
Emily is Away 3
Review copy provided by the publisher
I was born in 1997, which means that I missed the AOL Instant Messenger craze by a few years. My first introduction to social media was the Facebook page my dad helped me set up in 2009. It was a place full of personality quizzes, quirky status updates, and poke-wars. To my 12-year-old self, it was amazing.
When Emily is Away <3 starts with a fake software installer from 2008 that told me over the canned Windows start up noises that it’s all being done for the sake of immersion, I knew that I was in for a taste of nostalgia so bittersweet that I would be reliving my junior high and high school years all night.
With that promise, Emily is Away <3 absolutely delivers—for better and worse.
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Emily is Away <3 is the third in a series of visual novels that are told uniquely through the chat features of social media from the mid to late 2000s. Made by solo-indie developer Kyle Seeley, the games focus on conversations between friends and the nerve-wracking moments of waiting for a response to the potentially risky message that you just sent.
As Emily is Away <3 points out in its early moments, “it’s 2008 and AIM is dead.” Instead of using AOL Instant Messenger to tell its story, the game has moved on to the social media giant that is Facebook, rather, the in-game site Facenook. From there, your friend Mat helps you set up an account just in time for the start of senior year.
After that, the plot is sort of up to the player. Who you talk to in your small group of friends and how you talk to them changes the story during a handful of key moments. Are you looking for a relationship? Just friends? Parties? Will you tell everyone the secrets you were told? It wasn’t clear until the end of the game just how many branching paths there are, but trust me, there are plenty.
Emily is Away <3 dropped the “Emily will remember that” and “you chose to do this or that” text from previous games in the service of a more immersive experience that I personally preferred. Now, you have no idea if being more compatible with your girlfriend’s best friend in the eyes of a Facenook relationship quiz will have a lasting effect on your relationship or the story as a whole. Each moment feels like an important character moment as a result which had me more invested in the characters and my relationships with them.
Because of all that, it’s a game about over-analyzing the periods at the end of sentences and the pauses between “Evelyn is typing…” or the far worse “Evelyn is deleting…” While there’s no voice acting in the game, each character is really well written and unique in the way they type and come across. You can tell a lot about a person and how they’re feeling depending on if they use :), xD, or ;p in any given conversation.
I’m a really big fan of how Emily is Away <3 is written. I think it perfectly captures teenage drama in a very honest way that’s at times upsetting because of how real it can feel. There were many times throughout my playthrough where I was reliving moments in my own high school experience making the story of the game feel truly personal to me.
In addition to exploring the nooks and crannies of Facenook, there’s also plenty of music and viral videos from 2008-2009 to listen to and watch on YouToob. One of the first links you’re sent is 3OH3’s “Don’t Trust Me” which I audibly laughed out loud with and sung along to. Using plenty of popular tracks from the time, Emily is Away <3 really put me in a specific place and time of my life that feels at times unreachable now. It’s a blast from the past in a truly wonderful way.
Emily is Away <3 is the longest in the series around 2 to 3 hours, but it definitely has the most to say and has the most in-game content. That said, you can definitely feel its length at times. Because of the nature of messaging someone over Facebook, there’s always a little bit of downtime between sending your message and getting a response. A lot of that downtime is spent browsing through everyone’s individual profiles, but when things are picking up and you’re ready to find out what happens next, it sometimes feels like the pacing is stuck to a fixed speed that’s a little slower than you want it to be.
On the other hand, that’s essentially the point. Conversations in real life do take time and getting responses instantly after sending a message would break the feeling that there’s a real person on the other end.
One of the best things about the game is the way it holds a mirror up to you. From innocent moments like deciding if you really are going to spend the time snooping through someone’s profile and memorizing every detail to give the right responses to make them like you more, to more character-defining ones like deciding whether or not to pretend to be someone else in order to get private information. Either way, Emily is Away <3 unflinchingly asks, “when you’re online, who are you?”
Emily is Away <3 doesn’t wear your nostalgia like a mask, it brings you back to the feelings of being a high schooler when the world is only as big as your social group. Those interpersonal relationships feel like the biggest things in the entire world at the time, but the hindsight of knowing they aren’t doesn’t do anything to change the significance of those moments.
After completing the game, I pulled up a playlist of my favorite songs from high school and took a moment to reminisce. Emily is Away <3 didn’t make me feel like just any high school student, it made me feel like me.