Next month will mark the 19th anniversary of AOL Instant Messenger, more commonly known as AIM, and for many people growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s AIM was THE place to chat with all your friends. It's become a relic of the past rather quickly, made obsolete by texting, Facebook, and countless other social media platforms. But, developer Kyle Seeley has made reliving the past easier than ever in his free-to-play indie game titled Emily is Away.
The game is a 45-minute visual novel that chronicles a five year friendship with the titular Emily. Every few messages results in a choice that can change the overall course of the story, though it's the dynamic with Emily that gives it replay value. The ending is static, but getting there is the fun part.
Every decision made in the game wildly changes how Emily interacts with you, and Emily is Away doesn't hold back when it comes to player freedom. Most developers would restrict your answers to keep you as friendly as possible with Emily, but Emily is Away allows you to be downright cruel if you so choose. Chances are you probably wouldn't want to, but the option being there in the first place is a welcome breath of fresh air for the genre.
Things become a bit melodramatic around the third chapter, but it's a nice nostalgic romp that can bring back those embarrassing memories of high school relationships.
What makes Emily is Away truly interesting, however, is that it proves video games can be anything. Who says video games need to be journeys about saving a princess in over one hundred-hour epics, first-person shooters, or contain multiplayer components?
Something like Emily is Away wouldn't fly with a big name publisher. It's little more than an AIM simulator, but doesn't try to be anything more. There's something admirable about that. Seeley realizes what Emily is Away is and doesn't try to pad out its length, cash grab, or make it anything more than it needs to be. It's not The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., or Final Fantasy and that's OK.
Emily is Away is a nice time waster that manages to capture the feeling of young love and the stressful instant messaging that may come with it, but also represents how creative the indie scene has gotten and the kinds of ideas that developers can bring to fruition. Emily is Away probably won't go down among the greatest gaming titles in history, but it will always represent what video games are capable of.