Developer Kyle Seeley
Before writing this review, I wanted to go back and read what I had said about the first Emily is Away. These games are presented as a distinctive pair, but they left different ultimate impressions on me. On the original, I’d said, “I’d recommend Emily is Away to anyone who thinks they’ll never live down some mortifying moment of their life.” Emily is Away, Too is less about the cathartic exploration of embarrassment, instead asking you to navigate two difficult relationships from a position of vast immaturity. It’s similar but not the same.
Last review, I told an embarrassing story about an awkward friendship. This time, I’ll share the wisdom an old friend gave me when we were recently talking about how things, “went so stupid between us in High School.” He said, “I think we just both needed to grow the hell up.” And he didn’t say “hell.” I do agree. I finished Emily is Away, Too, feeling like Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed. I’m like, “Seriously, people, I know life feels extreme all the time, but this is a really small deal,” while also knowing how much of a big deal I once made of small things.
It’s faithful to the teenage experience, for sure. The narrative is transparent enough for you to grimace at your own mistakes as you’re making them, even if you can’t yet predict their consequences. Set mostly in a messenger window, you receive texts from two friends and choose from a list of paraphrased responses. By mashing your keyboard to type out something which is often similar, but not quite what you may have intended, there’s a grudging agency to becoming a personality that, in my case, was more gregarious than me.
As in the first game, one friend is Emily. You already know each other and she’ll treat you with some familiarity. She’s the “good girl” who doesn’t drink and has simple ideas about how she wants her future to pan out. Evelyn, however, is new and rebellious. It’s a bit like trying to figure out whether to romance Aerie or Viconia in Baldur’s Gate 2. Well, it was for me because I was actually just trying to be friends with everyone, regardless of alignment conflict that would get someone killed. Does the game assume you want romance? Yes, but it doesn’t insist.
Another new addition is the characters linking you to Facenook and Youtoob, which pop up in your browser. Often, they want to show you their favourite songs, which become the game’s soundtrack. Other times, they’ll send images to your desktop. I had to clean them all off when I finished playing. There’s also a point in chapter two where you notice your responses are on a timer. Not responding quickly enough means that the person you’re chatting with gets angry at your lack of response, especially when they’re saying something important.
Emily is Away, Too reminds me that I’m glad I didn’t have the internet until I was 20. High school was hard enough. So, if you think you can navigate friendship, romance, gossip and moral decision-making, while reading drunken spelling at speed, this may be for you. At the very least, it’s an interesting, nostalgic take on both the visual novel genre and the idea that kids have no business dating each other. (I’m not actually prudish about these things. I’m just exhausted after getting all emotionally involved in stuff which won’t matter in 20 years anyway.) Good game.