Well, this is like running across a unicorn, getting to hug it, and then having to kick it.
That Humble Grove’s No Longer Home is a New Weird coming-of-age story hits a lot of strong notes for me, and finding talented independent queer creators and quality queer stories is always a pleasant surprise, especially when they’re as accessible and relatable as No Longer Home. It’s a well-crafted game, with art that’s strong, accessible and carries a lot of style despite its simplicity, but it’s not perfect: it has a few structural problems, especially in the middle, and the soundscape — though brilliant in the latter half — starts out a bit weak.
First, though, let’s talk writing. No Longer Home follows Ao and Bo as they graduate university. Ao has to move back to Japan, while Bo is left in London, and the game focuses on the last day the two have together in their flat, as they talk with friends, each other, and wander through the flat. It’s a point-and-click adventure game with no voice acting, so everything rests on the writing, and it delivers: I didn’t find any typos, which is the lowest bar to clear (though not every game does) and characters were distinguishable, even without the coloured text. The larger story is written well, introducing us to the main characters, and then slowly drawing us into the larger environment of the flat and the larger group of friends.
Much of No Longer Home’s story is also communicated through the setting. The art style doesn’t allow for a high level of detail, so it communicates much of the minutiae through the classic point-and-click observations. Done well, these observations offer not just a bland description of the game’s world, but a character’s perspective on their place in that world. Humble Grove also sprinkles a few New Weird elements through the early sections, represented by strange geometric shapes here and there. Combined with the scene transitions and the way time passes, the flat in No Longer Home has a magical atmosphere, one which permeates the relationships within it.
Hug achieved, kick incoming: the middle of No Longer Home is the weakest section. The characters get together to play an adventure game set in a blanket fort as the sun sets, and we play through that game within a game. While I like the idea, it doesn’t work too well in No Longer Home. Rather than being drawn into the emotions of the characters’ last day together, the game within a game pulls me out and calls attention to its own mechanics. It’s also pretty hard to coherently write about in a review. The game within the game offers some nice parallels for the characters playing it, and has some beautiful images, which fits generally with the New Weird tone being set, but it simply doesn’t work in No Longer Home, and it detracts from the moments that come after it.
After the game within the game, we follow Ao as they explore the flat after dark. Checking through one door, we run into a demon called Gi. I want to like this moment, I really do — the design is interesting and Gi slumped in a chair, watching a TV tuned to static is a brilliant visual — but unfortunately it comes right after the game within a game, and instead of being primed for an emotional confrontation between Ao and her inner demon, I’m primed to analyse and pick apart the writing. This inner demon idea works, and I know it does, because No Longer Home has another inner demon scene with Bo. Bo’s scene works better, however, because it follows a deeply personal discussion between them and Ao.
No Longer Home’s soundtrack starts out a bit underwhelming, but gets better as the game progresses. That’s not to say it’s bad in the earlier sections; it well and truly does the job, it’s just not as good as the rest of the game. The inner demon scenes have some brilliant sound design, with Gi’s scene permeated with static from the TV, while Bo’s demon, Lu, has soft guitar music. The music matches the tone set by the art and writing, and adds a beautiful dimension to the flat.
All things considered, No Longer Home sets out to tell a New Weird coming-of-age story and, despite a couple of structural and technical hiccups, it does exactly that. It’s a beautiful, relatable tale that’s relaxing to play through and well and truly worth a look.
No Longer Home stumbles a bit at times, but it’s a beautiful personal story crafted with genuine talent.
Callum reviewed No Longer Home using a retail Steam code provided by its publisher.