I just finished this game a few minutes ago, so I thought I would record my thoughts when they were still raw. I played this game years after it came out (it was set in 2013, so I assume that's when it was released and/or developed, and I played it in December of 2021), but I think that one of our biggest problems as a society is treating art, or all content, actually, as if it's disposable, as if it isn't meant to endure after a certain period of time. That's a big part of the reason I dislike social media and the "new internet". Our lives shouldn't be on an arbitrary timeline and real art should be able to be enjoyed and appreciated outside of it's time, as long as we have the context of it's time. So keep that in mind for all my reviews.
Overall, I found this game to be a pretty enjoyable experience, I'm glad I played it, and it has some great emotional beats. It also would probably have a lot of replay value. I went back and remade the last choice to see what the difference was, but I'm not sure I could go through the entire game again right now, it's really lengthy, and upon replay the game doesn't let you skip the parts that you've already seen (especially annoying if you think of it as a visual novel, which it kind of is). But I think that if you go away from it for a little bit and come back, it would have a lot of replay value.
One of my biggest issues with this game was the soundtrack. Almost every track in this game was this very slow tempo kind of folk-pop thing, and it is made to go to sleep to, like in the real world that is why that genre of music exists, to be relaxing. But this game plays it during emotional beats when it should be playing something emotional, and as a result it really works against the writing. Most people play games when they're already tired, as a recreational activity, after they've worked all day, for example, or taken care of children, or whatever. This is a game that has a target audience of adults, so it is completley buckwild to me that this is the music they chose, given the emotional investment the writers obviously want you to have. They would play this genre, for example, DIRECTLY AFTER A DEATH WHEN IT SHOULD BE PLAYING A DIRGE, and it really takes you out of the experience, those are not relaxing times, and having this music that was specifically designed to be relaxing during intense story beats is just a really strange choice from the team. Now having said that, it isn't a game that depends heavily on the soundtrack, it's very much a visual novel with a few point & click elements, so that might not be as offputting to other players, I just really dislike being put to sleep when I'm trying to play a video game, because I do usually come in to gameplay sessions tired anyway. But, again, I think that most adults do, so if that's your target audience, if you have above a E rating, you, as a developer, need to take that into account.
The writing was, overall, pretty good. The emotional beats are pretty good, the story itself is pretty good, the only issue is that you do have to willingly work to suspend your disbelief because it does rely very heavily on 'video game logic', where you just kind of have to accept things that make absolutely no sense and are never explained, but that's an issue with a lot of games. It does stand out a little heavier here though, because the game doesn't do a whole lot in terms of worldbuilding, it doesn't take place in a fantasy landscape, but is very close to our real world, so when characters behave in strange ways or say things that regular human people just don't say, it stands out more because they are presented as normal human people. If you're playing a game set in a fantasy land, like Zelda, for example, it's less noticible when people do or say weird things because you can chaulk it up to being a cultural difference between the real world and Hyrulian culture. But when you set a game in a world this close to reality, you really need to try to either work on your worldbuilding to explain these differences or try to eliminate the differences that would have a major effect on gameplay.
One of the most frustraiting examples of this is how physically weak the main character is. I mean, to the point that it really isn't believable. This is an 18-year-old in the prime of her life who can't open a trap door by herself or even attempt to fight a middle aged man that she is obviously younger, stronger, and faster than. If you have, like I have, ever been a teenage girl in your physical prime this is RIDICULOUSLY noticible and could have been easily avoided by giving her a physical disability that causes chronic fatigue, which would have also provided accurate representation for a group of folks with a disability. That's what I'm talking about with the worldbuilding issues. It would have taken no time to establish something like that in the opening cutscene to make this frustraiting game dynamic make sense. This was actually my major gameplay frustration, I kept having to remind myself that I just couldn't do things because the game didn't want me to, with no explination for why, that was just how it was. And it treated it as normal, and I just cannot figure out why.
Another issue is that a lot of the character just spoke... weird... to me. Now, that may be because I'm old and I don't understand today's youth, but these characters speak in a way that, even if it is accurate, I don't think will continue to be accurate, and when you do things like that, it dates the game. And if it is a period piece, if it is meant to take place in 2013, that's fine and might actually be really nostalgic for people who were in their late teens in 2013, the same way it's nostalgic for me to hear something called "radical" or "tubular". But, if that's the case and I'm not the target audience, then you are kind of limiting your target audience to people who can hear someone ask, "Are you cereal?" in a very serious situation and take it seriously. That person is not me. It might be you, and if it is, you'll probably find the dialogue that I found completely ridiculous to be charming and nostalgic, and if that's the case I actually really encourage you to play this game, because that sort of thing happens quite a bit.
My main issue with this game is a major spoiler, and that is the entirety of the character of Nathan Prescott. This game, for some reason that I feel I am owed an explination for, chooses to use Nate to send the WORST kind of message about mental health and further the stigma pretending that "crazy" is a synonym for "evil". Nate is a straight up murderer (I warned you about the spoilers) and depending on the way the player plays the game can have multiple victims. Nate is also mentally ill, it never explicitly says his diagnosis, despite seeing his medical records from his mental health provider (which, again, common in media that furthers the stigma, he's just generally crazy). All we know is that he has behavioral outbursts and probably suffered from child neglect from his father, Sean Prescott so likely has trauma from that neglect and/or abuse. And that makes him a murderer for some reason. That's not a thing. I shouldn't have to say that that's not a thing. I should not have had to say that that was not a thing in 2013. We've known that was not a thing since at least 1987. There is no excuse for this to be in the game. There's just not.
I mean, trauma can manifest in behavioral outbursts, but like, acting out in school, not straight up murder. You don't become a murderer because your daddy didn't love you. That's not how that works. It wouldn't hold up in court and it won't hold up with me. He even literally says, word for word, that he 'didn't deserve to die because he was mentally ill'. That is not why he died. He died because he was a murderer. Those are two completely different things. They are both things he is, he is mentally ill and he is a murderer, but being mentally ill did not cause him to be a murderer. And I am so sick of media pretending like that is a thing when it is totally not a thing. Mentally ill people are not your scapegoat and we need to get that out of the zeitgeist. You can obviously be mentally ill and also be a murderer, just like you can be neurotypical and be a murderer, there are assholes in every sample population, but it's because there are assholes in every sample population, not because crazy people are more likely to be murderers. In fact, if you look, statistically, at murderers, the percentage that are mentally ill are exactly what we would expect from a general population sample. We know this for a fact and have for years. The only place mentally ill folks are overrepresented is as victims of violent crime, not as perpetraitors. So I was beyond disappointed with this story twist. It's been done to death and it causes active harm to keep perpetuating this ideology in the cultural zeitgeist. It's old, it's boring, and it causes harm, so it needs to stop. This 'twist' was played out 30 years ago. Stop doing it.
It even does the double wammy of simultaniously infantalizing mentally ill folks by pretending that Nathan is somehow not in charge of his own actions because he has a mental illness. There's no reason given for this, we're just supposed to feel sorry for him for being sick and completely excuse his actions up to and including MURDER. I shouldn't have to say why this is unacceptable. Like I just should not have to say this. It bothers me that I would have to say this, in the year of our lord, 2013.
If you can suspend your disbelief, though, and prevent your consumption of media from having much of an influence on you and just enjoy the story isolated to the world it creates, it is an enjoyable experience. But you have to work to do that, because of how poorly written the characters are. So I'd probably give it like... a 5/10? 6/10? It's a good little game and worth the relatively low price, I think it's down to like $20 for all 5 episodes on Steam, I think it's worth a playthrough. I probably will play the second one, eventually.