I love a good story. It’s what drives me to keep playing most of the games I get into. Since I was a kid, RPGs were always a big part of my gaming and what sells most RPG games? Story. However while there are a lot of great games I could point out for having great stories that are RPG games, like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect 2, Persona 4, oddly enough, the game that in my mind has the best overall story out of any game I’ve ever played is not an RPG.
Hell, it’s not even a lengthy game, at best it’s a two-hour experience.
But the interactive story game from The Fullbright Company, Gone Home, it has in my opinion the best overall story in a game I’ve ever played.
***WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE GAME ARE BELOW!!!***
A lot of it admittedly has to do with the fact that yes, it’s a two-hour game. It’s really easy to have a strong, cohesive story when you only have a two-hour game to tell it. A two-hour story in gaming is like a television episode, just enough time to get you settled in, care about the characters involved and give you a twist to finish things off. Gone Home does this in spades.
It starts off so well, giving you the idea that maybe, just maybe you’re in store for another horror game. The artwork for the game makes it look like your standard horror indie title. Hell, the opening scene is you outside in the rain and pretty much all the lights are off in your character’s family home. So you perceive that what you’re about to play is going to soon result in a jump scare here and there, but in fact other than scaring yourself, there’s nothing to fear at all.
In Gone Home, you play the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, the eldest daughter of a family of four. In the game however, the character you control has no value to the story, you might as well just be playing anyone who just walked into a house. The story is really about your younger sister, 18 year-old Samantha.
As you start to explore the house and piece together what happened before you arrived, you start to learn about Sam’s extraordinary journey since you’d left the house. Being a teenager of course, Sam has changed in many ways, most notably her personality. Through the meeting of a girl named Lonnie, Sam begins her change from what at first was likely your standard “nice, pretty 90s girl”, the kind of girl who reads girly magazines and dreams out going on a date with a hot boy, to becoming a far more rebellious “riot grrrl” kind of personality. For those unfamiliar with the riot grrrl movement, it was an underground punk rock scene that is largely associated as a part of third-wave feminism in the early 1990s. Bands associate with this movement are Bikini Kill, which some may recognize as they were in the Harmonix Rock Band games, as well as groups like Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy, who both happen to have their music featured in the game.
What really opens the story up though comes around the third-the-way through mark of the game when it starts to become obvious that Sam and Lonnie are looking at each other as more than just friends. Lonnie is a major part of Sam’s change, making her feel wanted, feel free, feel like she has something to look forward to in life. By the halfway mark of the game, they’ve shared their first kiss, which is one of my favourite moments in terms of the voice acting. Sarah Grayson does such a fantastic job voice acting Sam as she monologues us through her story and listening to her tell us about her first kiss and she starts giggling uncontrollably, it’s such a realistic representation and because it comes off as such, you just get so caught up in what’s going on.
The second half of the game is a mixture of really heartwarming and really heartbreaking. As one would expect from a family in the 90s, the revelation that their daughter is a lesbian or at the very least a bisexual whose current interest is on the gay side of things, Sam’s parents are not happy about this one bit and respond to it in the worst possible way. Instead of what a sane person should do, like y’know…understand and be happy for their daughter because she found someone she truly loves being with, her parents completely deny the fact that she’s into other girls and forbid her from ever seeing Lonnie again.
So naturally, you tell a teenage girl not to do something, what’s she going to do? She and Lonnie are so close, you’re not stopping that. However after we think everything’s going to be fine, Lonnie is going to be sent off for military service as she’s a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). So now Sam is extremely distraught as she feels after feeling so alone for such a long time, she finally found someone she could be around and she fell in love with that person and now that very person is going to leave her alone again.
But this isn’t a Japanese game, so there’s a guaranteed happy ending. After my heartstrings were tugged left and right, Lonnie does indeed get on a bus and head out for service, but she changes her mind halfway and gets off in Salem (the game takes place in Oregon). This is another example of the game doing such a good job of making you think something’s happening that’s the polar opposite in the end. Because at the beginning of the game, you can check the answering machine and there’s a couple messages where a girl is crying and asking for Sam. It comes off initially like something terrifying is happening to this girl, but in actuality it’s Lonnie in the rain out in Salem crying for Sam to come and get her, because it took several phone calls before Sam finally answered the phone (because it’s the 90s, no cell phones here).
So in the end, the note Sam leaves you on the door ends up being Sam saying goodbye for a while as she has left the family home to go to Salem, get Lonnie and find a way to live together without anyone telling them otherwise.
In two hours, the story was enthralling, entertaining and carrying a heavy message, one that no doubtedly is an accurate representation of what many homosexual couples faced in the 90s when LGBT rights and acceptance were nowhere near where they are today. The story is very light-hearted and then gets really tough at times to listen to. But what really carries the story, like I said before, is Sarah Grayson’s perfect voice acting of Sam. What she adds to the story is so much, she makes Sam such a likable character, she makes every twist and turn, every tough moment, every happy moment, she makes them mean so much more.
I’d say go out and play the game, but I’m assuming you wouldn’t have gone this far without playing the game. Though if you read all the spoilers without playing Gone Home, I’d still suggest picking it up when it’s on the cheap, either on console or PC. It’s such a nice escape from the usual gameplay-intensive games that require your full attention. Gone Home is just a nice, relaxing interactive story that at times will your heart in its hands.