It seems I am going from one extreme to the other in my abundance of recent indie game reviews, with the chaotic, gameplay focused Crimsonland on one end of the spectrum, and this; Three Fourths Home on the other, more narratively intense end.
Three Fourths Home is a visual novel, that places you in control of Kelly, a 20-something Nebraskan who, following the break up of a friendship and the failure of her college course, has returned to the family homestead in their small Nebraskan town.
Against the backdrop of a summer in Tornado Alley, the game focuses on the conversations that Kelly has with her somewhat worried, yet alienated, family on her drive home through worsening weather conditions. This conversations reveal the details of her ill-fated venture to Minnesota, and perfectly encapsulates the estrangement that has developed during her absence. As you drive along the desolate back road from your grandparent’s run down home to your family house, passing corn fields and local landmarks, the conversation explores the trials that each of the family have faced in your time away.
These text-based conversations reveals a worrisome, but ultimately caring matriarch who is constantly fighting the family’s personal demons: your father, who recently lost a leg in an accident, your younger brother who has a distinct dissociation with societal niceties, and struggles to understand the intricacies of empathy, and you; having dropped out of college and become distant from your childhood friend, have the early signs of depression.
It’s a testament to the story telling that Bracket Games have been able to convey such raw emotion and believable interaction into a game with no spoken word. Each of the characters are not only credible, but also imminently relatable to anyone who has experienced similar familial relationships, currently or in the past. Each character is fleshed out during these interactions revealing your father’s stubborn refusal to take any medication for the pain he is experiencing, instead relying on alcohol to dull the ache; the revelations of the strain that the effect of this, and your father’s delayed disability claim is having on their relationship, and your brother’s penchant for isolation and the written word, even though his output shines a light on his discontent with the world around him.
As you progress on your journey, the conversation evolves, and much like a lot of narrative games, the choices you make during this lengthy exchange sculpt the direction the story takes. Do you reveal the truth about how things spiralled out of control at college? Do you side with your mother over your father’s apparent drinking problem? or do you possibly try to break through to your brother who, once it becomes obvious, has clearly retreated further into isolation since your departure?
These choices and the responses all bring to life the difficulty and trepidation that can be encountered when trying to rebuild these relationships after such a long absence.
Being more of a story than a game, interactions are minimal. Holding RT accelerates your car, and letting go stops the story dead, (sound effects et al), where X and A navigate between NPC conversation and response selections. The Car headlights and radio are also mapped to the controller, but serve no interactive purpose, other than skipping through some of the rather well crafted audio accompanying the game.
Your choices have impact as the story develops, and the weather worsens as the choice of story your brother dictates over the phone depends on the previous topic paths you have chosen. All told, the main story is approximately 30 minutes long, but does have a modicum of replayability with the branching tale that Bracket Games weave.
Artistically, Three Fourths Home employs a rudimentary monochromatic style, with a passing resemblance to a shadow puppet performance. This simplistic expression of the characters allows Bracket Games to focus you solely on the tale they wish to tell, with no graphical nuances to detract or sidetrack you. That said, the environmental markers retain enough to assist in the storytelling at points, with your character commenting on the distance remaining until she is home by the landmarks appearing on the screen.
Being the Extended Edition of the PC release, we also get access to an epilogue story, around about the same length as the main game. This puts you once again in control of Kelly, but this time prior to the events of Three Fourths Home, allowing you to take part in a hypothetical conversation with your mother prior to her return to Nebraska. The fact that this never occurred is emphasised by the inner monologue Kelly delivers when wrestling with the possibility of revealing the truth about what caused her first foray into the world alone, to go so disastrously wrong, and there are many parts of this side of the story that are all too relatable.
This for me, had more impact than the original story, giving a far deeper glimpse into the mind of Kelly; her hopes, her fears, her failings and even some healthy self-deprecation. With the focus of Three Fourths Home squarely on the family, and very little depth into your own character, this epilogue felt like a much-needed revelation on the relatively blank canvas that Kelly appeared to be in the main story.
Completing certain sections of the game allows you to access pictures from Kelly’s failed college photography project, the soundtrack from the game itself, and even the short stories of your brother Ben, all of which are fantastically written pieces of prose in their own right.
My only gripe was I sometimes found myself ahead of the conversation, unable to act even though the dialogue had already been processed. This, linked with the reversing of the conversation by pressing the wrong button when alternating between X and A, meant waiting twice as long to move the narrative forward.
All in all, if you need some active, responsive input from your games I would give this a wide berth. Should you need a palette cleanser from all the triple A action games out at the moment, and are looking for something with a bit more depth and character than you get from the aforementioned big titles, Three Fourths Home is a surprisingly evocative, powerful and relatable tale that you would be foolish to overlook.
Thanks to Xbox and Bracket Games for supporting TiX
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