When I sat down to play Three Fourths Home, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew that it was a narrative-based ‘game’ and that was really about it. Upon starting, you’re presented with a nice minimalistic screen, with the title and the sound of rain accompanied by subtle text over a white background, but it helps set the mood for the hour or so to come.
What I didn’t know initially about Three Fourths Home was that it was a visual novel – or rather, a visual discussion. After playing the supremely enjoyable Hatoful Boyfriend earlier this year, I immediately fell into the groove of selecting dialogue choices to progress the narrative. Unlike the aforementioned pigeon dating simulator though, Three Fourths Home is a little bit more serious and emotional. The main thrust of the narrative is about the journey of a girl (Kelly) on her way home whilst a storm brews. The phone call that she has with her family as she drives makes up the narrative of the story. To say any more would be to spoil the ‘plot’ revelations within it.
Now, I’m quite a fan of narrative-driven games as I feel they push gaming into interesting places. However, like many other ‘visual novel’ games out there, I’m finding that the classification of these ‘games’ as games is a bit of a stretch. Yes, you interact with the text and help push the narrative along, but really, besides slightly influencing what dialogue is spoken, you’re not really changing the core narrative all that much. So, for a story that relies on being told through dialogue alone, is it interesting enough?
For the most part – yes. One of the more interesting elements of Three Fourths Home is the fact that the dialogue is more suggestive than self-revelatory. Characters don’t spout out narrative or actions as dialogue, rather the dialogue is used to build the characters. It’s a perfect example of ‘show, don’t tell’. It’s with this well-rounded dialogue that fully realised characters are formed. Whilst we never see the house that the family lives in, or the faces of the characters, the dialogue is strong enough to help build an image of who these people are and the world they occupy.
Although there is branching dialogue with different outcomes for the choices made, this never feels tacky or out of place. In fact, it helps reinforce the well-rounded characters on display here and allows the ‘player’ (or rather, reader) to assist in building Kelly as a character. This is possibly a blessing and a curse for Three Fourths Home, as it is possible to simply play Kelly as a hyper-negative character and complete the story without really getting to know the other characters. This is even more true for the newly-added epilogue that is bundled with the console versions, which you can quite easily ‘finish’ by hopping on a bus as soon as one arrives – thus missing the whole narrative pull of that story.
It’s not all dialogue though, as there is some nice imagery that accompanies the dialogue. As the dialogue grew darker, the clouds would blacken and the storm that Kelly was driving through would start to build. It’s a subtle element, but is effective enough to reinforce the core theme of the narrative in play. Additionally, the score provided by Neutrino Effect adds another layer to the themes that would not have been there if it were just the ambient sound effects of rain and thunder.
I have trouble grading a ‘game’ like this as it’s not really a game as such. It’s not exactly a visual novel though, either. To call it a dialogue-simulator would cheapen the great story within – but that’s almost exactly what it is. At just over an hour long, it’s an interesting enough exploration into what it’s like to be a teenager who has moved out of home and is trying to make it on her own. It’s also an interesting exposé of small-town life and how a family copes with the struggles of growing old as their work and town fades around them. Whilst I wouldn’t exactly say ‘you simply must play this’, I would suggest giving it a look if you’re interested in interesting narratives.
What I’ve taken away from Three Fourths Home is that it is a ‘game’ using the interactive aspect of gaming to explore new ways of telling stories. Whilst this review is not the right place to get into the debate of ‘what a game truly is’, I feel that a ‘game’ like Three Fourths Home helps stretch the boundaries of gaming. Where a story like Three Fourths Home or Broken Age could exist as a short story or a novel, they both use the construct of video games to help build player connectivity with the characters they ‘control’ or come in contact with – thus making their stories ones that could only exist in this interactive medium. As someone who has waned as a reader over the years, I’m quite excited to see the stronger push of visual novels into the world of gaming. Whilst they will never replace books, they will at least help further both mediums and broaden the horizons of those who are looking for something new and unique.