The Longing is about the anguish that arises out of having to spend extended periods of time inside by yourself; after the year we’ve all had, it certainly hits a little close to home.
While The Longing is successful in communicating feelings of boredom and languishment throughout, I’m not entirely convinced that makes it a good game.
What Is It?
The Longing has a very simple premise. You’re a Shade who’s tasked with killing time for 400 days while your master sleeps. Will you pass the time by drawing pictures? Exploring the king’s underground lair? Reading classic literature? If none of those sound good, sitting in silence is always a valid option too; the choice is yours.
Why Should I Care?
Choice is the crux of The Longing; If you’re really committed to a realistic experience, you can start the game and just wait 400 days to see the ending. You don’t even have to have the game open for time to pass.
But the more desirable method is finding ways to keep busy; activities like reading and decorating your room don’t just make time feel like it’s going by faster, they literally make time go faster.
Decorating the Shade’s room is simply satisfying; I really liked drawing pictures and hanging them on the wall, as the animation that plays while the Shade carefully constructs their masterpiece, was oddly pleasurable to watch. It also pays off in, as time begins moves at a faster rate in the Shade’s room, allowing you to beat the game in less than 400 real-time days.
If reading is more your speed, you’re in luck; this game is very text-heavy. While walking around, the shade frequently makes humorous musings about his lonely situation that are just as funny as they are somber, and there are also plenty of books to read. These aren’t the type of books you’d find in a game like Skyrim that only have about a dozen pages or so. I’m talking classic literature like Nietchze and Melville; entire novels, such as Moby Dick are available to read here.
Like decorating, reading also speeds up the in-game timer with each page your turn. Unfortunately, the in-game reader isn’t particularly great. Playing in handheld mode on the Switch, the pages are a little too small, with most only being able to hold about a paragraph or so, which makes for an awkward reading experience. Imagine reading a novel, but instead of turning through about 400 pages, it was presented through a few-thousand tweets; that sums up what trying to read a book is like in The Longing.
There is an auto-advance option so that you don’t have to push a button every time you want to turn a page, but it’s not particularly useful. When I timed it, it took anywhere from 30 to 50 seconds for pages to auto-turn. With how short some of the pages are thanks to the compact reader, it’s entirely possible to finish reading a page, and still have about 10 or so seconds left before the page auto-turns; I generally turned the page manually when this happened, thus eliminating the point of the auto-advance option. There’s seemingly no way to change this either, which is a shame, considering that not everyone reads at the same speed.
Another major element of the game is exploration, which can be exciting, yet tedious. The environments are great, boasting several unique locations and secrets, many of which are time-gated, requiring you to check in on certain locations after enough time has passed.
Traversing the game’s world, on the other hand, is a drag. The Longing’s slow movement feels like an intentional choice to emphasize the tedium of the Shade’s task, and it succeeds in that regard, but it doesn’t quite work in the game’s favor. Walking is what you’ll probably be doing the most in The Longing, but it’s not engaging in the least; that might be the point, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly compelling one.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
For all of its faults, The Longing excels in is its atmosphere. The distinct art style and orchestral soundtrack are fantastic. It also packs some outstanding sound design. Every single action the Shade performs carries a distinct sound effect. In any other game, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but here, the sound breaks up the deafening silence of the Shade’s isolation. It was nigh impossible to not hyperfixate on the game’s various sound effects throughout, because there wasn’t anyone else making those noises, only me.
That being said, I don’t think its outstanding atmosphere is necessarily enough to absolve it of its sins. The Longing is an experimental title that deals with themes of loneliness, boredom, and tedium, but it also possesses those same qualities. This last year in quarantine was a drag, but also was about finding different ways to keep myself engaged; there’s not much that’s engaging about The Longing which makes it a hard one to recommend.