I’m always excited to review a dating sim; they’re so varied, so strange, and have such a passionate following. You never quite know if you’re going to date a dream daddy or a pigeon, find yourself in the middle of a problematic smut-fest or land somewhere in between. The description of LongStory, a self-described LGBTQ+ sim, left me expecting a kind of murder mystery high school romance game; what I found contained neither high school nor a murder, but a quirky, delightful, all-ages-friendly little romp through a small but eclectic cast of adorable oddballs.
LongStory may be a dating sim, but it’s clearly aimed at a younger audience; the characters are only 14 years old and the most saucy scenes of the game revolve around their sharing their first kiss–or in the case of one significant other, a kiss on the hand. In addition to learning more about the lads and lasses of the quirky Weasel Heights, dating is used as an excuse to get your character into discussions about a whole range of things, from public displays of affection to different sexualities, from gender identities to how to deal with breakups. This is a sandbox in which the player, especially young players, are supposed to explore different options and responses in a way which titles like Persona 5 simply don’t allow. It tackles a lot of topics in a relatively entertaining way, with story points ranging from a character disapproving of anyone being in an openly same-sex relationship to a trans character being asked which restroom they’re going to use.
You really can’t expect to play a LGBTQ+ game and not expect heavy-handed messaging around pronouns, gender identities, Internet friendships, and same-sex relationships. Just because these messages are heavy-handed doesn’t mean they’re ham-fisted. If you’re too triggered by any discussion about anything other than heteronormative relationships, then you should, by all means, skip out on this title. If you decide to dive in, you’ll experience a game with a small but interesting cast, some typical over-dramatic high school drama, and even have the option to date a person wearing a turkey suit. I’m not joking, Turkey, the dancing school mascot, who does not speak, magically makes muffins appear, never takes off their costume and quotes poetry at you via text messages, is a viable romance line. Honestly, still a little confused about that whole experience.
Let’s face it, it’s a dating sim. Characters are exaggerated, arguments are silly and over the top, and the school principal is ridiculous in the trying-overly-hard-to-be-hip-and-relatable-way featured in children’s entertainment. It’s all pretty silly, and yet it does manage to strike a few chords that fell rather close to home. One character texts in a manner so familiar to me that I felt the need to reach out to a friend, just to make sure she’s real and not somehow an imagined product of this game. The online-only relationship the main character has with their best friend was also something near and dear to me, and something I know countless people of my generation have experienced, either through gaming or social media, but is something so rarely touched on in mainstream media. It was refreshing and surprisingly reassuring to see that kind of relationship displayed in such a positive light.
Something worth noting is that you can’t lie to yourself or your friends; LongStory uses these conversations to gauge how you feel about certain characters, or how you want to handle a situation, and will react accordingly. Don’t talk big to your friend about how you’re going to try to deceive someone and expect to be able to be straight with them. If you do happen to make a big blunder during a conversation, you can use the left shoulder button to rewind time and change your most recent choice, but you can’t time travel beyond that. Not to worry, though. Once you’ve beaten the game, you’ll be able to pop around between episodes to more easily replay scenes, explore different conversations, and even romance up other characters.
You can date almost every character you encounter, and the final episode seems to suggest that there will be an option to date at least one additional character, if any future episodes are released. The cast is small, however, so you really can only choose between two males, two females, and two gender-neutral characters. That said, there is another option: you can also avoid the dating thing all together. While dating characters does unlock more dialogue and cutscenes, you’ll actually find a few conversations and even unique illustrations by going the ace route that you won’t see if you choose to pursue a romance line. The game definitely encourages you towards romances, but there are also assurances that it’s just fine to fly solo, if you continue to reject the less-than-subtle prompts to pick a character to romance up.
LongStory also seems to expect you to make certain choices the first time you play, and not following those left me a little confused and surprised my first playthrough. I did not trust nor want to befriend a certain character right from the start, and was confused when, several chapters in, my character kept talking about how this person was my first friend at my new school. This left me somewhat flabbergasted, as I’d only spoken to this character twice and had deliberately blown them off both times. At another point, I’d skipped the chance to meet up with the character I was trying to romance up in order to gain information on a missing character, and missed a scene where I discovered that my potential significant other was totally into theater, leaving me a bit surprised when they started quoting Shakespeare at me out of the blue.
The strangest quirk I found was the whole mindset of the final episode. Episode 8 takes place during summer break, and your whole group of friends has scattered, while one in particular has moved far away. My first playthrough I didn’t find this odd at all, as I was dating that character, and who wouldn’t InstaFaceGram (yep, that’s a thing in this game) stalk their now far away significant other? (or their recent ex, depending on how you played through things.) The second time through, however, I had decided I was in dire need of some sweet, sweet Turkey love, and was surprised to find that even though it was made clear that my character hasn’t been able to spend any time with Turkey all summer, they were still obsessively trying to talk to the recently-moved character, rather than their love bird.
Quirks aside, LongStory still tells a cute story about middle school romances, and some of the odd behaviors of characters within the game are just a little more believable if you remember that you’re supposed to be all of 14 years old.
LongStory is quite polished; the art style is charming, the cast is diverse, and the dialogue is pretty well written. The music is great, it even features a few songs with vocals, and I’ve caught myself humming the main theme, and even Turkey’s kazoo song, several times over the past few days. The main background score is a little short and used quite often, it’s not grating, but I did find myself focusing on it more than I would have liked. There is an occasional bug in the Switch version where the text will randomly not advance. The good news is that it’s resolved by pressing the + button to open the menu, then resuming the game.
LongStory is a charming, innocent little dating sim set in middle school and focused on helping equip younger audiences to communicate and work through dating and social issues in the modern world. It also does a pretty decent job of telling an entertaining story for those of us who left school well before the he/she/they conversations came anywhere near the mainstream social consciousness. The story builds on itself quite well for several chapters, is touching at some moments, and zany, over-the-top, and dramatic at others, just how I remember middle school to be. It’s full of great music, a diverse cast, and is actually cheaper to buy on the Switch than it is on Steam. It’s an enjoyable little dating game, for those who don’t mind a more chaste approach to romance.
LongStory is a charming and innocent LGBTQ+ dating sim focused on conversations and relationships rather than just getting lucky. It’s a little over the top, a little dramatic, and a little silly, just like middle school itself, and allows you to date almost every character in the game, or go the asexual route. It’s a little heavy-handed at times, but otherwise a great way to pass time.