Visual novels and interactive fiction are controversial within the gaming community. Some bemoan the enhanced focus of story over gameplay, while others enjoy engaging with an engrossing narrative. Games like Gone Home, Choice of Robots and Stanley Parable have been released to critical acclaim and commercial success, proving that there is a market for these types of games.
Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition bases its story around Kelly, a woman in her mid-20s who is driving home to her family after visiting her father’s old family house. The entire game acts as a conversation between Kelly and her mother, father, and brother Ben through her phone. Though the game touts itself as allowing the player to explore and dictate the relationship Kelly has with her family, the game fails to deliver on this promise. Three Fourths Home follows a very strict “Beads on a String” model; there are key plot points that happen no matter what dialogue options are chosen, and the actions of the player have minimal consequences on upcoming events. There are even instances where the player can only select one option.
To complicate things further, the characters aren’t as fleshed out as they should be to have an emotional impact. A prominent example of this is when Kelly is speaking to her father. There is a conversation about his alcoholism, and Kelly can either support his habit, or tell him that he should reconsider self-medicating himself with alcohol. Regardless of the dialogue chosen, nothing changes. The overall demeanor of the father and his relationship with Kelly is the same.
Furthermore, the interactive pieces that allow for this to be a game aren’t necessary, nor do they add anything to the story or ideas being communicated to the player. The player holds the right trigger to move the car. If the player is not holding the trigger, the game simply stops and the player isn’t allowed to continue. The problem is that this adds nothing to the gaming or narrative experience. I’m not engaged any more than I would be by simply selecting dialogue options. In fact, it ended up being more of an annoyance than anything else. The player is also given the option to sound the horn. While this does help break up the monotony by letting the player have some sort of impact on the sequence of sounds, it serves no functional purpose. This is Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition’s biggest problem — it does not need to be a game. In fact, turning the game into a short story would strengthen narrative cohesion and the overall fluidity of the story.
The game is fairly short and has minimal replay value. Both the main story sequence and the epilogue will take most players between 15 and 20 minutes to complete. There is little incentive to replay the game, though there are a couple of achievements that will extend the playtime. The player can also look through the ‘Extras’ menu to view some additional tidbits that tie into the game: her brother’s stories, her photo album for her college project, and a radio with all of the game’s music. Though these are interesting to view, they add little value to the characters or the story.
The epilogue that has been added into the Extended Edition of the game is perhaps the most enticing portion of the game. This epilogue acts as a ‘what if’ scenario that has multiple, tangible outcomes. What if Kelly decided to call her mom while she was attending college in Minnesota? What if she doesn’t? What if she acts distant or decides to open up to her mother? This scenario is engaging and the player is in control of not only the final outcome of events, but how Kelly’s mother acts towards her. This is the closest that the game comes to being an engaging piece of interactive fiction, and not just a narrative.
It’s difficult to recommend Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition to anyone, even for the $5 price point. There are better interactive narratives that cost just as much or less. The game would have benefited from being a short story, but as a video game it fails to live up to its promises of creating an engaging, character-driven narrative.