The Longing Review

March 5, 2020
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When you leave A Shade idle, he gets up to mischief. I remembered this fact as I was brushing my teeth, having sent the little rascal on a long journey through the treacherous caves of the game’s world. Pm have reached his destination by now, I contemplated, rinsing with mouthwash. “He’s gonna eat the mushroom!” I yelled from the bathroom, racing to my PC. A Shade had indeed reached his destination, and he had indeed eaten the mushroom I’d left him carrying. 

A Shade is, of course, the protagonist of Studio Seufz’ new game, The Longing. Based on the German Kyffhäuser legend, you play a lonely shade living in an underground cave complex, who is given the job of awakening The King from his slumber after four hundred days. Why this happens — we don’t know. There is plenty of time to find out, however, because this game takes place in real time. Oh, yes.

Riddle Me This

Patience is a virtue.

The Longing is a unique game in the sense that it is part puzzler, part adventure game, and part Tamagotchi, all revolving around time as a concept. And time is yours to spend how you see fit. There is an overarching story, there are puzzles to solve, and there are activities to keep you occupied (I hope you like reading, because A Shade does) — but you could also just start the game and live four hundred real-life days, then come back to see what happens.

Time is literally a barrier to progress in some places. In one early encounter, you open a door that takes two hours to actually open. In another area, you find a recess in the earth and a drip of water filling it up. This takes a month to fill up to the point that A Shade can use the now-pool to climb onto a ledge. All of these actions can be completed just using the mouse: left-click to walk, right-click to perform an action. You can also bookmark wherever your character is standing so that you can send A Shade on a long journey, then close the game and he will continue on in real time.


Let’s face it, he’s a bibliophile.

Just like Van Damme, A Shade can time travel, in a sense. You see, A Shade has a home located beneath The King’s feet — a fitting place for a servant — and this home starts off very sparse indeed: a chair and a bookcase are your only furnishings. You can make A Shade’s home cosier by finding more books and decorations, or lighting a fire. A Shade likes to sit and read by the fire, and it is at this point that you realise that this speeds up time. The more cosy you make A Shade’s home, the faster time passes. Clever, eh?

A Shade Has No Name

We love The King. Or do we?

Cute in a haunting way, the anthropomorphic Shade is a servant of The King. And he is explicitly told by The King himself not to leave the caves. See, A Shade is a loyal subject; but A Shade also lacks confidence, and is self-deprecating. You gather this by reading the dialogue box that appears at the top of the screen which contains A Shade’s thoughts. “Loneliness is real,” reads one thought. “Eternity is overrated,” reads another.

As you progress, A Shade starts to build confidence and realise that he can tackle some challenging situations, and maybe it benefits The King to keep A Shade subservient. The dialogue box also provides helpful hints and tips to direct the player on what they should be doing next. “I should be reading more” — A Shade does love their Moby Dick.

The Upside Down and the Bait and Switch

It’s lonely down there.

It doesn’t take long to realise that being the subject of a king is just that, being a subject to the will of another. As A Shade builds confidence, they also build individuality — a concept that doesn’t exactly gel with monarchical rule. This leaves our beloved shade in a predicament: listen to The King’s wishes and wake him in four hundred days, or disobey him and find out why he doesn’t want A Shade to go to the surface. The clever time mechanic strikes again as you, the player, realise that all that time you were trying to speed faster and faster only serves to imprison you more — so fixated on making that ticker at the top of the screen count down faster to progress A Shade’s given objective, rather than making a daring escape. To this end, there are multiple endings in The Longing.

What Lies Beneath

A Shade likes crystals.

The Longing delves deep into some very dark themes. Depression, loneliness, isolation, philosophy, and existentialism all rear their heads. When you send the Shade to mine a crystal, he exclaims: “Don’t worry little crystal, I’ll release you from your sorrow.” At another point we see our tragic hero think “I keep running into walls” — something we can all empathise with. These themes also come out in the books you collect. Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, for example.

So if you scratch the surface, The Longing is more than just a puzzle/adventure/survival-ish game. It’s a game about the human condition. Which is ironic, seeing as our protagonist isn’t even human. That in itself just shows the many layers at work in this game. Yes, the mechanics are solid. Yes, the art is gorgeous. Yes, the music and ambient sounds really add to the atmosphere. But really, this isn’t a game about any of those things, it’s about what lies beneath these things — literally and figuratively. 

Will You Enjoy The Longing?

The King sure has a lot of treasure.

This game is slow. Think classical point-and-click adventure slowed down to around half the speed. A Shade walks at a snail’s pace and the caves are huge. You are given little direction at the start of the game, and you must find where to go and what to do by yourself. Of course, this feeds into the game’s premise, though it doesn’t stop it being any less frustrating at points. If you walk a long way then realise you’ve forgotten to do something, well, you are facing a very time consuming trip back. You can, of course, send A Shade to a previously bookmarked place or leave him performing an activity, then close the game and come back later. 

The Longing is a game that prevents continuous play by its very design, and how much joy is derived from this will be up to the individual player to decide, based upon how willing they are to embrace the central concepts of the game. This is a game requiring thoughtfulness and patience. It is perhaps better to describe The Longing as an avant-garde experience designed to make you live it, rather than simply a video game.

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Like all of the most meaningful art, The Longing’s gameplay struggles to be what is traditionally considered to be “fun” at times. However, it is a dark and thoughtful journey that tackles profound subjects, and is well worth your time if you’re looking to experience something truly unique.
Jesse Gregoire

Starting with the Sega Mega Drive, I’ve been playing those video game things for what seems like an eternity. Anything with a good narrative is my passion, but you can also find me clicking the heads in FPS games, living a second life in a sim, or looking for those elusive objects in adventure games. I’m still trying to workout what happened in Metal Gear Solid.