Narrative RPG Long Gone Days centers humanity in a time of war - PAX West 2023 hands-on/interview
At PAX West 2023, the Video Games Are Good team spent some time with publisher Serenity Forge to learn about their new releases. Long Gone Days — a unique choices-matter RPG that focuses on relationships and language barriers in a wartime setting — is the latest game to join up. We talked with Lead Programmer Camilo Valderrama and spent time with the PAX West demo.
For our first-ever PAX, we had the honor of checking out brand-new releases, newly revealed games, and titles we'd covered a few times in the past. But the latest title in our PAX roundup is one I had a personal connection with, one I'd followed the development of for years, having played its first-ever demo nearly seven years ago and even spent time with its Early Access build.
So when I saw an email about Long Gone Days hit my inbox, it was exactly the kind of game I wanted to check back in on for PAX. We had the opportunity to meet with the Lead Programmer Camilo Valderrama and even experienced some of the changes implemented since I'd last played the game with their PAX West demo.
After being in Early Access development since 2018, players will have the chance to enjoy the completed Long Gone Days when it releases for PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles on October 10, 2023.
Hands-on impressions with Long Gone Days
Developer: This I Dreamt
Genre: Turn-based narrative RPG
Platform(s): PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series, Switch
Long Gone Days is a unique game to say the least. It's set during wartime, but it features protagonists who refuse to kill. It's an old-school turn-based RPG, but it sneaks in active sniping minigames all throughout. And most interestingly, it's a war game that puts a focus on language barriers and communication above all else. Where other games take the clear and obvious conflicts of war and use them as tools for gameplay, Long Gone Days tries to find it everywhere else. And it works so well.
In Long Gone Days, you control Rourke, a young man who has been groomed from birth to be a prodigy sniper for an organization known as The Core. The Core is a private military outfit that operates underground and is hired out to handle military missions on behalf of various nations. Most of the members of The Core have grown up within its walls and know nothing else, just like Rourke. When he goes to the surface for his first-ever mission above ground, The Core's shiny appeal fades off pretty immediately.
The demo bounces back and forth in time, from Rourke's origins in The Core to after he's deserted the organization and gone on the run. It showcases the game's unique battle system, which has you targeting specific parts of the body for different effects. A shot to the head does high damage, but the target has a greater ability to dodge your attack. Aim at the arms to stun them from being able to make a move in their next turn. It adds a fun layer of complexity to traditional turn-based RPG combat and nicely leans into Rourke's specialties as a sniper.
But the most interesting representation of his sharpshooter ability is the regular sniping sections that have you looking down the scope to eliminate targets within a time limit. These segments fly by, but it's such a welcome thing to help break up the turn-based narrative action with these more active segments. They're stressful, they're impactful in the narrative, and they never outstay their welcome.
The one factor that I think makes the game stand out is one that goes underrepresented in the demo, or at least what I saw of it, and that's the relationships at the center of Rourke's journey. And it all begins with language.
As he steps out of the English-only Core and into the lands behind enemy lines, Rourke finds himself unable to understand anyone he runs into. Only by befriending translators and piecing together languages through them is Rourke able to properly communicate with people on either side of the conflict. It creates a more grounded experience, something that most games skip in favor of catering to Western, English-speaking audiences. By taking this approach, it sets the game's focus firmly on people and communication rather than bombs or shooting.
And with that focus on relationships comes a full-on morale system, where choices you make as Rourke can affect the mood and attitude of the party. The bonds that build between characters is common in RPGs, especially in the Persona social link era. But between the wartime setting and the high emotional stakes of the narrative, it feels like a perfect addition here.
As Long Gone Days finally celebrates its launch, learn what went into the decisions that made this special experience come together in the way that it did. Read on for our PAX West conversation with the game's Lead Programmer, Camilo Valderrama.
Camilo Valderrama on reimagining war games, a new publisher, and Long Gone Days' journey to launch
VGG: I've been following Long Gone Days for a while, and what always takes my breath away is how immediately powerful it is, where you go and snipe in the character's first-ever mission and see the soldier questioning his reason for fighting. War is such a common setting in video games, but obviously, Long Gone Days does it differently. Why was it so important for you to capture this more painful side of war, and what kinds of things does Long Gone Days do to differentiate itself from others that have a war-focused setting?
Valderrama: In Long Gone Days, you won't actually play in a war setting with a lot of killing or a lot of blood. You're trying to avoid that huge conflict in the game, really, by meeting people across these different countries while escaping the Core organization.
We try to focus more on interpersonal relationships, on friendship, on more positive things. Actually, our characters in the game won't kill enemies. They just knock them out. We try to avoid that kind of brutal violence as much as we can. Most of what you're dealing with is the political side of war, the friendships you develop with [those you meet across enemy lines], and how the choices you make affect the morale of your party.
VGG: That human angle, you can almost see that in the combat, where each encounter has you looking into the face, into the eyes, of the soldiers. Similarly, the focus on language holds a lot of power, especially in a setting where communication issues would just create more chaos. Why was that process of overcoming language barriers so important for this game?
Valderrama: We wanted to keep it as real as possible. We didn't want to assume that everyone speaks English. So we had this idea where if you go, for example, to Germany, you only run into German dialogue.
If you, the player, are actually German, you'll be able to understand it. But the characters won't, because in The Core they only speak English. So to help you on your journey, you need to meet specific people, people who can help you translate the languages of the different countries you are visiting.
I really like that concept because it feels very meta, where you as a player can maybe understand something that your characters cannot. And that is an interesting take on game design in my opinion, so we went for it, and we are very happy with the results.
VGG: I'm curious, with those morale choices that you make as you play, is there a chance of, say, pissing off your translator to the point where they don't really want to help you anymore?
Valderrama: Actually, that's a really good idea. But it's too late. ... Let's just push the game for next year. [He laughs.] Or maybe Long Gone Days 2.
VGG: Long Gone Days has been in the works for a while. What has the long Early Access experience been like, receiving input from the community?
Valderrama: It's been really good. The demo was basically a proof of concept built in RPGMaker and, at that point in time, it had some limitations and we needed a lot more flexibility to achieve what we wanted to communicate with the game. So from there, we basically ported the entire engine into Unity to create this game.
But the demo was huge. We gained a lot of support from the community, especially from the RPGMaker community, so we really appreciate them. Many people from that community still follow and support the game.
And then we went to Early Access because we needed to raise more funding for the game. It came to a point where were basically forced to do it. This game is not a traditional Early Access game, it's a single-player game with a very linear story. So ideally, you'd experience the game as a whole.
In the end, we were glad we did, because it helped us fund the rest of the game; we got a lot of feedback from the community and a lot of energizing comments of support that, as a developer, gives you the energy to keep going and finalize the game.
VGG: One of the big announcements coming into PAX was that the team had officially partnered up with Serenity Forge as publisher to help the team get over the finish line. What's that been like so far?
Valderrama: Working with Serenity Forge has been incredible. They've been very good publishers. From the beginning, they've just been very transparent and very flexible with us. They have no issues with what we want to communicate with the game; even if our game's core themes may be controversial, they still went for it. They believe in the game.
So it's been really great. And they publish so many amazing games. I'm very fond of a couple of the games they've already published, so for me, it was like a dream. Like, 'Wow, is this happening?'
VGG: Looking around at the booth and seeing all the cool physical releases and merch items for games published under Serenity Forge, I'm excited to see if maybe Long Gone Days merch starts popping up.
Valderrama: There will be! After release, there are conversations around releasing different kinds of merch for Long Gone Days.
VGG: Do you find it to be a barrier to ask people to dive into a game that's mindful of the complexities of war? Especially considering the current state of the world?
Valderrama: From what I'm seeing, people are very happy with what the game is doing. With the vibe of the game, the themes. Because it feels fresh to play a game set in war where you experience that different kind of setting.
Our game's more about friendship and the connections you make and those personalities. I feel like it was a good decision, focusing the game on that angle. Because this game easily could be about that traditional take on war, right? Tanks, conflict, bombs, things like that. But it's not like that at all. Hopefully everyone will enjoy it when it's released.
VGG: That focus on the people, the characters: Do you think that's why the game has grown such a community of fans? I noticed from the start that Long Gone Days has cultivated a following of fan artists and just a huge love for the characters.
Valderrama: I give Camila Gormaz, who is the designer and artist of the game, all the props there. She's so talented and her art is amazing. It's hard not to admire what she's doing.
You won't have to wait long to admire Long Gone Days yourself, as it releases on October 10! Wishlist or purchase the game on Steam, and to keep up with the development team, follow them on Twitter or join their Discord.
Want to see more like this? Check out all of our PAX West 2023 coverage.