Hmm. This is going to be a tricky one to talk about, because a significant part of the appeal of At Home Alone Final is quite how many times it messes with you in the name of delivering its overall narrative — and the increasingly creative ways in which it messes with you.
So I think what we’re probably going to have to do is talk a bit about the game in a relatively spoiler-free manner, then perhaps delve into some more spoileriffic details in a separate, clearly defined section. Does that sound good? Good, because that’s what we’re doing.
At Home Alone Final: The Spoiler-Free Bit
At Home Alone Final is, as the name suggests, the final incarnation of a game that has been in continuous development since 2018. It originated as a short-form psychological horror story that was released in “demo” format, became an expanded paid sequel (actually more of a “full version”) and, rather peculiarly, went free again for its final, conclusive incarnation. It’s this latter version we’re looking at today.
In At Home Alone Final, you take on the role of a nameless young girl who has been left home alone by her mother, whom we see departing at the outset of the story. We then follow the girl’s adventures as she attempts to occupy herself in a big, empty house, waiting for her mother to return.
Along the way, a series of different events occur; initially, these unfold in an unchangeable, pre-scripted manner, but the game allows for multiple playthroughs with additional choices being incorporated into the mix each time. In this way, you’re all but guaranteed to see every possible way the story can unfold.
For those who played the first two At Home Alone games, At Home Alone Final does provide the opportunity to skip the sections covered by those games by inputting a numerical code at a couple of points in the game — in this way you can jump right to the brand new stuff without having to play through things you’ve already seen. For newcomers, though, the game should be played through completely and thoroughly in order to get the full picture of what is going on. And, not to spoil things too substantially, but when you think it’s over — and the game has seemingly conclusively said that it’s over in no uncertain terms — you should keep going.
At Home Alone Final has rather interesting presentation. It’s an RPG Maker game — made in the popular RPG Maker VX Ace, specifically — but it features entirely custom visuals, presented in a deliberately stylised, childish pixel art style. A particularly interesting stylistic choice is how the environments have been constructed in such a way that they look oddly huge in comparison to the main character.
Initially, this might come across simply as dodgy art design, but as you progress through the game and see some of the other visuals, it’s clear that this is actually a deliberate choice intended to emphasise how life feels as a child: you’re short and you don’t understand a lot of things, so everything seems huge and a little daunting.
To emphasise this, the game makes the odd decision of delivering all the main character’s dialogue through RPG Maker’s “choice” boxes rather than traditional dialogue boxes. In this way, there’s a sense that everything the main character says is something you’re “making” her say — even though for much of the game, there’s only a single “choice” to make, and said dialogue is deliberately childish in nature. The main character addresses inanimate objects by name, for example, and has clearly thought up “lore” behind a lot of them — even her coat hangers.
Part of the reason for this presentation is that occasionally you’re provided with choices in dialogue or options to interact with objects, and after a specific point in the game there’s a noteworthy tweak to the way in which this dialogue is handled that is… remarkably effective. We’ll leave it at that until the spoileriffic section.
One issue with the game’s overall script is that it was originally written in Mandarin and has obviously been machine-translated to English.
On the one hand, this gives the whole thing an endearingly childish tone which is not at all inappropriate for the main character — but it sounds a bit odd when coming out of the mouths of the few adult characters in the game. On the other, some people may well find this a bit hard to get past, as it’s clear that there hasn’t been much editing of the raw machine translation at all. On one particularly memorable occasion a character is described as “cunny” rather than “cunning”, which I feel would probably have been caught in a more rigorous localisation process.
That said, despite the dodgy translation, the game is understandable and manages to tell an intriguing, emotionally engaging tale with a variety of compelling and surprising twists and turns along the way — and, rather helpfully, the game comes with a guide that helps you to uncover some of the less intuitive endings to the whole experience — there are four in total, all quite different from one another.
At Home Alone Final is a game that does a great job of drawing the player in. Initially appearing to be a cute little RPG Maker distraction with a mysterious story, the game gradually opens up and becomes something much more ambitious and praiseworthy as it progresses. The end result is very satisfying, leaving just enough room for a certain amount of interpretation while still providing a good sense of “closure” — the latter of which is something that all too many indie horror games struggle a bit with.
Definitely recommended, then. Especially as it’s free; pick it up on Steam.
At Home Alone Final: The Spoilery Bit
Okay, let’s talk specifics. At Home Alone Final is a thoroughly fascinating horror game, because it’s clear that the author has worked hard on it since its original release in 2018 — and over the course of the two major “expansions” to the experience, they have created a well-crafted little world with coherent, consistent lore and a story that, while initially baffling, makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
The core concept of the main character having been murdered in a home invasion and being trapped in a spiritual world as a result is a sound, solid one, and it’s well-implemented here, particularly with how the different characters who appear are all supposed to be elements of her psyche and her vague memories.
It could easily have been left as a relatively “hopeless” tale about coming to terms with one’s own death by reflecting on different possibilities that inevitably lead to the same fateful conclusion — and indeed the earlier versions of the game can be looked upon in that way — but what At Home Alone Final has grown into is something much more intriguing.
The fourth and presumably “true” ending provides some especially well-handled revelations about the potential identity of the murderer, as well as the context behind why the main character and her mother are living alone without a father figure around. And the supernatural aspect of the story is dealt with well, too; rather than simply being dropped on the player without warning towards the conclusion, it is instead weaved throughout the story as a whole before eventually being brought to a close in one of various ways according to the choices that you make.
The moment we talked about above where the nature of the main character’s dialogue changes concerns a point in the narrative where she has actually come to the realisation that she is dead. From this point onwards, all joy, life and imagination completely disappears from the “options” you’re presented with, and instead you’re given simple, flat descriptors of what our heroine is looking at. She barely responds to people who interact with her; it’s an incredibly effective moment that really drives home a key point in the narrative.
Likewise, progression further down various branches of the story makes it clear that the aforementioned weird perspective on the game’s scenery in the girl’s house is very much a deliberate stylistic choice — because there are several sequences that take on completely different aesthetics in their own right. Of particular note is a surprisingly emotional section where another character is telling a story to the protagonist, and everything is depicted through interactive crayon drawings and some heartwrenchingly expressive piano music.
Elsewhere, a more explicitly “creepy horror” section towards one of the game’s conclusions offers another radical change of visual style, perspective and even gameplay, involving object manipulation and chase sequences rather than just following along the narrative as in the rest of the game.
It’s some of the more subtle details that are the best, though — such as the fact that the mother’s face disappears from her portrait and sprite after the first playthrough, or that the initial few loops through the game are accompanied by a mysterious meter at the bottom of the screen which indicates how close you are to the fateful moment of the girl’s death.
The game is full of little things like these that might seem confusing when you first come across them, but when you come to understand their meaning, they can become oddly sinister despite being fairly innocuous in their own right.
A personal favourite moment is a sequence where you’re forced to retrieve a gun from a kitchen cabinet and ensure that events unfold as they are “supposed” to; the game outright disables your ability to move in any direction other than towards the cabinet in question, which initially feels like a bug, but becomes all the more horrifying each and every time it happens as you realise that there really does seem to be no way to break this tragic cycle.
I’ll refrain from explaining the exact conclusions for the sake of those who have read this far and still want to play this game. Suffice to say that despite its wonky translation, it’s a good use of your time, a very effective horror game — and one I suspect is going to stick around in my mind for quite some time.
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