Far Away From Home, by Matthew Wong is a tactical turn-based Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) where you control a group of five individuals who have been transported from their home on modern-day Earth at the moment the International Hadron Collider activates to somewhere else. These four people and their dog then seek to figure out what happened and then figure out how to get back home.
Far Away From Home’s structure is relatively simple, featuring alternate battle and party management sections. The story and battle sequence are linear, with no real decisions to be made in regards to what happens and how you move through it.
Character decisions are a bit deeper with you being given a skills point and 3 stat points with every level, and a trait point every ten levels. Each character gets access to 7 skills specific to them, four or five stats, and four character-specific traits. Skills largely represent active abilities the character can use, though a few characters feature passive skills, with ranks giving increasing potency and if you hit the maximum rank, increased capabilities.
Stats modify actions and character battle capabilities, though the points you are provided are frequently overwhelmed by the natural stat progression of the characters. Traits are big impactful passive abilities that can dramatically change the way a character can play.
Each character also can equip up to four different ring drives. These have a pretty wide variety of capabilities ranging from giving additional stats to changing up a character’s capabilities at a level that is equivalent to that of traits.
This results in really interesting decisions about how you want to build individual characters, and the web of decisions regarding skill, traits, and ring drives leaves a lot to tinker with and explore. That being said there are still certain abilities that stand out as being particularly strong, but those are generally the ones that feel the most interesting and defining for those specific characters.
You can craft ring drives with the game’s single currency, called supplies. Supplies can also be used to perform various in-game healing and restoration actions and to recruit specific enemy units to your team. At most one enemy can be used in a particular stage and without a ring drive designed for the purpose you are unable to control them manually.
You can get supplies from winning battles, through a special action of one of the characters, or through tasks. Tasks are single actions you can perform between battles that provide party XP, additional supplies, or single battle buffs.
Each character specializes in a certain task, giving them a big bonus for that action, with lesser bonuses provided if they do an action that is not their main focus. You can also use tasks to retrain a character, reassigning all of their stats, skills, and traits.
The battle preparations task works a little differently in that the overall effects depend a lot on how many characters you assign to it, with better and better bonuses being assigned based on the number of characters who take the task.
Combat makes up the bulk of the game and is structured in a way that should be familiar to most SRPG fans. Characters take actions based on their action time, which accumulates based on speed, and when their turn comes up they get movement and an action, with the action ending their turn. There are numerous modifiers to these actions, which creates a pretty rich tapestry of decisions and situational considerations.
Achievements and Triumphs
Far Away From Home’s story is good. It is inherently consistent, well written, and includes characters that are fun and interesting. It is not a masterwork or the height of literature, but it definitely clears all the bars that a game should clear and so few do, especially in the indie SRPG space.
The most important part of an SRPG (and most turn-based tactical games, really) is having interesting and varied battles. If you are dealing with no changes in the scenario or no shift in capabilities then the game will hit a point where it is boring to play.
Luckily Far Away From Home hits neither point. The game does a great job of mixing up goals and challenges, with each battle map feeling meaningful and interesting with either new goals or entirely new situations to deal with. Similarly, while the characters are constrained by their roles there is enough variety in how you build them and how you can develop them that you constantly feel like you are making real and interesting decisions about how to develop them and use the resources you have available to upgrade or alter their ring drive configurations.
While most of the main characters fit into specific and expected roles, I want to call out how great Claster, the party’s erstwhile dog, is from a gameplay perspective. Petting him recharge your focus points, and if you rank this skill up high enough it also increases their action time for the following turn, leaving you with a fun and thematic strategic option while also leaving you with a lot of decisions in regards to where to place him.
This is even further enhanced by the fact that he is able to essentially merge with other characters, either increasing their defense or letting him counter-attack. Neither of these actions prevents him from getting further actions which is good from a balance perspective but also leaves you with even more interesting layers of decisions on when to use this and also how to build him around the idea that you are going to be using it.
Failures and Limitations
So with a good story, fun battles, and meaningful character development decisions where does Far Away From Home suffer? In the game’s user interface (UI) and enforced linearity.
The User Interface suffers both from being fairly ugly and also non-functional in some areas. While it has a lot going for it in general, with a nice action selection wheel, a clear turn order list, and the ability to see a unit’s threat range, this doesn’t quite work when dealing with determining where you are going specifically in areas with higher and lower terrain adjacent to each other. There is no way to shift perspective or rotate like there are in other games that feature multiple elevations, and the inability to be able to pick the exact spot you need can be rage-inducing in particularly tight battles. On top of that the color and font choices, while functional, are also amateurish looking and are a stark contrast with other aspects of the design.
The enforced linearity of the game is not directly a problem in itself, but it does leave you in a position where you can get stuck or forced to reduce the difficulty. This isn’t really a problem, as if you really have a problem you can crank the difficulty quite a bit down, but I do wish there were some options for farming or side missions that would fill the game out.
Far Away From Home is very well done and an excellent first outing by Matthew Wong. While not perfect, it definitely achieves what I would like an indie SRPG to achieve. It has fun gameplay, interesting character building and designs, and a good story. It is definitely worth a play for most SRPG fans.