Sometimes it is unlikely titles that surprise you the most, and that is true for “Bury Me, My Love”— and yes the name is heavy, but really should not be a deterrent… much. I knew, or rather naively thought I did, what this title would be. Yet I found my expectations challenged, and I welcomed that wholeheartedly, I just wish it was all so good.
While I may not be entirely familiar with ‘visual novels’ I have played several (which will remain nameless purely to avoid embarrassment, you can understand), but I am not sure this really follows in their footsteps. Bury Me, My Love is different. The game throws you right into the introduction and then straight into the game itself, a move which is a little confusing — like a repetitive false start. This is only worsened by the lack of an initial menu. The music, I will say, is wonderful from the onset, even if it does sadly drop off at times.
Now while the lack of start-up menu is strange, what is stranger is the lack of one after initial startup — there is no save or load system either, a fault which I will come back to. The thing that gets me most is that when you click the power button on the screen you just get booted from the game. Straight up booted. Bye-bye. No ifs, no buts; just out the door as you please, I hope you have good mouse control, that’s all I’m saying. It’s a bold move.
I could, and almost did, give Bury Me, My Love a pass on the menu thing with illusions of how it could help accessibility by not overwhelming the player, but I can admit that is a stretch. They may have in fact actively chosen to do that, and I would not argue it necessarily, I would, however, argue that while potentially improving accessibility, it simply does not make it any easier to use. The settings, which can be found on the phone in-game, are minimal and offer nothing in the way of help. No fuss, no frills. Accessibility also suffers since, for reasons I cannot explain, Bury Me, My Love requires an internet connection — a death to accessibility. If pick-up-and-play was the aim then it has sadly faltered, and the fact that it’s not mentioned on their steam page is rather disheartening.
The entire story is told through text messages, it’s an understandable and relatable format and makes so much sense not only given the context of the story but it’s relationship to its audience, but unfortunately, there are issues. The screens format, and how it deals with this centralized phone, doesn’t feel comfortable. I feel worse that I cannot give any help in how to rectify this, it is just, strange and rather off-putting.
Having the phone central with a wider photograph behind was more reminiscent of those YouTube clip compilations where the distorted image is stretched out awkwardly behind the video itself to make up for the recording being vertical… come on people it’s 2019 now, film horizontal! But the point I’m making is it felt like it took away from the game, I would have preferred if the empty space could have been better filled. The artwork, however, is lovely. With just enough hand drawn realness to be endearing and characteristic, whilst still remaining stylized enough to age well with unique relevancy.
In terms of gameplay, there are issues there too. The little things like UI bugging and overlapping, while looking unpolished, are small in comparison to one of it’s biggest issues… To me, one of it’s biggest glaring issue actually stems from one of its greatest attributes; it’s 19 different endings. It’s impressive, right? But again this game lacks accessibility due to the lack of a real save or load system. In fact, a save button in general. This does, to my mind, affect the replay-ability of Bury Me, My Love when it should have it by the bucket load.
In games like this, where options and endings are so very important you must, to my mind, give players the ability to explore and save and reload at will. That being said, I can think of reasons why they left this option out, the main being that the life of the title’s protagonist, Nour is not a do-over, she doesn’t, much like a real individual escaping from war and conflict, get a do-over. A mistake can spell disaster. But then again, this fact argues with the nature of games themselves. Leading me to question whether this truly was a game or not, which took away from the actual playing.
The characterization of Nour is very good and enjoyable, Majd, however, fell short for me. While he may be the central ‘playable’ character he is no protagonist. I did, however, find the messaging to be cute, and each character’s tone nearing distinct between their styles. But no matter what dialog I thought was right I always appeared to start an argument, I began to doubt my choices, not for their repercussions, but the stream of text they would bring with them. It became somewhat apparent that Majd was a plot device, his responses were merely to prompt the story along, because I didn’t feel like I was influencing much at all, it felt a little on rails. I found myself unsure of my place in the story, was I controlling him? Was I merely guiding him? It was off-putting.
Frankly put, I just didn’t think I had much in the way of controlling the story, which understandably gives a level of hopelessness that one can share with the character, but other than that it was lacking. Like talking to an old chatbot. At times I was required to click onward with the story and at times I was just left watching it unfold — which I didn’t mind, but made me doubt it as a game… presenting itself more like an interactive movie.
The story itself is good, fresh, and important… it’s just not handled in the best way possible — it lacks subtlety — but I think that is a very purposeful decision. The game gives up gentle cultural immersion and acclimation, in what I would think, is to intentionally generate a level of cultural shock, but it does have the potential to be utterly bewildering. The couple’s relationship is explored interestingly, if not clumsily as it slows any urgency we could build for Nour, but their interactions are — as are some of the outcomes — frustrating and at times obvious. The foreshadowing is again clumsy and obvious but is perfectly startling and has the shock factor that I can only assume is desired, but it is nevertheless a little clumsy and immersion breaking.
Although understandable it is a shame, my hope would be for a game like this to reach out to as many audience members as possible, but the internet breeds impatient and short attention spans and I am unsure if this game can keep up. For obvious reasons I cannot attest, or for that matter judge, the realism or authenticity of the story as I simply have no comparison. I am not, have never been, nor know any Syrian refugees who have travelled to Europe. And that’s the point. If we take this to be a realistic representation then it sure is a point of reference — some much needed understanding. But for that to happen we have to take this as a somewhat accurate portrayal, which I have an issue with from the off. That’s a lot of trust to put into a video game.
Bury Me, My Love’s dialog baffled me at times, particularly that an entire conversation can be, and believe me at times was, only had in the form of emoji. Such a strange choice for this story, if not an amusing one. I do not feel that any dialog option is the ‘right’ choice, everything in Nour’s world is a gamble — and rightly so, but a lack of response may be disheartening to players and means that they never had the feedback that real gameplay requires… if it is however not seen as a game, this may be overlooked.
In this story, the lack of ‘good outcomes’ may be because for someone in this position there just aren’t any, and it is a grounding thought. When it comes to options for dialog, give me options or give me one, don’t change up the game halfway even if it the outcome is the same either give me no choice as it sometimes does or makes me believe I have options. Not half this and half that. It just all feels a little too random.
While it may be strangely bewildering I do think this title has a charm and is worth your time, but I can’t say you’ll walk away satisfied, that is not the point Bury Me, My Love. You will, however, experience and learn, you’ll have empathy and worry… and if you are impatient, you’ll be annoyed as heck at the pacing — which in itself is problematic when you dramatize lives, be them representations of the real or fictional, but such is the nature of games. If you want to give this title a go, then do so, but be aware of what you are in for — it’s more accurately an experience than anything else.