With compassion, depression and isolation as its key themes, Stay is not your standard mindless Friday night gaming fare. This unique 2D escape room simulator is an indie gem of a title that broaches rarely covered subjects in video games and integrates them in such a way that this title will stay with you long after you’ve finished it. The core of the game plays out in a chatroom visual novel format as you attempt to guide Quinn out of unfamiliar surroundings to his freedom, but you soon become aware that it’s not just his physical confines that he needs to be freed of, however, as his emotional trials and tribulations also need traversing.
Released in 2019, the conceit of the game – the need to emotionally connect with a stranger – is very appropriate for the current COVID pandemic and politically divided times and makes it all the more worth playing. With the protagonist desperate enough to put blind faith in human decency, you wish to respond in kind, even if it’s required in order to progress. The fact that Stay can make you genuinely feel this way through its very basic visual presentation is a testament to its presentation and its use of small details to make you believe in your fictitious interaction.
The story is divided into chapters and each contains conversation options to be chosen, puzzles to be solved and actions picked to decide how to progress to the next area. All of these affect Quinn’s mood and your relationship, which if the meter measuring them becomes too low, potentially due to overly callous or negative answers, he may choose to no longer take your advice and cut off your connection entirely. In addition to this, the time that you spend away from the game is also recorded and due to the intensity of his circumstances, Quinn, in a very Animal Crossing fashion, will comment on it – but far more harshly. Stay‘s take on this feature may make him give up on you or may manifest itself later on through one of the numerous endings available. Assuming you try your best to help him, this causes you to become more sensitive in your interactions with him, and once again gives the game a dose of reality.
With the majority of the narrative game displayed in text, our captive’s conversations often veer off course to disguise the largely one-way conversation, but despite it lasting just under 10 hours, you never feel like a passenger in a passive experience, but instead an interactive and intelligent emotional rollercoaster.
Being Quinn’s advisor of sorts puts you in the strange position of giving the best advice for his survival or best for his mental wellbeing, which are not always the same, taking time to get to know him or distracting him with amusing comments or diversions. Quinn’s mood falls in parallel with his predicament, sinking into depressive and even suicidal thoughts. In sharing his burden, you also share the weight of his thoughts while trying to keep his mood up. Inevitably, the heavy atmosphere can be affecting and draining on the player that it can last beyond the playing time, completely justifying the disclaimer at the beginning of the game regarding depressive thoughts that may arise while playing it.
Animated in a 2D pixel art style Stay presents the story through the chat messenger camera but also for cutscenes as Quinn takes the actions you suggest, giving it a The Sims-like feel as he follows your orders. These two features are used brilliantly with an affecting and memorable soundtrack which builds tension excellently and imbues the game with such a palpable emotion that its combination with the aesthetic is perfect.
Small but effective inclusions like a short delay in having the expressive character leave his chair to look around the room as you wait for him to return without the game using a cutscene to show you what’s happening around him, or a cutscene that encourages you to watch it through its entirety while providing a skip button but warning that skipping the scene may have adverse consequences are just a few of the small details used to keep an air of unpredictability.
Philosophizing with the emotional depth of a Good Will Hunting, building the tension of a Saw while interacting with a character as dependent on you as an unstable Tamagotchi has you glued to the screen to free Quinn from his predicament and to solve the mystery of his background and story. As such this entirely unique and highly memorable experience has much to offer, providing a compact yet diverse title that grabs your attention and refuses to let go right until the very end.