Bury Me, My Love review: Long distance doldrums
Bury Me, My Love is a unique story told primarily through text communications. Is it a journey worth taking? Our review.
The phrase "bury me, my love" sounds morbid, but it's actually a way of telling your partner that you care about them, or "Don't even think about dying before I do." As the Bury Me, My Love developers explain on the game's official website, it's a way to say "Take care."
It's an appropriate title for this text-centric game that follows a young Syrian woman named Nour who leaves her loving husband and her war-torn country behind to reach safety and asylum in Europe. The tale is one that could very easily play out in real life, and is likely happening right now somewhere in the world. It's tender, engaging, and at times very frustrating in ways that aren't related to the subject matter at hand, but overall it's an interesting adventure that's worth sinking a few hours into – with some writing and platform-centric woes.
An incredible journey
The beginning of the game briefly introduces Nour and Majd through their text conversations and a short scene that sets the stage. The two will only be communicating through text, the occasional photo, and in some situations, even a voicemail. If you've ever used WhatsApp or Google Hangouts on your mobile device, it will seem instantly familiar.
After leaving Majd in their hometown of Homs to take care of family before he eventually joins her, Nour is frightened, but knows she has to soldier on. She has only a few important essentials with her at any given time. She begins her journey with a decent store of cash, various incidentals, and her phone. She's traveling light, given that most of her journey is relegated to buses and foot traffic. And even though sometimes she's surrounded by other refugees or strangers, the most important thing to remember is that, for the most part, she's alone. That's why her digital connection to Majd is so important.
All gameplay is controlled via the Switch's face buttons. Most of the time, you'll simply be sending Majd's text responses and reading Nour's messages as they come in. She's a pretty rapid-fire texter. Some conversations require you to choose a response to send, whether it's an emoji or a text reply. These moments are few and far between, unfortunately, which means most of the time you're stuck reading and not truly participating. You're just pressing a button to send a message, which isn't very exciting.
Sometimes, Nour will call upon Majd to help make a decision, which you can reply with one of two or three options or a set of emoji. They usually aren't very nuanced, though, and you never truly know whether you're making the "right" decision. They come at the most unassuming moments, such as suggesting Nour should opt to take a taxi and return to where she came from after being given bad advice, or where she should hide her extra money (I opted for her shoe.) Sometimes she takes your advice, and sometimes she doesn't.
The lack of interaction and true decision-making is similar to that of most visual novels, but they do offer much more to look at. Bury Me, My Love's scenery rarely changes. You're staring at the same text screen and accompanying background until Nour sends you a new photo, which then replaces the Switch's screen space behind the texts. You can change the system orientation to feel more like you're holding a phone, but it makes playing feel more than a little awkward.
But beyond the decision-making, other similar games based on texting usually have other gameplay mechanics going on, too. The Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk mobile game has social media networks to pore over, images to search through, and several other things to occupy your time while waiting for texts. All you do in Bury Me, My Love is read and occasionally choose a reply – and it can get a little mundane and boring despite its other frenzied moments. Though Majd often tells Nour he is researching things or searching online for information, we don't see any of this, except for a map you can check during conversations that doesn't really do anything. Adding interactive elements and timed mechanics would have made the game much more immediate and harrowing, especially in certain situations.
Talking it out
The premise is great, as having one part of a relationship like this with a husband and wife working "together" to get through a crisis is a good setup for a game. But much of the dialogue, or the idea that they couldn't simply call each other on the phone for clarification during mixups is frustrating. Nour mentions she has a working sim card (or was offered one) a few different times, and even cautions Majd against calling her during some sticky situations – yet the two barely speak beyond text, even when a conversation could solve some of their arguments about how to proceed.
I wasn't a fan of the way Nour blatantly disregards Majd's cautioning against riskier courses of action, either. For the "strong" woman the game wants to paint a picture of, she's impossibly dense when it comes to situations that require common sense. In one play through, she finds a map on the internet of an area where a border she means to cross isn't guarded. It's marked with "red areas." Majd determines the red areas are parts of a minefield and practically begs her not to cross that way, but Nour flippantly ignores his pleas and does so anyway, because as usual, she knows best.
No couple is going to agree on anything, and this isn't a case of "the woman should listen to her man." But if the shoe were on the other foot, I would hope Nour, stuck at home hoping Majd made it through a potentially dangerous minefield, would offer the same advice to her husband and the two could potentially discuss it.
One on hand, the idea of "helplessness" is hammered home here, but on the other, neither party's interactions really make sense in many situations. Perhaps one of the most baffling things about their conversations is that they hardly ever say "I love you" and often communicate entirely with emoji in response to important questions or sentiments. With such important goals riding on the line, their texts seem flippant – it could be that I'd be taking it a lot more seriously, but this seems like a boyfriend and girlfriend chatting about mundane, superficial things rather than a loved one potentially dying or succumbing to the elements on her way to Europe. There are some moments where Nour gets sentimental or Majd sends soothing words of encouragement, but for the most part they behave more like friends than lovers, which I found strange.
Of course, Majd isn't without his own insecurities and issues. Sometimes he's quick to be jealous of the male travel companions Nour comes across and often sends stuffy responses to clearly emotional Nour. But again, Nour is often making terrible decisions and even lying to her husband in the smallest of ways sometimes as well. Both will eventually grate on your nerves in ways that don't seem particularly realistic given the many ways they could communicate beyond text, even though Nour is miles away.
Beyond that, there are 19 different endings to possibly reach, and while many are sad and emotional, some feel a little flat, because of this – I never really felt as though I was part of a couple interacting. Upon finishing the game, I wanted to go back and experience more of them. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to skip certain sections to get to the decision-making points, which makes replaying the game quite boring.
Switching it up
The Switch isn't always the perfect system for every game, as Bury Me, My Love demonstrates.
Unfortunately, while Bury Me, My Love works overall as an experience, there are a myriad of problems with the Nintendo Switch port that make it far from optimal to play on. During my playthrough, I ran into several bugs that prevented me from sending texts, where the only fix was swapping to the emoji available and sending one of those against my better judgment. This happened several times, which made playing the game excruciating as I hate replying solely with emoji in serious situations.
Additionally, I lost an hour's worth of progress after swapping applications on my Switch to download another game for review. Upon returning to Bury Me, My Love, I found my progress for a few days' worth of chats gone, and had no choice but to start it up again.
Beyond the technical issues, I also noticed problems with the Switch version I didn't even know existed. Having never played the original mobile phone version, I had no idea until I downloaded it to play for comparison that it was actually meant to play out in real-time. For instance, if Nour told Majd she was charging her phone for a while, you wouldn't hear from her for a half-hour or so, or longer.
The Switch version does not offer this option, and instead lets you play through the game at your own pace. There's no way to experience it the same way you could on a smartphone, which definitely removes much of the immediacy and trepidation you might feel while waiting for Nour to respond.
I felt this way while I powered through the game in a couple of hours, but had no idea there was an entire setting that other versions of the game were privy to. Granted, there's no real way this would work with the Switch version given that playing in that manner would require push notifications, but this port does lose out on much of its emotional impact because of this decision.
Bury Me, My Love is an ambitious game with a great premise. I just wish it didn't feel so disingenuous so much of the time. The Nintendo Switch version isn't the most optimal way to play the game, either, especially if you want true immersion. It's still worth a run through, even if it's just to see which ending you get, but sitting through the same text over and over again to see them all is a bit much. It's a meaningful story that many will enjoy, but you'll have to look past quite a bit to see it come to its conclusion.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher. Bury Me, My Love is available on Nintendo Switch on January 10, 2019.
Bury Me, My Love
- Interesting premise with engaging storyline.
- Realistic smartphone chat app setting.
- 19 different endings to pursue.
- Technical glitches and platform-specific issues.
- Occasionally unbelievable dialogue.
- Little to do beyond read text after text.
- Both Nour and Majd have their share of grating moments.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Bury Me, My Love review: Long distance doldrums
You play Majd? How much were you able to put yourself into the character? I wonder how it would be with more or less role playing. Like if the character you control is more similar to you than less (male/female, personality choice).
The concept sounds much more interesting and makes more sense on mobile like you said. How long does the realtime version play out?
Yes, you play as Majd and you're speaking to wife Nour the entire time. If you had more options as far as input goes, I think it'd be a lot more immersive and believable. The way it's written, you don't get to see a lot of yourself in Majd.
The realtime version took a couple of hours, all told, and it moves pretty quickly if you don't take any breaks.