Imagine living your peaceful, normal life, only for an international science experiment to suddenly strand you in a completely foreign and alien world. This is the fate that befalls the four human heroes and their loyal canine companion at the beginning of SRPG Far Away From Home. An indie title developed by Matthew Wong, the sci-fi, story-driven tale is inspired by the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. While I wouldn’t say that the narrative reaches the grandiose heights of those genre classics, it is an engrossing plot nonetheless buoyed by a small-but-likable cast of core characters. At the same time, polished gameplay elements help to drive those game comparisons home.
Far Away From Home follows the adventures of Simon, a level-headed doctor; Crim, a hyperactive boxing brawler; Graff, a realistic-minded sharpshooter who launches coins at unsuspecting foes; and Gabriel, a taciturn samurai. Together with Simon’s lovable pooch Claster, the group of strangers must quickly overcome their differences to survive the harsh landscape of this mysterious new world, figure out exactly what happened, and how to get back home.
Since humans are scarce on this new world, there’s naturally something else on top of the food chain that the party must contend with. As the five characters journey throughout their new surroundings, they quickly discover that the place is populated by a race of sentient, bipedal “alien wolves” (their own description, not mine!). Unfortunately, meetings with the creatures aren’t usually on friendly terms, though there are some noteworthy exceptions once the story gets going. The mysteries as to what might have happened to the human species and the true origins of this strange new world contain some interesting plot twists as the game progresses, but I’ll refrain from saying much more to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say, I found Far Away From Home’s plot engaging enough to keep an SRPG fan engaged through the game’s twenty-five chapters.
At the outset of Far Away From Home, you can choose to modify the game’s difficulty levels through various features such as raising or lowering enemy HP, damage, defense, or speed at twenty-five percent increments up to two hundred percent. However, lowering these increments to below one hundred will prevent you from earning achievements. You can also choose between the Standard or Ironman game modes. Standard is recommended for newcomers to SRPGs as it allows you to change difficulty settings and manually save, though the title auto saves fairly frequently. In contrast, Ironman is for those more familiar with the genre as it locks the difficulty and disables manual saves entirely. Being able to readily tailor your gameplay experience is quite a fun and impressive accessibility feature!
If you’re familiar with turn-based, traditional SRPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics, it’s easy enough to get into the swing of things when playing Far Away From Home. On the other hand, if you are new to tactical RPGs or just need a refresher, there’s a plentiful amount of helpful tutorials early on. As you may guess, battles take place on grid-based maps where you must move characters into position to attack or use special skills against enemies. The direction and location you move each character matters, as side and back attacks can cause additional damage.
Units fall into one of two categories: Endurance (higher HP) or Focus (higher focus points). Crim and Claster are Endurance units, while Simon, Graff, and Gabriel are Focus units. Endurance units duke it out until their hit points are extinguished, while Focus units lose FP when taking damage. A Focus unit can keep going even if their FP is fully depleted so long as their limited HP holds; however, the next successful strike will usually knock them out unless you can quickly replenish their FP supply. As a doctor, Simon can heal HP through his special skill Salve, while Claster’s Calming Presence restores FP. I must note that petting the dog in this game is both possible and encouraged if you don’t have any other moves to make at a given time, as doing so adds bonuses to your AT gauge and your FP! All units can consume restorative items, though once they fall in battle, they’re unavailable until the next fight stage.
The entire party shares an experience pool, so everyone levels up simultaneously. I found this to be a helpful feature in keeping everyone’s levels the same without requiring grinding, as there are only story battles to peruse in the main campaign. Every time a character levels, they earn points to allocate towards various stats such as agility or strength. They also gain skill points that allow you to level up unique party member-specific abilities, eventually earning special secondary ones when an ability’s level gets maxed out. Crim’s Fastball Special was the MVP skill for me throughout the game, as you can use it to move allies farther along on a map or severely damage enemies.
Throughout Far Away From Home, you acquire special equipment known as Ring Drives that boost characters’ stats and abilities. At first, the improvements you gain from them are minor, but you later get access to some really impressive higher-tier buffs! Ring Drives may be received at the end of a battle, but you can also craft them using supplies you collect during fights. You can only craft higher-tiered Ring Drives by either deconstructing a Ring Drive or finding at least two higher-tier ones first. Each character can equip four Ring Drives, and experimenting with different combinations can create some powerful character builds.
After beating a stage, you can manage stats and prepare your party for the following battle, with ambient conversations happening off to the side of the party management screen as you do. While on this screen, you can set your main party to complete specialized tasks such as sparring (gaining experience points), finding more supplies, battle preparations (granting various party buffs), or retraining characters by resetting their stats and skills. Each character has a task they excel at that will earn them bonuses, such as Claster with finding supplies or Gabriel with sparring. Honestly, I didn’t see much point in not having a character perform the duty most suited for them during my playthrough, but the option is available should you want to use it.
Besides your five central party members, your battle party can also have one guest ally by recruiting alien wolves that you encounter during fights. You recruit party members by lowering an enemy’s health down to critical and using a unique item called the Doggy Gift Package on them. If successful, they’ll join your group. Unfortunately, you can only recruit wolves with basic job classes, which prevents higher-level classes like berserkers or assassins from joining your ranks. Even though you can only have one active in your party at a time, you can recruit multiple alien wolves to your cause, and they’ll all automatically level up alongside your main party. My playthrough had a handful of monsters I recruited in such a way. You can equip Ring Drives to them as well to level up their special skills. The AI for your recruits isn’t the most aggressive out there, and sometimes I’d use Crim’s Fastball Special to lob the wolves at enemies to get them to act at all, but it isn’t terrible as far as AI-controlled companions go. It’s just a shame that the monster taming isn’t as well-utilized or as deep as it could be. This element seems like more of an afterthought than a fully developed addition.
Visually, Far Away From Home has detailed sprite work and pretty background and map artwork, and I was especially impressed by how crisp and functional the UI is (though I am not a fan of some of the fonts choices, that is hardly a game breaker). I fell in love with the comic and anime-styled artwork used for the character headshots. The music, courtesy of Matthew Pablo and Scarlet Moon, grows on you and fits the scope of the battles quite nicely. I found that the script work was virtually error-free, thanks to editor Jay M.’s efforts. After clearing the final battle and seeing the ending, you get the option of saving a clear file that allows you to replay any battle you wish, which is a nice bonus to have. Control-wise, Far Away From Home is both controller-friendly and easy to play with a mouse and keyboard. The systems used in the game all make sense and are fun to experiment with, and it is easy to pick up and play for both newcomers to SRPGs and those familiar with the genre. Clearly, a lot of energy and time went into making sure this was an enjoyable gaming experience!
There’s honestly not a ton of critiques I can bring to the table in light of Far Away From Home’s impressive strengths. Animations and walking speeds can feel slow, so I recommend utilizing Fast Mode. Sometimes the camera angles are a little wonky, and as a result, I didn’t know enemy units were hiding behind a rock or shrubbery until later in a battle. I honestly love the main five characters and appreciate the twists the story takes as it unfolds. However, the rest of the cast is largely comprised of characters who only grunt and howl, which hinders some potential plot treads involving them, such as the internal politics of Garm and Fenrir’s groups or why Het and Al didn’t see eye-to-eye with the other wolves. There are hints of interesting potential story beats that are never explored, making me wish for either an expansion or a sequel, but I think it is also a testament to how engaging the tale is that I want to see more of it!
I immensely enjoyed my time with Far Away From Home, and found it to be a polished gameplay experience from beginning to end. In addition, its accessibility options are excellent and can really help tailor the experience to your liking and gameplay preferences. Far Away From Home is definitely a game SRPG fans should take a closer look at. Oh, and pet the dog whenever you get the chance too! After all, Claster is the best boy and deserves all the pets!