Time is a fairly arbitrary metric in videogames. Depending on the game you play, it could be your friend or foe. In The Longing, which I was able to see privately at PAX West 2019, it is neither. Time simply is. And in this unique game from Studio Seufz you have no choice but to endure it.
The Longing is based lightly upon a German legend, that of an old king, slumbering in a mountain before he one day rises again to restore the country to its ancient greatness. In the labyrinth of cave passages, ruins and catacombs that surround his throne, his shade and loyal servant must wait 400 days for his master to awaken. The 400 days are represented by a timer that ticks down as the game is played, dwindling even as the game is closed. However, the end cannot be reached until all 400 days have passed. The ticker will dwindle even while the game is not being played, but nonetheless, it must get down to zero. When that day arrives, the story will draw to a close as the king’s shade has one final decision to make—to believe the king’s prophecy, or not. The choice the player makes, developer Volker Ritzhaupt tells me, will depend largely on how much they become attached to the character, and “whether or not they want him to be happy.” And in light of the game’s scope, seeing the additional endings will require several months of your life.
The sheer commitment of making a game that lasts 400 days, presumably to make a point about loneliness and the search for purpose, is ambitious. Even as the player’s attention to the shade’s comfort and surroundings contribute to the game’s accelerated progression, there’s still not much to do but be patient. There are many puzzles or scenarios that actually require the player to wait it out; at one point, I encountered a locked door that simply stated it would need “a long time” to open. Most of the game’s direction is subtly delivered through these hints and light suggestions and the shade’s thoughts in the upper corner. Ritzhaupt also says that while it’s possible to experience the full ending of the game without doing anything at all, there are still many little stories and encounters to make the playthrough interesting, referring to them as “easter eggs.” For example, at one point the player may encounter a spider, who can weave a web the shade needs to make progress in another area. However, he will actually have to wait for the spider to weave it, necessitating a return visit days or weeks later. The cavern will also evolve and change in other ways—moss growing, stalactites falling, mushrooms that can be planted. Whether you choose to bide your time, explore, or try to escape the rocky dungeon is up to you, but all the same 400 days must pass.
The icing on the cake with The Longing is its superb art style, evoking the pen and ink illustrations of history and folklore books from the 1800s. It suits the game’s setting and subject matter well, supplementing its roots in Germanic legend. Currently, Ritzhaupt tells me, the studio is at a key moment in their development cycle that will determine whether or not the game debuts this year or next. The uncertainty of the wait seems fitting. As I anticipate this beautifully bizarre release in the months to come, I’ll consider it practice.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.