What Makes Highway Blossoms So Good?
Highway Blossoms is celebrating its fifth year, woo! Studio Élan has announced that the game, along with its Next Exit DLC, will be coming to unspecified consoles in the future, and it’s definitely one you should give a chance if PC gaming isn’t your thing. If you’re familiar with my work, especially previously at Rice Digital, then you’d know I’m a HUGE fan of Highway Blossoms. But what makes it so good?
It’s a yuri/gay game that isn’t filled with fluff. It tackles depression in a very real, heart-breaking way. It deals with people not knowing what they want from life. It deals with running away from your problems rather than facing them head on. It deals with the highs and lows of being in love. And it deals with the fact that sometimes, life isn’t okay, and you might not even know why.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR HIGHWAY BLOSSOMS AND HIGHWAY BLOSSOMS: NEXT EXIT
I’m going to focus mostly on Next Exit for this feature. Highway Blossoms is a fantastic game with its own many fantastic points, but I think Next Exit is really where the team got to explore these characters as we’re already familiar with them. It feels more now the character’s stories can be told, rather than the whole, over-arching story that was the treasure hunt.
Next Exit follows two core plot threads, with one focusing on Amber and Marina as they hit a bump in their relationship due to Amber’s actions causing Marina to have her confidence shaken, and the other thread follows Tess, Joe and Mariah as they find a way to celebrate Tess’ birthday — which isn’t usually celebrated, despite her still only being 11-years old — and Tess’ growing depression, which genuinely almost had me ugly crying.
Tess’ story is a real tear-jerker, and a lot of that is because of how raw and real her depression comes across. She doesn’t know what to call it, but it’s something that was hinted at in the original Highway Blossoms too, but she’s struggling and has nowhere else to turn. There’s a scene where Joe, who genuinely does his best for her, says that he was implicit in ignoring her, because he assumed younger people couldn’t have such complex emotions, and it hurts him when he realises that she is capable of those feelings, and she’s been forced to grow up way too young.
My situation was very different to Tess’, but I had a similar feeling around a similar age, and had no idea what it was. I think now it’s seasonal affective disorder, but sunsets always used to make me uncomfortable and sad. They don’t so much now, but it took a good 15 or so years for me to make whatever peace with whatever it was I was feeling. But yeah, you’re never too young to feel something, I think, but too young to properly communicate it to those older than you (and, you know, have them take you seriously). It was nice to see it reflected so well in Next Exit.
And many will be able to related to Amber’s and Marina’s relationship troubles, stemming mainly from miscommunication and assumption. Amber is the strong-willed, stubborn one in the relationship, often speaking for herself and Marina, and making decisions without consulting her partner first, whilst Marina is optimistic and wants to help and be friends with people, even if she doesn’t get anything out of it herself.
Another focal point in Next Exit revolves around Marina learning to stand up for herself when Amber becomes controlling, and Amber making the effort to learn that just because she isn’t sensitive, it doesn’t mean that Marina isn’t, and Marina needs social activity — not only that, but she wants it, and she wants Amber to accept her for that.
During one particularly big argument which leads to a lot of growth for both of them, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t immediately resolved. Amber begins to make a notable effort, and Marina happily accepts this, but there’s a scene shortly after this where she begins to cry again because although she’s acknowledged the positive outcome, it’s still something she’s deeply hurt over. I really enjoyed how it wasn’t glossed over, and that Marina was still allowed to show that she was hurt, even if it’s getting better now.
I find in a lot of media, the conflict is often done and dusted once it’s deemed to be “resolved”, and I really appreciated that this more realistic outlook was portrayed in Next Exit. Saying sorry doesn’t make everything okay, it’s your actions that make things okay, and seeing that commitment happen takes time. Something that hurt can, and will, still hurt, and that’s okay.
Outside of how it tackles relationship issues and other deep topics, Highway Blossoms in general is just delightful. It has great writing, great messaging, great visuals, great audio, and great voice-acting — I don’t think I could go back to playing it without voice-acting, like when I originally played it! And as always, Georgie’s contribution to the soundtrack is stunning.
If you’re looking for something that combines fluff and drama, something that is a positive representation for the LGBTQ+ community, and is generally a solid game all-around, then Highway Blossoms is the one for you. I’ve been championing it since I first played it a little under five years ago, and I’m still blown away by it today. Can’t wait to dive in again when it comes to consoles!