East Grove Hills: Does “Saved By The Bell” have an opposite pole?

I’m aware that, previously, I offered promises that I would not review while lacking in sleep.  Well, that promise turned out to be a big fat fairy fart.

In my defense, I am co-owner of two of the world’s most meth-addled hounds delightfully rambunctious dogs, who enjoy playing games like Bark At The Air Vent All Night and Throw Myself At The Bedroom Door Repeatedly To Get Attention.  I’ve occasionally considered fashioning my wondrous canine adventures into an IF for the world’s pleasure; the problem is, the only commands would be “tell dogs to sit”, “try to sleep”, “have police called on self” and “cry”.  And that somewhat limits the interactive potential.

On the upside, I love them dearly, and they’re the cutest caffeine substitutes in the world.

Let’s get down to some East Grove Hills by XYZ, shall we?  Spoilers, they are below this line.

Part One: The Playthrough

It was five minutes before the end of the world. Well, the end of the world for us, anyway. Yue, Jenny, and I spent those five minutes trying to barely scrape by on some sort of presentation in AP Lit.
If this game turns out to be five turns of expounding on John Steinbeck’s The Pearl via conversation menu, followed by an atomic explosion and a game over screen, I swear to god I will throw this laptop out the window.

It was one minute before it happened. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought the clock’s ticking sounded louder and louder. Maybe it was just my boredom. About my boredom. It was only a few minutes in, and I was already getting bored. Yue’s voice was droning on and on. She was speaking in an almost perfect monotone. Jenny looked a little bored now, too. Still, she was interrupting Yue now and then. I kept clicking though the slides. We were on the fifth slide.
This passage has a quirky charm, I’ll admit.  And I see what it’s going for.  But some combination of the contents and cadence is putting me to sleep. Try to imagine Ben Stein reading it, slowing down a little every time he finishes a sentence.  See what I mean?  Of course you don’t, because you’re fucking asleep.

If only something interesting would happen in the next, oh, minute or so to keep me awake.  Well dang!

She told me that she was waiting for me at the park. It’s north, then east, then north again. Stupid text adventures are making me think in compass directions.
The meta-waters are rising, and may soon breach the suspension-of-disbelief-levee.

Have I always been this awkward? Yes, I have. Even when I was in China before my real parents died.
Man, poor kid is a walking pathos generator.  No, not the musketeer, that was Porthos.

“Well, I wanted to talk about what I usually talk about. But the people I usually would talk to are all dead.”
This is one of those straight lines like “I think I’m madly in love with a tree” and “My ass looks titanic in these jeans” where there is only one correct answer.  And that answer is silence.

Crap, the silence doesn’t work; all I have is the same conversation options!  She has learned our menfolk ways!!

Incredibly depressing conversation, followed by the details of the bloody personal tragedy, followed by the three most awkward teenagers in the world stressing about a school project and how interactive fiction might be able to meet their needs… I feel like that last scene was meant to convey something that it didn’t quite get across.

And… huh, that ending was relatively sudden.  I guess a safe-feeling place for introverts who’ve survived a school shooting is a step upwards, yeah.

This playthrough is a lot shorter than the last couple I’ve written (yay?), but that’s not for lack of paying attention.  It’s just that there’s limited interaction, huge blocks of text in places, and I’m not going to sit here and go “haha, your soul died with your sister!” any more than I already have, because that would make me what we call a “fuckwit”.

Part Two: The Rundown

I’m going to skip the good/bad split this time and just talk about the game, because I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Obligatory “it wasn’t very interactive, was it?”.  No, no it wasn’t, yes it was almost a static story, but that’s not always as terrible a thing (or as cut and dried) as some commentators make it out to be.  The place I wish there had been more interaction was in the first conversation, particularly around the “silence” choice.  I liked the dialogue, but there might as well have not been a silence option if it’s not going to do anything.  It’s rare to be able to chose to be silent and have the other character fill that silence, and believe me this game was ripe for that exact thing.  I would feel a lot more warmly if the game had responded to that as a *choice*, not a default that just pushes me to the exact same choices I just turned down.

The characterization of the main character was good.  He reminded me a lot of some of the kids I went to school with, the ones who felt so ostracized that they effectively ostracized themselves.  And the voice was convincingly ptsd. Problem with that is, well, he’s emotionally shut off from everything right up to the last sentence in the game, but he’s our eyes for the story. It’s hard to care about the events that way, and his veneer never cracked convincingly.  Maybe if the first person narrative had been time-period-sensitive, rather than a bird’s eye view from the emotionally dead future.

The scene where we find out what happened to Jenny also failed to have emotional impact for me.  To illustrate why, let me roll over to everyone’s go-to arguably-interactive fiction about the tragic death of a child, Photopia. Over in that game, Cadre made a serious (and at this point talked-to-death) attempt to get us to love the soon-to-be-dead girl by showing other people’s love for her through their eyes.  EGH does not make a point of that.  We’re told the main character loved and was loved by Jenny, but not shown, at least not until the scene where she’s literally bleeding to death on the floor.  This robs the main story (two people dealing with survivor’s guilt) of it’s impact by proxy.

So yeah.  Writing was technically excellent, the game was well-implemented, but it just didn’t get me in the heart.

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