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Heartwarming, January 22, 2011
Plot-oriented IF is becoming more common nowadays, but it is still not easy to find one that is as "cuddly" and heartwarming as Worlds Apart. Ever since the first scene, I felt intrigued. When I got to hug my mother, as every daughter in the world deserved, and then enter the inner world for the first time, I was charmed. And when I followed the warm glow in an otherwise scary world, and figured out by myself how to help frightened Lia, I fell head over heels in love with the game.
Yes, I referred to the protagonist in first person because it is so easy to identify with her. Even though the story happened in an alien world, where the "sun" is not our sun and the "human beings" don't look much like us, somehow it feels more familiar than many stories set in our world. The world looks beautiful, made all the more so by the author's capable prose, which reads like the work of a writer rather than being too geeky like many IFs are. The people felt realistic and alive, lovable for the most part and understandable at least. And the theme, full of love and friendship as well as healing of mind and body for both others and oneself, makes me like the game world enough to be willing to live in it.
Being an IF, the author's use of interactivity is excellent. The puzzles are mostly easy and making sense, but more importantly, they form a coherent whole with themselves and with the overall plot, and really succeeds to make the story so immersive that most authors of static fiction, and even "puzzle-less" IF, can only envy; even the puzzles that are not connected with the rest of the story so intimately, such as the business with (Spoiler - click to show)kalla leaves, makes me interact with objects (such as (Spoiler - click to show)the notebook and the fireplace) that incidentally provide me with more lovely stories. The low difficulty is in part due to the game's mercifulness and the relatively small number of rooms and objects relative to its size which, as one with limited puzzle-solving abilities and poor sense of direction even after much practice, I heartily welcome; another reason, I think, is that the descriptions are so beautiful (at least for me) that I feel compelled to read---and feel---them carefully, thus gaining the information necessary to solve the puzzles. Admittedly, a few places are still not obvious enough for me, such as the use of (Spoiler - click to show)LOOK UNDER, TURN and REACH INSIDE, but in such cases the incremental hint system both helps me through and gives me confidence by telling me how much I did figure out by myself. The image in the locket is usually too abstract to provide much of a hint---often I could understand the metaphor only long after solving the puzzle---but it does subtly make the solution seem much more natural, so that I don't feel, as in many other IF games, that the author is manipulating the game world arbitrarily. Apart from one act of violence, which does not harm any actual person (Spoiler - click to show)(because it occurred in the inner world) and is, in hindsight, quite necessary for my own good, I have never been forced to do anything I would not really want to do, and am allowed much freedom to act on my own heart's desire. I could hug people that I want to hug (although I think a kiss would also be appropriate for darling Lia), and could answer questions and say goodbye when talking with people like a polite person in real life, and get equally nice answers in return.
While the game gives a heartwarming experience throughout, as almost everything is getting into better shape as the story progresses, a few of the scenes are particularly memorable. One is the aforementioned scene in Lia's nightmare; it is easy to love Lia and feel protective around her, and the author indeed kindly provided many chances to observe her, get to know about her, and even (Spoiler - click to show)a brief reunion near the end of the game if the player is observant, but it is also pointed out that (Spoiler - click to show)mere protection is not enough and can even be counterproductive. Another is in the story of Lyric where, after a somewhat frustrating process trying to understand what was going on (not that mind-healing is easy!), I finally managed to (Spoiler - click to show)communicate with her via thoughts; here the use of font variations and somewhat incoherent sentences are particularly effective, and really made me feel that a long gap had been bridged. The most memorable character for me is, however, undoubtedly Yuri. Although many parts of his story are not told interactively, the manner of their presentation (such as the use of (Spoiler - click to show)the crystal imager, the insect and the axe as metaphors) is so emotionally charged that they almost made me cry, and caused me to lose much sleep long after playing the game, thinking of the fate of him and his daughter.
The gameplay experience is not perfect, but perfect IF gameplay is probably impossible anyway without perfect AI, and given current technology I would say the game is very well programmed. One problem I'm having is with the pauses in various places of the game. I know they are intended to give me time to observe and do conversation, but sometimes I run out of interesting things to do, and then it is often not obvious whether the story is progressing, or if some puzzle remains to be solved; this is particularly evident in (Spoiler - click to show)the first meeting with Yuri in the Haven, the news of Azaera's death, and the last part of the feral shelter story after the contact with Lyric. Story-wise, I am also feeling a little ambivalent about (Spoiler - click to show)Saal. While his reaching across worlds was, in some ways, rather romantic, and he also told me much about my beloved game world that could be difficult to convey by other means, sometimes I do think he knew too much---too much for me to feel much emotional connection with him.
Overall, I think this game is a must-play if you like lovely, emotion-packed stories; even if IF is not usually your cup of tea, the game remains very enjoyable just as a story. And since the author seems to be having trouble on the sequel, I hope the game will someday get popular enough to have plenty of fanfictions, for there is certainly enough room left for imagination, romantic or otherwise.