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A sharply-written pleasure, April 18, 2021
Those Days tells a story you’ve heard a million times before – a young man outgrowing his best friend as he grows up – and does so without much interactivity. Its writing, though, is some of the sharpest in the festival, grounding this familiar plot in well-chosen detail, solid pacing, and prose that’s evocative but never purple. This one’s well worth a play.
The lovely thing about making sure your writing goes into specifics is that it can paradoxically make the story more resonant, and that’s very much how Those Days worked for me. I’m not English and had a very different experience of high school and college than the protagonist, of course, but because his experiences are described with such care, there were many passages that sparked a sense of recognition that yes, this is exactly what it’s like to awkwardly meet someone when you’re 12, or to giggle over an unkind nickname:
"Luke used to call him ‘swingball’, a reference to his oversized flaccid earlobes that swayed metronomically as he walked."
While the main characters – especially the best friend, Luke – can be annoyingly laddish sometimes, with the game framing as childish mischief some acts that struck me as rather worse than that, this also seems true to life, and is softened by the protagonist’s reflective tone, as well as an elegiac, backward-looking vibe complemented by the gentle color-gradient backgrounds. There’s a nice pastoral element, too:
"On weekends we’d all ride our bikes deep into the arable hinterland outside of town. We’d race along hidden dirt paths, kicking up gravel and flint as we sped down the green monolithic hillsides, stitched together by hedgerows and interwoven with tussocks and wild flowers."
The writing is just as good with characters as it is with landscape. The protagonist is appealingly drawn, convincingly shy and hard on himself in a way that makes you root for his success, so the weight he assigns to his relationship with Luke means the reader sees it as significant too. Here’s one more excerpt, with a nice bit of physical detail underscoring his hesitance to meet Luke during the point in their relationship that they’re most distant, likening his reluctance to other moments of dread:
"Walking into school for the first time. Walking to the head-teacher’s office for my only detention. Walking to collect my exam results. All with that same, shortened, nervous stride."
Okay, there is the occasional misstep – in the scene where the protagonist meets Luke for the first time, the latter’s face is described as “soft and slightly bulbous, like a half-filled water balloon.” And I found a few sequences, like the end of Chapter 4 when the protagonist and Luke are drifting apart, a bit on the nose, in terms of plot and prose. But these missteps are few and far between.
Throughout, you’re mostly clicking just to advance – passages usually requires multiple clicks to get through, with each revealing the next line or two. There are a few cosmetic choices of dialogue, as well as I think two more meaty ones that lead to a late-game callback (though I think I experienced a bug with one of these: (Spoiler - click to show)I was brave enough to jump across the gap on the rope swing, but the game thought I’d chickened out when it came up again at the end). The text is also timed, displaying at a clip that’s fast enough on the first go-round but would be annoying on replay. Replaying isn’t the point of Those Days, though – it tells a resonant, relatable story, and tells it in so satisfying a way that I can’t imagine the player who’d want to go back and optimize their choices. Lovely stuff.