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The Breakup of a Relationship as Explored by Teen Salvador Dali, June 23, 2012
This piece is full of overwriting. There is angst and Sturm und Drang all over the place here. It is messy. But! These emotions are also sincere. I don't know the age of the author, but reading it, I kind of took it as a something written by a younger person, perhaps for other younger persons, and I made allowances for it.
Before you jump all over me about Having High Standards in IF and Writing In General, *I think there's a place for this.* I've read enough YA to know that some overwrought pieces really resonate with middle-to-high-schoolers...but then they grow out of it. But at younger ages, the emotions are THAT real and THAT big, and I think by automatically looking down our noses at their sense of scale, we're not showing respect for the experiences of the younger generation.
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Full disclosure: I recently went through a breakup that was difficult for me. Yeah, I'm an adult, but when the PC talked about having endless tears (which he did...er...a rather lot), I found myself nodding in understanding. This probably added a star to my rating.
In fact, ON OPTIMISM touched on some desires I'm still working through for myself. This character wants to know why the breakup happened; he was all in for it, but the girl pulled away for some reason. A similar thing happened to me; I was ready to commit, but the other party pulled away. In my situation, I will probably never find out what happened.
But, unlike me, Zach gets to explore (and even KNOW) what went wrong on her end--even if it is all "just a dream." There's a powerful element of wish fulfillment working here, and I don't think it's a bad thing.
In short, I couldn't dismiss the overall intentions and themes, despite the less-experienced writing.
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Gamewise, the concept of exploring another's heart through rooms (but while we're in the heart, shouldn't they be "chambers"?), and discovering the girl's secrets through surreal imagery captured me. It has a nice dream feel to it--you have to do strange actions for no strong purpose, except intuition. That works in some cases and adds to the dream-feel, but in later points of the game, it turns into "guess the verb"--but the HINT command is implemented, so you can at least see the story end.
My favorite room was (Spoiler - click to show)The Room of Your Loves, even though I had no idea about the floor--it wasn't mentioned in the room description. The main conceit of that room is worth exploring further, I feel.
I'm also impressed with (Spoiler - click to show)the choice to have 2 different-yet-same endings. It adds a different flavor to the story (Spoiler - click to show)(the Eastern ending seems to point to some Christian imagery). A third ending (Spoiler - click to show)(going down at the fork) seems implied, but I wasn't able to find it.
While the use of "I" for the tense is a strong point, I thought it got a little confusing later, when "you" referred to the girl, because IF convention says "you = player." I can't recall if she was given a name, but that could have been useful.
My main beef is that I don't quite know what happened. (Spoiler - click to show)I got the feeling the girl was dead at the beginning...so when she comes to get you in the endings, I had no idea if this was in-dream, a final deathbed hallucination, or some weird magical-thing where what happened in the dreamworld reflected in reality.
It'd be interesting to see what a mature writer could do with these themes, because I think the ideas behind ON OPTIMISM, while muddily executed, are worth exploration.