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Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2001 XYZZY Awards
Consists entirely of one conversation, as with the author's Galatea, but it's an extremely immersive and wide-ranging conversation; you meet up with an old flame of sorts, and the exchange that results is in various measures adversarial and revelatory. The conversation system is a further development of the one used in Pytho's Mask, which combines ASK/TELL and conversation menus to obtain the freedom of the former and the natural speech of the latter. Both your character and the lone NPC of significance are well developed; many have found the NPC irritating, but I thought he was interesting, at least, even if not always endearing. In short: not much as a game, but terrific as NPC interaction, PC characterization, and general storytelling.
-- Duncan Stevens
As Best of Three consists entirely of conversation, the conversation needs to be compelling for the game to work -- and while it's difficult to write a conversation that every player would find compelling, Best of Three gives it a pretty good try. As noted, the PC and the NPC have a shared past to explore, but they also have individual (and highly unusual) family lives to explain, and all of the conversations tie together reasonably well, despite the veering mentioned earlier.
-- Duncan Stevens
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>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
[G]litches aside, the conversation felt real more often than it felt artificial, and that is a significant achievement. The writing is superior throughout, and achieves pure brilliance on occasion. I may have had some issues with the storyline, and I may have encountered some bugs, but I enjoyed Best of Three very much nonetheless.
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
I wanted to like this technically outstanding and "romantic" character study, but I couldn't. I know Grant Stern, and I don't like him. The game is a pretty convincing simulation of a coffee date, but I hate coffee dates. I simply don't want to be in this dismal café having a dismal coffee date with this dismal person.
So for me it is a fatal blow to this game that it makes Grant effectively the only interactable in the world, then refuses me any real freedom to change his course. Nonverbals aside, options are plentiful and cover a gamut which is entirely believable for the protagonist. But in a few playthroughs I could not see any way to significantly affect the course of the interaction - even at the extremes of iciness, silliness, and fawning. The personal minutiae which become preternaturally fascinating when you have the hots for someone take on the appeal of last week's leftovers when that heat is missing. Despite all his efforts to be interesting, I find Grant neither likable nor capable of surprising, and I could not find any outlet for a protagonist gone cold.
I found Rameses and Short's Glass delightful despite (and at times because of) their intense constraints on player freedom. Best of Three, however, only left me with a dysthymic queasiness. That could be because it is unpleasant to realize how lame one's past crushes are - or to realize how similar you must be to this budding blowhard across the table at the coffee-house. But it could also be because, as with Galatea and unlike Glass, I somehow acquired expectations that were impossible to fulfill. Grant and Galatea are well-rendered and have plenty to say, but they are also self-absorbed narcissists divorced of any real context. If you do not love them, you have nothing in common with them. Paradoxical as it might sound, you may not find them worth the time even if they are among the best NPC portrayals in IF.
Grant Stern, the main NPC in Best of Three, is more than a little irritating. His academic pretensions make me grit my teeth and if someone I was dining with ever ordered a cup of tea the way he does, I would probably die of embarrassment. I know men like this. Smart men who have only recently broken out of high school into the world of academia are prone to becoming self-centered and obnoxious. However, because I know men like this, I understand the PC's infatuation with him. It is easy to fall for smart guys, particularly if they are good-looking, and most especially if an underlying current of sweetness can be detected.
The whole of Best of Three involves a conversation between our PC, a young woman struggling with family issues and a growing post-high school malaise, and Grant. The PC, upon seeing Grant again, finds that she has not quite rid herself of the crush she holds for him. It is quite easy to direct the conversation to either end their "romance" or begin it. For the most part, the conversation flows smoothly. Grant comes up with things to talk about even if you fail to think of anything to ask him. There were a few points where the conversation options were rather out of the blue and a few other points where I misinterpreted the tone of the available options. The non sequiturs and unexpected replies to my statements could be mimesis breaking, but were the exception to the otherwise seamless conversation structure.
Best of Three, like all of Emily Short's work, is well programmed and implemented. However, it is not her best work. Some actions that should have been implemented were not. Attempting to say goodbye to Grant at any point yields the message "You terminate your conversation with Grant." Said conversation continues without any sign of having been interrupted. Furthermore, although you are quite plainly sitting in a booth in a cafe, getting up is not implemented. Alas.
Overall, this is quite a charming and interesting game. It can't be called difficult at all, but the prose is quite excellent and the characters have real depth. It isn't Emily Short's best work, but it is certainly worth a playthrough, and then another playthrough to pick up all the conversation options you missed and change the course of the burgeoning (or failing to burgeon) relationship.
A conversation masterpiece, and not just because it is a "conversation only" thing, Best of Three does everything important right: It sets and keeps the atmosphere, provides a superbly characterized and likable protagonist and a life-like NPC as a past romantic interest who is (perhaps intentionally as a clever decision) less likable.
The gameplay is straightforward: You can choose what to say from a menu, change the topics to steer the conversation or just think about things. Occasional physical actions are well infused with significance. (My high expectations were let down only in one case when I wanted to convey a sense of closing the conversation by pocketing the returned pen from the table but the response was the default "Taken.")
Best of Three is not just a conversation, it works as a story. It reveals the background in a way that is not forced, and it serves as a prime example of unobtrusively pacing the conversation and guiding it through the stages the author intended to achieve a meaningful progression and storytelling.
Although I did notice a glitch or two (a topic clarification "the his father") the implementation is very polished to the point where I was confidently typing in "sip cappuccino" just because it felt right. Time advances while you look around or think which limits the leisure feeling and makes the encounter real. I found myself weighing carefully on what to focus my attention next. (Changing topics does not advance time which is good, while trying to think about an irrelevant thing does: this might be converted to an out of world action too.)
Best of Three is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two in a Northwest café (or rather, a "coffee shop") going through your high school relationships.
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