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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
-- 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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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.
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.
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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