“Rite of Passage”: those wonderful years from ten to thirteen that we look back so fondly on now that we’re all grown up. They were pretty nasty to actually live through.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from “Lord of the Flies”, it’s that children can be horrifying creatures. “Rite of Passage” begins like an idyllic coming-of-age story, and it IS a coming-of-age story … but idyllic? The island from “Lord of the Flies” was idyllic. And yet … no, the problem is that all of this is realistic. It’s stuff that happens all the time.
The story is told in a series of vignettes in which we interact with the other kids in our class, progressing from fifth grade to eighth grade. Eventually, we reach a crisis situation, resolve it for better or for worse, and end the story. It could potentially be a tragic ending, but mostly it’s bitter-sweet: even the best ending appears to be tinged with sorrow for lost innocence. But I suppose the theme of “lost innocence” is to be expected with a coming-of-age story.
There’s stat-tracking, of course: our stats determine what choices are open to us in these vignettes and, I think, which vignettes we get to play at all. But it’s seldom clear what the choices mean for our stats. Actually, it’s so opaque it might as well be witchcraft. Occasionally, we’ll find vignettes where all the preferable options are cut off, and we’ll have no idea why. The first playthrough might be fine: after all, we’re not expecting to achieve any specific goal; but a second playthrough, when our aim might be to explore those options we missed the first time around, might be a little more frustrating since we have no idea what we have to do early on in order to make later options available. Even “try to play as this sort of character” doesn’t really work.
The characters, meanwhile, are lightly sketched but pretty distinct. The story has a neat little “dramatis personae” sheet that collates notes on each character as we progress through the story; and since our interactions may vary, these notes vary too, as do our perspectives on some of them. I personally found it quite interesting to see how our relationships with various characters changed from one playthrough to the next … although, fair warning, I don’t think a lot of them matter to the final crisis and resolution. I would have liked to have pursued more alternatives with these characters, though: see what happens if I join with the bullies, or try to be better friends with one character or another.
Cinnamon toast, I think, with the crust slightly singed. Sweet, but with the bitter aftertaste of aspartame. Comes with a mug of Ovaltine.