Since I can't in good conscience spoil the ending of Round the Mulberry Bush, I have instead decided to condense my feelings into this here spoiler-filled post, which I am posting prior to the spoiler-free review so that the review hides it and my integrity remains intact. That said...
WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the visual novel "Round the Mulberry Bush." It is best not to read this article if you have not played the game.
There we go. So...
Fun fact: I was opening up the script file to learn some things about how the fuck do I use Ren'Py transitions, and I accidentally ended up at the bottom of the script and read the last few lines. Out of context, I thought Oliver was literally strangling Mattie to death and that was how the visual novel ended. And I thought that was an awesome way to end things. Then I read through the visual novel for real and it turns out Oliver rapes Mattie, and that's how the visual novel ends. And I thought, okay, the reasons that this ending works well are exactly the same as they would be if he had strangled her. Which is cool. But before I frantically justify my statements lest people think I'm advocating horrible things happening to characters like Mattie, let's talk about Oliver.
The reason Oliver is an interesting character is because of the way his narration progresses. My first thought was "unreliable narrator", but as I examined his words I realized he doesn't ever really lie about anything. So he's not unreliable; he's just plain crazy.
The first summer of the game, Oliver's innocent enough. He's just met Mattie; he finds her intriguing. Cool.
The second summer develops their friendship. Still innocent.
But then, gradually, the rest of the summers slowly descend into Oliver becoming more and more creepily obsessed with Mattie. He knows he can never be with her; he mentions the forbidden fruit appeal specifically at one point. But his feelings only get stronger with time. It culminates in the final summer, when Mattie has just gotten engaged to a nobleman, and Oliver confronts her to know why she didn't tell him in person. Her response effectively shuts down any hope he might have had that their friendship, or anything else between them, could be rekindled. And his response to that is to rape her. The end.
The romance that can ultimately never work due to differences in class and social standing isn't a new idea, but this is a spin on it that works very well: examine the effects that has on the lower class member of the pair, who has to deal with the idea that he's not good enough for someone he loves. Examine the effects this has on the higher class person, who doesn't even seem to notice that they're putting someone who cares about them through so much anguish, albeit unintentionally. The results make it a far more compelling tale overall.
I don't think that Mattie deserved what happened to her. I don't think she ever really wanted to hurt Oliver; she was insensitive to his feelings, but she didn't seem to realize that she was actually doing him wrong.
Do I think Oliver deserved what happened to him? Well, to answer that question, I'm going to digress again into the subject of mental illness in the 18th century, so bear with me here.
Back in those days, there was no such thing as treatment for mental illness, and as a result it often didn't get acknowledged, at least until they started locking women in rooms as a "cure" for depression. I feel like a sort of side effect of this is that stories set in earlier time periods either don't feature mental illness or don't mention if a character might possibly have one, at least the ones that I've read. This story, on the other hand, it's pretty obvious as you go on that there is something very wrong with Oliver. He feels entitled to Mattie; he thinks of her as "his" Mattie. He becomes completely obsessed with her. And she doesn't even entertain the notion because it was unthought of back then. How different this story would be if it were set today.
So no, I don't necessarily think Oliver deserved to be miserable. He has a mental illness and needs some help. He does deserve to be punished for what he does to Mattie, of course, but I can see how he got to that point, at least.
All in all, I find Round the Mulberry Bush quite compelling and very well-written. It has a similar progression to a story that I want to release someday, and I would be quite proud if I could meet the standards set by this visual novel.
Thanks for listening to my sudden desire to go off on a giant rambling tangent. Appreciated!