Friday, August 23, 2013

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I try to keep focused on role-playing games on this blog, but I recently played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (I actually purchased and played a game shortly after release? Shocking!) and feel that it is relevant enough to elicit commentary.

Spoilers abound, although I'll segregate this into spoiler-free and spoiler parts, so you'll have plenty of warning.

Brothers is a platformer/puzzle game about (unsurprisingly) two brothers.  Their mother is dead — drowning, according to the opening cinematic — and their father is dying of some unknown illness.  The Brothers take him to the local apothecary who indicates that their only hope is to find the Water of Life.

Cue epic journey.

A brief word about gameplay: there is no English dialogue.  All dialogue in the game is vaguely-Arabic-sounding gibberish; character interactions are determined primarily by inflection and context.  (There were a couple of interactions that only made sense in hindsight, but this is a minor complaint.)

Likewise, both brothers are controlled by one controller.  Penny Arcade describes it as "a co-op game, for one person."  This is way less wonky than it sounds, as the player is given plenty of time to get used to the arrangement.

As for the game itself, the adventure neatly cleaves to the Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel paradigm.  It's a bit more fairy tale than D&D games tend to be, but it certainly feels appropriate.  (I would frequently turn to Nicole while playing and note that these characters are going to be awesome adventurers someday.)  You play two children (I'd estimate them to be roughly 10 and 14) whose main skill seems to be boundless energy and an athletic ability to climb.  And you face down ravenous wolves, evil ogres, and vile cults in your quest, armed with only your wits.  (You do get a torch at one point.  That's about as close as you get to a weapon.)

This game seems like a 0-level hexcrawl waiting to happen.

All right, we're getting into the spoiler part, so keep out if you care about that sort of thing.  (If you want my conclusions, though, you should go play the game.  It's available on Xbox LIVE Arcade, and should be available on PSN and Steam soon.  It's a good game if you want to get a feel for level-0 villagers journeying beyond the gates of civilization, and it's also good if you want what the internet commonly terms "feels.")

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Are you gone?

When I mention fairy tales, this game is a bit more old school in its presentation — things are grim, and most of the game proceeds with the oppressive feeling that something bad is going to happen.  (Personally, I thought that the brothers weren't going to make it back to their father in time.)  There are a couple of moments when, in true fairy tale fashion, you transgress, and will be punished for it.  (The rescued girl toward the end comes to mind.)

Emotionally, the game does its job pretty well — one of the most effective points is at the end, when you are forced to play through burying your own brother.  While I didn't expect it, the story foreshadows the older brother's fate nicely — he's not featured in the opening scene, nor is he playable in the dream sequence.  Plus, the rescued girl just seems wrong the more you journey with her.  (And the game warned you that the cult worships spider-things, but that lesson is swiftly forgotten.)

As for the game-able aspects of Brothers, most of the encounters would be interesting things to feature in a hexcrawl.  I found the scene of the giant battle to be particularly effective in this regard — there is no combat nor is there really ever any danger to the player, just a creepy, fantastical sense of foreboding.  The pygmy cultists who get tricked by the brothers, bathed in giants' blood, is both sufficiently weird and metal to warrant inclusion.  The ogres' dungeon is a classic dungeon crawl that could easily be expanded for anybody who wants that sort of thing.

Additionally, in terms of the DCC character funnel, the game includes it.  The older brother dies, and as the younger brother is just a child, it seems likely that his scarred psyche is going to tend toward either extreme: either he's never going to travel again, fearful of the dark, or he's going to become an adventurer, as he's far too restless to stay in a tiny village.

If you want an alternative to epic fantasy and you just want to see how the common level-0 schmoes live in a fantasy world, check out Brothers.

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