Child of Light
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released in 2013, developed by Swedish company Starbreeze Studios (who also did the Payday games, which is kind of odd) and directed by Swedish director Josef Fares, who wins the handsome smolder competition. Like Child of Light, we’ve got a real European feel goin’ on here. Also like Child of Light, one could instantly dismiss Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as being ‘indie-bait’ – the art style, gameplay, type of story and unique elements that make up the game are all those that make game reviewers rave about what an outstanding experience this is. But don’t let that deter you. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is truly a unique game, and only taking up about three hours of your time, it’s definitely one that you should check out. I can only rave about what an outstanding experience it is.
One of the aspects that makes Brothers a stand-out game is the control system. You play as two brothers, believe it or not: the younger Naiee and the elder Naia. A controller is required to play this game, as you, the player, manoeuvres each brother individually using the two analogue sticks. The shoulder triggers are also used to enable each respective brother to talk to other characters, grab ledges and generally interact with objects. That’s it for the controls. Simple? Non. As the game is played from a third-person overlooking view, you must keep the two brothers within a certain distance of each other at all times. This means, more often than not, controlling both Naiee and Naia at the same time. Believe me when I say you’re going to have to take numerous pauses throughout the game to reassess your bearings. Controlling one brother with one half of the controller and the other brother with the other half is difficult enough, but then you get an instance where they cross over and suddenly the right half of the controller is controlling the brother on the left and ahhhhhhhhhhhh. As such, rushing through this game is pretty difficult, which is great because if you take your time and absorb the surroundings you will get a much richer experience. Which leads nicely onto another aspect that makes Brothers such an outstanding experience.
Brothers is presented in an entirely fictional language that sounds a lot like Simlish (NOT SWEDISH!), an as such, the immersive story is told and interpreted pretty much entirely through gestures. Some critics have argued that this distances players from the characters and restricts you from really caring about them, but I disagree. By interacting with NPCs, exploring and really making the most out of the game, you can get a real feel for the brothers’ personalities: Naiee, the younger, is a bit of a mischievous dick but means no harm really, whereas Naia is a bit more gawky/cool in a Zac Efron in High School Musical kind of way.
The game opens with Naiee mourning at the grave of his mother, who drowned when she seemingly fell out of a boat, and Naiee was unable to save her, thus living with the guilt of her death. Naia beckons his brother over, as they must take their ill father to the village doctor, who then sends them on a mission to retrieve water from what is probably called the Tree of Life in order to save him. Thus their quest begins! Throughout their quest, the brothers must traverse through various lands to reach their goal. It’s these atmospheric environments that makes the game really feel alive. At first I thought the game was just set in your standard medieval work, but oh-ho I was wrong! The journey is an adventure, and along the way you’ll meet an array of interesting characters and settings that will make you want to just sit and appreciate how populated this world feels. It also really made to want to play Minecraft. There are various benches scattered across the world that allow you to just sit and enjoy the view for a while. This was a game that was meant to be enjoyed, not rushed. To make the world even more immersive, there are also several little side-quests along the way. These are very short, but offer a greater insight into how this world works, and how its inhabitants live. It’s an outstanding experience.
Ultimately, the Brothers is a puzzle game. To get from point A to B, Naia and Naiee must overcome various obstacles using teamwork and brains. These puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, but are still enjoyable for the most part. Some get a little tedious at times, but they always politely excuse themselves and leave when they have overstayed their welcome, like a good house guest. My personal favourite was climbing a giant tower, using momentum and PHYSICS to aid me along the way. Such an outstanding experience.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game about relationships, overcoming fear and moving on from death. It would be cool to offer a co-op option, where one player controls one brother, which I’m sure would lead to some hilarious hi-jinks, but then I think that that would deduct from the overall impact and point of the game. Whilst at times I did get a teency weency bit bored, the environment and atmosphere sucked me right back in and made me want to play more. The Steam price of £10.99 is a little high for the three hours or so of gameplay that you will get out of it, but if it drops down to around £6 or so, I definitely recommend playing. Also you can abbreviate the title to Brothers: ATOTS, which is fun. It’s a real outstanding experience.
I originally decided to write this review in verse, as Child of Light is presented. However, it was shit, so I scrapped that idea and will just do a plain, vanilla review. I’m so sorry.
It must be said that Child of Light is a truly beautiful game. From the art style, to the score, to the story…just beautiful. You play as Aurora, the daughter of a duke in 19th century Austria. One day, Aurora falls into a deathly sleep, and everyone assumes she is dead. But, plot twist, she is not! Aurora wakes up in the strange land of Lemuria; a land in which the sun, moon and stars have been stolen by the dark queen, Umbra. It’s up to you to restore it, as Aurora, the Child of Light! The game is developed and published by Ubisoft, and isn’t their usual MO, but don’t let those nasty sceptics put you off – they did a bloody good job! It’s also written by Jeffrey Yohalem, who wrote AssCred: Brotherhood (the best one) and FarCry 3.
The game is presented like a mixture between a children’s bedtime story and an opera. Just looking at the unique art style reminded me of books from my childhood, illustrated by artists such as Mick Inkpen, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. There isn’t much more I can say about the art style that does it justice – just check out some of my screenshots. It’s like a picture book come to life, and if that isn’t enough just to give this lovely game a go, the accompanying score is just wonderful. The game is a love letter to older JRPGs in numerous aspects – the music being one of them. Composed by Canadian artist Cœur de pirate, it seamlessly blends serenity with peril, tranquillity with jeopardy and even, dare I say it, light with dark. Once you have finished the game, the soundtrack is definitely something that you will not let go of. I have it playing right now (for scientific purposes)!
Aurora is joined on her journey by a firefly named Igniculus, who can be used to reach far off objects, heal, and slow down enemies in battle. The game also features a co-op mode, where a younger sibling can control Igniculus (because they won’t be controlling Aurora, will they?). There are seven colourful party members to unlock in total (eight with the Golem DLC) as the game progresses, each with a wide variety of skills such as healing, offensive magic, status magic, tanking and so on.
Fans of older JRPGs such as some of the older Final Fantasy games, notably VI, will feel a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Well, at least, I did. Combat follows a turn-based battle system in which combatants must wait until they reach the appropriate point on the battle gauge. Once they get about 3/5 the way down the gauge, you can select an attack. The rest of the gauge is ‘casting’. If a character is attacked whilst they are casting, they will be interrupted and sent back down the gauge. Igniculus can slow enemies down, allowing you to manipulate their battle gauge. As such, the battles require quite a lot of tactics and timing. Two members of your party can be in the battle at any time, but you can swap in and out whenever you want to issue an action, meaning that you can chop and change and tailor your combatants to suite the battle’s needs. There is a wide variety of enemies, and every character has their uses (albeit some more than others) so battles rarely feel stale or tedious. I played the game on the higher difficulty (obviously), which made it a lot more challenging but not impossible. It required me to think about fights tactically, and always be one step ahead, planning my next move. There were a few enemies that posed a bit of a problem, but in the end once I worked out their patterns it was quite straight forward. Bosses are often accompanied by a couple of ‘basic’ monsters, so my advice is always get those goddamn adds first! Outside of combat, players control Aurora through the nicely painted levels in a kind of Limbo side-scrolling puzzle solver way (just with much less child death…). The game also features an impressive skill tree which, whilst appearing quite dautning, is very straight forward so both veterans and newbs can grasp it. Once the story is completed, New Game Plus is unlocked, allowing you to restart the game with your current party and skills and fight even tougher enemies! #replayvalueOne unpleasantry is that the game uses Uplay. Yh. Once you get past this, all is well, but there is that initial moment when you start the game and you’re filled with dread as you have to sign in to yet another account using some annoying client that no one cares about.
As I said at the beginning (which feels so long ago now, doesn’t it?), all of Child of Light’s dialogue is written in verse. It follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB, and whilst an interesting and mostly well written approach, some rhymes do often feel a little forced and lazy, and as a result completely breaks the flow of dialogue. But writing a whole game in rhyme is pretty darn challenging I’m sure, so I can let them off for that mostly. Mostly. The story if endearing and thought-provoking, but it’s the overall experience that makes Child of Light a must-play. It’s just beautiful. Have I said that already? Probably. But it is. Beautiful. Go play!