I’m all for a good adventure. Save the damsel, get the treasure, fight the monster. All these work into classic gaming scenarios that seem to stand a test of time. However, if you take one of these basic adventure structures and throw in something more pressing and thought-provoking, you then get a product that leaves you with a lot more than you started with at the end of the day.
I feel like that’s what game developer Starbreeze Studios did with their downloadable title Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. What I expected was a quasi-co op adventure played by one person in control of two characters. What I found was that the whole title centered on family, loss and the struggle to keep going through it all. Though some could probably label this game as a very simple Lord of the Rings-type story, I see it as a boy’s forced life in having to deal with reality and tragedy. (Minor spoilers to follow)
See, the subtitle of the game leads most to believe that the game centers around two brothers. And it does, in a way. The two are faced with a sort of crisis in the form of a sick father. They are forced to travel somewhat far away to find a special tree of life. This sets up what the adventure is: leave home, find magical cure, get back to father just in time. But from the start, the point of view is on the little brother, who is mourning the recent loss of their mother. Through subtle cutscenes, you can tell that the boy blames himself for his mother’s death. So, are we watching the boys save their father or the one son attempting to not repeat past mistakes?
If you think about it, it’s almost a tale of the one son reconciling his regrets and trying to control his future. After all, who wouldn’t do everything possible to prevent both of their parents dying? I think that this is reflected in small ways throughout the gameplay. For those of you who played the title, you may have noticed that the big brother relies a lot on the little brother to open paths and accomplish tasks. Yes, you need both sons to get through the game, but the big brother seems to do little else than heavy lifting and mirroring what the small brother does. And (without giving away the ending), the focus intensifies on the small child, making it seem like he’s been the hero all along. These little parts make up for a convincing argument about there being only one main protagonist in this whole game.
In a different point of view, the big brother is responsible for the forward progress of the gameplay. With the player using both sticks and shoulder buttons to control the siblings, it may not be a stretch to think that the game mechanics accommodate the supervisory personality of what a big brother is. So think about this for a second: what if the player’s controller tactics are meant to be reflective of the big brother and the story view is reflective of the little brother? That would make a good point as to why the game is labeled as a story of both sons. Yes, that may be reaching somewhat, but I have never been accused of being simple. This game left me with a sense that something just happened in the ending and that I needed to really sit and consider what I saw.
So to conclude my argument, Brothers kind of accomplished a sort of simple and complex story telling concept in that it is two different things dependent on how in depth you really look at it. Though the game is really about the two sons working together, I think that each son gets his own focus on a core part of the game, with the older brother more focused on the gameplay while the younger brother is spotlighted in the story-telling. It should be noted, by the way, that Starbreeze brought in Swedish director Josef Fares, an upcoming film maker who was able to bring his own flavor to the game. So a lot of thought was put into how these characters are portrayed. This title is staying on my PS3, because I feel like a rainy day can be well spent playing this title again. Maybe I’ll get something more out of it.