Video Games Can Be Moving, Too

 

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When most people think of video games, the first thing that comes to mind is either violence, Pokemon, or that it’s just for kids. I challenge people to consider video games a powerful medium for storytelling. After reading this review, look up Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us for two popular examples of engaging, powerful stories in video games.

As much as I’d love to break down Bioshock Infinite, I’d like to talk about another fantastic, story-driven game: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. This fairy-tale influenced indie game follows two brothers – the older one dressed in blue, and the younger one dressed in yellow – and their quest to find the Tree of Life so they can save their ailing father. As the player, you guide both brothers through a European fantasy world filled with enslaved trolls, invisible giants, and griffins that are one part cat and one part owl (yes, it’s an owlcat, and it’s adorable). Those are just a few of the things you’ll encounter here.

One of the most unique aspects of Brothers is that you control both brothers at the same time, one with each joystick. This type of control makes for a unique and at times challenging gameplay experience. Puzzles in the game must be solved by using both brothers at the same time. Yellow is smaller and can squeeze through tight spaces. Blue is bigger and can move heavier objects. Only by working together can the player move on to the next level. Once you grow accustomed to the unique control system, you’ll realize how inventive the mechanic is.

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You’ll notice I referred to the brothers as Blue and Yellow. They do have names, but they’re not crucial to the story. No one ever speaks in actual words. Everyone gestures and expresses themselves physically to convey their messages. Combined with a stellar soundtrack to set the mood and stunning visuals, I had no trouble giving myself over to the game and the story it tells.

***Spoilers ahead, because I don’t know how else to share the power of this story***

Even though the game is called Brothers, it becomes readily apparent that Brothers true story arc belongs to Yellow. The game opens on him grieving for his mother, who he failed to saved in a boat accident. Visions of his mother still haunt him, and she even appears to him in a dream sequence.

For much of the game, he’s carried and supported by his older brother Blue as early as the first chapter, where Yellow must ride on Blue’s back to leave the village because he can’t swim. That’s just one of many example where we find Blue supporting Yellow in some way.

When the brothers finally reach the Tree of Life, Blue is suffering from grievous injuries. Yellow climbs the tree to collect its water, but when he descends, he finds Blue has died. I’ve played games where main characters died, but never have I been so moved as when I dragged Blue into a hand-dug grave and buried him. The game makes you, the player, initiate these acts, with Yellow sobbing the whole time.

A griffin flies him back to his village with the water from the Tree of Life, and Yellow has to confront his weakness: cross the stream that leads to the village. The same stream where we first learn Yellow can’t swim.

On the shore, confronting his fears, Yellow is comforted by his mother, then he hears the voice of his brother in the sky. Channeling his spirit (I don’t know how else to describe it), Yellow crosses the river to save his father, collapsing from the weight of his grief and the exhaustion of his travels.

***Spoilers Over***

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The simple premise (two kids go on a quest to save their father) helps to make Yellow’s emotional arc as powerful and moving as it is. That’s where this game wins out over so many other big titles out there. It’s not about how many kills you can rack up. It’s not trying to beat players over the head with symbolism and philosophy. It’s about losing yourself in a fantastic world and investing in these two brothers.

Do yourself a favor and give this game a shot. It takes less than three hours to play, and it only costs $15. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it, whether you like video games or not.

 

If you’ve played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, let me know what your thoughts are.

 

I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I haven’t checked it out, I’ll add it to the list!

RWBY: Grimm Eclipse

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One of the beauties of independent companies such as Rooster Teeth is the sheer creative freedom they’re allowed. They can create things how they want, when they want.

Rooster Teeth took the internet by storm back in 2003 with the launch of their web series Red vs Blue. Since then, the show has entered its fourteenth season, and they’ve created tons of live-action shorts, a gritty miniseries (Day 5, which I’ll be reviewing in the next few weeks), and RWBY (pronounced ‘ruby’), a 3-D anime-esque web series that spawned its own video game.

Developed by their lead animator Monty Oum, RWBY takes place in the sci-fi/fantasy world of Remnant and follows the lives of four girl as they train at Beacon Academy to fight monsters born of darkness and uncover plots to destroy civilization as they know it. With over-the-top fights, well thought-out characters set to grow dramatically over ten seasons, and (especially in the later seasons) fantastic writing, I may actually be looking forward to season four of RWBY more than the next season of Game of Thrones.

***Minor Spoilers Ahead***

That being said, when I played RWBY: Grimm Eclipse, I couldn’t help but feel a bit letdown, at least by the story. You play cooperatively alongside up to three other players, investigating malfunctions in the security network, hacking and slashing at monsters along the way. Upon discovering someone’s tampered with them, you and your team are guided by your professors at Beacon to unearth the source of the mystery. Eventually you learn what’s going on is a classic mad scientist plot to mutate the monsters, and then you have to fight your way through even more of the monsters to destroy the mad scientist’s lab and put a halt to his experiments. The game ends with you and your team getting extracted from the final level, and that’s it. No final confrontation with the mad scientist or anything. It ends rather abruptly.

***Spoilers Over***

My biggest issue with the game is how hollow it feels compared to the show it’s based on. RWBY relies on strong characters who are also excellent fighters to carry the story forward, but with Grimm Eclipse the story just sort of…exists. Most of the exposition and dialogue comes from radio communication with the professors. Even though you’re playing as one of the main characters, they hardly speak outside of quips or one-liners, which isn’t what I expected from characters I know and love. The game relies on intense fighting and rapid-fire gameplay to engage people, and after ten levels (it’s a fairly short game) it can get a bit boring.

The other interesting thing is that there isn’t much of an explanation about each character at the beginning. You choose whether to play a single player game or a team game, pick your character, and dive right in. There’s no tutorial telling you what to do. I’ve never played a modern game that does that. It can be a bit jarring to people that have never seen RWBY before.

However, I love RWBY, and that’s what makes the game fantastic for me. Rooster Teeth made a game that would appeal to fans who want to play as their favorite characters, walk through setting from the show, and kill monsters. If you aren’t a fan of RWBY, this game will definitely not have as much appeal to you.

Despite a lackluster story and somewhat repetitive gameplay, I really enjoy this game and will probably continue playing it for some time. This is Rooster Teeth’s first game, after all. They created RWBY, which has only gotten better with time. I can only expect the game will continue to improve as well.

If you’ve played RWBY: Grimm Eclipse, let me know what your thoughts are.

I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I haven’t checked it out, I’ll add it to the list!