I want to write about Pyre – and I honestly don’t know where to start. Supergiant Games has some sort of magical formula that combines imaginative narrative, fun gameplay, and those damn epic soundtracks into legitimate works of art. I walked away from this game a week ago with the warm feeling in my chest of having experienced something truly magical, but also the longing that comes with having to say goodbye and wanting to return.
Aesthetics Over Gameplay – The Visual Novel Effect
I’ll just say right away, the gameplay was fun, but really, not super challenging nor why I loved this game. It was the narrative, the design, the music – this could have been a visual novel and I would have been just as smitten.
For those who are unfamiliar with the game, you exist in a world where criminals of the state are exiled to a mystical realm called the Downside, and compete in mystic rites, a 3v3 sport involving an orb, to earn their chance at freedom. That’s the plot in a nutshell. Along the way, you add more of the well-realized characters to your team and try to earn their freedom, one at a time.
It’s a simple premise, but one that is compounded by a plot to overthrow the corrupt government that exiled you all, and coming to terms with each of the characters own demons. You, as the “reader” in a world where most are illiterate, are responsible for guiding your band in the mystic rites, set down by The Eight Scribes, by following the stars. There is no game over – if you lose a match, that becomes part of the story. When you have a chance to free someone, you have to choose, and they will no longer be a part of your party. Fail these liberation rites, and your NPC opponent goes free instead. Every decision felt meaningful and heartrending.
You get so attached to the characters by talking to them as you journey on, that you want to free them, but at the same time know you (and the rest of your party) will feel their loss. The others talk about it, how much they miss their friends, but hopeful they are doing well with their earned freedom. You not only feel the camaraderie between the characters, but you feel part of their struggle for freedom.
Meanwhile, all of your opponents have well-defined personalities and interactions with your own party, and the world of Downside just oozes character – a landscape littered with the corpses of fallen gods, and use of color and imagery that drew me straight in. You journey through the land in a wagon, and each stop you choose holds different possibilities for your band, for good or ill.
Then there’s the soundtrack by Darren Korb, with additional vocals by Ashley Barrett. These two are Supergiant mainstays, and the soundtracks for Pyre (as well as Bastion and Transistor, Supergiant’s other games) are all epic. I still find myself humming tunes from Pyre a week later, and am planning to buy the soundtrack.
This game truly feels like a love letter to both graphic novels and high fantasy. It’s an epic saga clocking in at around 12 hours. There’s lore galore if you choose to read it, but even just experiencing the world is enough to really take you to another place. In the age of the Telltale game, I have to say that they can take a lesson here from Pyre. Choices in Telltale games never truly change the plot, whereas I felt the weight of every decision in this game, if only because I loved the characters so much.
So if you’re looking for a great game, this might not be what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a great story and great art, well then, this might be the droid you’re looking for.