A life worth suffering through
Genre: RPG, Adventure
Release date: 4 Mar, 2021
Chose your own adventure stories have been around for decades. The earliest ones showing up as far back as the 30’s, and in the 80’s they were turned into games with series like Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf. The concept behind these books is simple, as you make your way through the stories you’re presented with different choices, and flip to different pages depending on the choice you make. Some books also had RPG-like stats where a dice roll or certain stat thresholds could help open up new paths for you.
Games like The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante feel like the natural evolution of these game books. They’re no longer shackled by the limitations of their old medium, yet retain a similar style of branching paths and choices as the old game books did. It’s mostly a game about reading and making choices, but the choices can be far more sprawling and have further reaching consequences than they could in a book form.
Story & Setting
You’re a member of the Brante family. The second child to Sir Robert Brante, and the first child born from the marriage between Robert and the lowborn Lydia Brante. In the household is also Gloria, Lydia’s first child and your older half brother Stephan.
You’re born into a world where everyone has their place. Their lot. The lot of the commoner is to suffer, and as your mother was a lowborn you’re also a commoner. You need to obey the orders of the nobles and it’s not your place to question what’s going on or bring new ideas into the world. That is for the nobles and the clergy to do. There are ways for a commoner to become a noble though, and that’s exactly what your grandfather did. He worked his way up and because of that his son, your father, is also a noble. Your older half brother is also a noble, as your father’s former wife was a noble.
Unrest is growing. New religious ideas are spreading through the Arknian Empire. Ideas that would rob the nobles of their special status and put everyone on equal footing. Many commoners are starting to get ideas of freedom, like thinking they should be allowed to write their own songs and poetry and the church is splitting into two, those who support the old ways and those who support the new one.
And you’re in the middle of all of this. The son of a nobleman and a commoner, caught between two worlds. Your older, noble born, half brother believes that it’s still his right and responsibility to rule, while your half-sister wants to be given the same rights as everyone else. And it’s up to you to chose where you stand. Want to try and become a noble yourself or do you accept your lot as a commoner? Do you preach for the new faith, the old faith or leave such affairs to others? In The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante you’re guiding your character through his life and deciding his faith. And your actions can have far reaching consequences.
At first, as a child, your actions won’t have a great impact on the world, you’re changing things for your immediate family and friends but as you grow older your actions start having more far reaching consequences. And you need to prepare for the inevitable revolution that will happen through the actions that you take over the course of the game. This is not really a spoiler, by the way, the game makes it clear upfront that the revolution WILL happen, it’s just up to you to figure out where you stand and who to side with before that.
The choices you make do matter in this game, though there are places where the story converges. It still does a pretty good job at bringing up old choices you’ve made and making them open or close paths for your you. Some choices matters more than others though, and there are a few transparent non-choices. But overall The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante does a better job at making your actions feel like they influence the story than most other games.
The writing is one of the strong points of The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante. It’s consistently strong through the game and the people you meet in the game feel like actual people, and not just caricatures. The world is also well written and feels believable. It takes some obvious inspirations from real world events, like the French revolution, and the schism between Protestantism and Catholicism as well as a few other moments of social change in history, but it never feels like a carbon copy of history but rather like history inspiring it.
The gamebook inspirations extends to the games presentation. During most of the game you’ll be looking at an open book, with text describing what’s going on on the left side and an image or a list of choices on the right. It looks exactly like in the screenshots, except the images are very slightly animated. The art is consistent through the entire game and it gives the game an almost oppressive tone. The only times this changes is during specific events, which is presented as separate slips of paper laid on top of the book or during cutscenes between chapters.
There’s a bit of voice acting in the game, but only during the aforementioned cutscenes, and the tone of it fits the game. It sounds like someone reading an audiobook rather than playing a specific character which works well with the games presentation. Outside of the cutscenes all you’ll hear is the music and soundclips playing when you do specific things. The sound clips are short, unintrusive and again fits and the soundtrack does a good job at setting the tone for each scene. It’s good background music as it’s not very distracting.
Along the edges of the book are bookmarks, these lead to different pages that shows information about your character, family and the world around you. Usually as a numerical value with a slider underneath it and a word or two giving context. A Family unity of “3” would not mean anything on its own but the text of “quarrels and feuds” going with it gives you an idea of how bad that is. Overall it’s an easy interface to work with and it’s not hard to tell how well you’re doing.
Playing The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is as easy as reading a bit of text, then making a choice based on it with a few different options being available to you. Sometimes the consequences of these choices can be as simple as a stat going up or down a little bit and sometimes they can have more far-reaching consequences. Early in the game, during your characters childhood the events are mostly linear, with your choices changing your characters stats and relations with those around you, though at certain thresholds (like say your perception being 4 or higher) an event will happen. Later in the game your choices can lead you down different paths that are mutually exclusive. It’s usually clear when such a choice happens from the context.
As the game progresses it will become more and more common that your stats needs to be high enough for you to be able to make certain choices and your relationships with other as well as past actions might also influence what options are available to you at any given time. The game will show you what options exists for any given event, and it will grey out the ones that are not available to you, but it will still show the stat and relationship thresholds needed to do them, as well as if some other event has to have happened, so on repeat playthroughs you can plan out your route a bit more.
Death can happen but luckily the gods of the world can grant you more chances. You as well as everyone else. Unless you’ve died too many times, or get executed, which will bring true death, you’ll be reborn. Dying is in other words not too bad, but dying too many times early in life might mean that you can’t afford to die later (that’s not a weird sentence at all). The same is true for those around you, a character dying is not necessarily the end for them.
Games like this lives and dies based on their story and writing and that’s where The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante shines. The story is well told and feels human and relatable and the world is fascinating. But it is ultimately just a more sprawling and complex choose your own adventure novel in digital form and people who don’t care for those will likely not care for this game either. For people who do enjoy that kind of games though The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is a no-brainer, it’s one of the best games, if not the best, of this type that I’ve played. But for people who demand a bit more action in their games it can safely be skipped.