With a name like “The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante”, I should have been more prepared for how dark this game would get. When you start a new game, you’re greeted by a content warning. You’re told about the “bitter losses and gut-wrenching failures” that will litter every playthrough and that you’ll need to “accept the tragedy”. I still wasn’t perpared for how bleak this title gets at times.
The best way to describe The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante would be ‘interactive fiction’. That doesn’t quite cover everything this game is though. Imagine a “Choose your own adventure” novel combined with an off-table RPG game ran by a Dungeon Master that is determined to end any kind of friendship you had with them by being immeasurably cruel. The entire game is played out from the pages of a book that dominates the screen. Thousands of lines of text are joined by black and white images and rare cutscenes that separate chapters to tell a story that is shaped by the player.
It’s choice – not chance – that controls our destiny
Throughout The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante, you choose the fate of the player-named member of the Brante family. From Sir Brante’s first breath until his final death bed moments, the player has a say in how he navigates his life in the complex fantasy world of the Arknian Empire.
At the start of this journey, Sir Brante is anything but a “Sir”. In the Arknian world, each person’s social class and place in the world is pre-ordained by the station of their parents. The population are split into 3 – the noble high born that rule, wage wars and fight battles, the commoners whose place in life is to work and serve the noble folk, and the holy people, whom serve the will of the Twin Gods, the dual deities that oversee the land. These classes are called Lot’s.
The protagonist is born as a commoner to a common mother and a respected magistrate father. His Lot in life is to work hard and show dedication to the role he was give in hope of earning recognition. Or not. You can guide ‘Sir’ Brante to fight against his pre-determined station. No matter the choices you make, the consequences and outcomes in this game are very rarely positive. From the small decisions made as a child that can affect the Brante family dynamic to the empire altering decisions made as a man, the knock on effects of each choice can be far reaching.
The other unique aspect of the world in The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is that death isn’t always final. Almost everyone can die 3 ‘Lesser Deaths’ before they face final judgement before the Twin Gods with the 4th and Final ‘True Death’. After a Lesser Death, most characters (Brante included_ reappear at the local temple without a scratch on them. There are times during this game you’ll need to decide on whether to sacrifice one of Brante’s Lesser Deaths in exchange for the lives of another character. Will you try to save the girl who has fallen in front of a thundering horse and carriage or will you watch as she’s crushed under hoof? Reach the 4th death during your play through and the narrative stops there.
Next to courage, Willpower is King
Almost every decision in The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is underpinned by a set of ever evolving stats that determine the capabilities of the protagonist. Working against the Lot’s that are quite literally beaten into the character can take its toll on his Willpower. Doing so repeatedly will wear him out which removes some choices until his Will can be restored. Trying to fight for every worthy cause will leave the protagonist helpless in the face of tragedies. Some decisions will be sacrifice one stat to benefit another. You’re forced to pick your battles and no matter what you do, you’ll lose some situations you’d wish you could win.
Stand up for your sister who’s being beaten and when it comes time defend your brother and your mother, you might not have the opportunity to do so. Try to scape back more than your Lot should allow and when you’re compelled into action, your only possibly choice might be complete inaction. Help someone hide a forbidden love rather than reminding them of their place in the world can end in some disastrous consequences. The opening warnings for this game weren’t kidding when they said you’ll have to “accept the tragedy”.
As The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante progresses through its 12 hour, 5 chapter length, these stats evolve. Friendships are forged and enemies are made. The decisions made as a child shape what kind of a man Brante will become as an adult and how he’ll be able to shape the destiny of his friends, family and country. All of this is tracked on a series of intuitive charts that are always a click away and are easy to understand.
In each chapter, there’s the possibility you’ll see scenes and routes through the game that are unlocked by the stats you’ve accumulated. Whether it be the strength of a bond with another character or a core characteristic, the decisions you’ve made can form a very different path through The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante. This means there’s a massive scope for replayability as you explore the branching narratives by making new choices.
Author of your own misfortune
None of this game would work if the writing wasn’t of the highest quality – and it is. Descriptive language paints mental imagery that complements the actual art work presented on screen perfectly. What’s more, the game expertly holds back at times, setting a scene but stopping short of getting into the gory details, letting the imagination do the rest.
The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante can feel like a wall of text at times but very little of it is wasted or nugatory. When the game is wordy, it’s often setting the scene so it doesn’t have to break away from the drama later.
The narrative here is absorbing. Gritty event followed by harsh consequence followed by unavoidable disaster might sound laborious but the balancing act is enthralling to keep up. It’s constantly leveraging the characters you’re learned to like against choices you don’t want to make, trading glimpses of hope for unforeseen tragedies and making you the author of your own misfortune.
There were only a few moments during my time with The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante that I found to be disappointment. The first is that the game spoils its broader story arcs with the descriptions of the chapters that unveil their events. I feel it would have been far more impactful to discover what happened in the last chapter when it happens rather than at the start of the game. The minutia of these chapters are still worth experiencing but the fact that the general direction is spoiled seems daft.
Secondly, there were a hand full of sentences with typo’s and missing words. This game contains maybe tens of thousands of lines of text so a few of these were bound to slip through. This is far from game breaking but it certainly popped me out of the story when a sentence broke down because a word was missing.
Carving a destiny through The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is a surprisingly heart-rending and engrossing experience. It won’t be for everyone – it’s a text heavy game and it navigates some heavy subject matters – but if you have a soft spot for interactive fiction, this is one of the best examples of the genre for quite some time.
The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is available now on PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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