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Discussion The Patient Gamer - Pyre - A SuperGiant Hidden Gem

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
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Gamers are always complaining about how stale the gaming industry is, how no one takes risks anymore, no one trys anything different, how it's all catered to the lowest common denominator. COD 2000 and Battlefield 40K42 etc etc etc. The industry follows trends. For a while it was all Metroidvanias, then souls-like games, then there were all rougelike games etc etc etc.

SuperGiant games played it pretty safe on their first two outings with Bastion and Transistor. The first is an indie gaming darling, the second lauded and derided for pulling what people thought was a bait and switch for trying something different. They are currently basking in the popularity of Hades, their most recent indie darling hit (which I have not but will eventually play). Then there is Pyre, sitting quietly between Transistor and Hades.

Pyre is a decision based visual novel briefly punctuated by some extremely creative and entertaining gameplay. You'll hear the gameplay sort of vaguely described as 'just basketball" but that is really underselling the game. It's hard to really capture the weird genius of the game.

You've been banished by "The Commonwealth", a nation formed by the union of seven different fantastical species, for some unknown crime to someplace called the Downside, a sort of dimensional Australia where the Commonwealth sends it's convicts to live out the rest of their lives. You're rescued by a Trio of vagrants and identified as a "Reader" and asked to join their group.

You soon learn that there is in fact a method to escape the Downside through conducting ritualistic battles known as "Rites" against a number of other triumvirates, ultimately vying for victory in a "liberation" rite, where one member of the victorious team being freed from their imprisonment and allowed to rejoin Commonwealth society.

The plot and story are well written, with plenty of fun twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.

A lot of the game played out in a sort of stylized Oregon trail visual novel format, where you travel from rite to rite, occasionally picking up other lost souls to join your team, learning about your companions, and learning about their relationships with the leaders of the other teams. The writing and characterization was absolutely sublime, far less obtuse than Transistor or even Bastion, that characters (even your enemies) we're easy to love, distrust, or dislike.

When you reach a Rite, you have to pick a trio of your party members to participate. The Rites are what is often derided as "basketball", and in the simplest sense involves getting a ball into the enemy goal. This can be done by throwing the ball into their goal, by running the ball into their goal, or by flying into the opposing team's goal. Your players can "banish" (think bench) an opposing team's player by striking then with their aura. You can only control one active player at a time, carefully bouncing around controlling each of your three players to block enemy movements, intercept the ball, and to go "douse the enemy pyre" until one team reduces the other team's score to 0 and wins.

In typical SuperGiant fashion, this is where the emergent gameplay really starts to shine. Each of your players has a unique set of basic skills (dash/aura/jump) combined with stats (aura size, how quickly they return from banishment, how quickly they move on the field) combined with two small upgrade trees with 4 very impactful abilities in each result in some very exciting gameplay. Each character can also equip an item to boost their skills or provide a unique advantage on the field.

For example, Jodariel who is a demon casts a huge aura, moves slowly, sprints in short fast bursts when dashing, pushes away opposing units and when she jumps, and scores a ton of points if she gets the ball into the opposing goal. Ti'zo is a tiny drive imp, he also moves slowly, but can fly instead of jump, implodes rather than casting his aura (causing him to be banished but potentially banishing two or three opposing players as well). Rukey is a weird talking dog like thing, but he's wickedly fast on the field, despite having a very small aura (making him very easy for an opponent to banish) and scoring relatively few points compared to Jodariel.

After having played the "regular season" you reach a liberation Rite. If you win the rite, one of your three most experienced (read: most used) characters ascends out of the Downside and you begin the season again, down one of your most used characters, forcing you to learn and know how to play with an ever shifting team of players. It's a brilliant, lore driven technique to really get you invested in the characters... Once they are liberated, you can no longer interact with them in game. It also forces you out of comfort zones, demanding you mix up your team or strategize who you're willing to lose should you win the liberation rite.

There is really something to be said about the characters in this game. Hasn't been another group of characters since the Mass Effect games that got me so emotionally invested in their outcomes. I really felt like I wanted the best for my team, and thanks to the complex relationships between your players and characters in opposing teams what is best for your characters is not always winning. There are definitely moments where you feel compelled to throw a liberation rite just so an honorable player of the opposing team can be liberated over one of your own (or you play twice as hard cause there is no way you're going to let dirtbag on the opposing team be liberated). It's really remarkable to experience.

The soundtrack is again, in SuperGiant fashion, sublime. Each team has an incredibly catchy theme song branding from eerie techno to riff heavy punk rock, it's a treat to the ears from start to finish. I don't often go looking for game original sound tracks, but I will for Pyre, they've really outdone themselves.

The visuals of the game has a sharp and colorful hand drawn style, vaguely reminiscent of old Final Fantasy games, it's closer to Bastion than it is to Transistor, but its own thing nonetheless.

The game is not without it's faults, to be sure. There is a lot of reading. I understand there was no way to have all these fun complex interactions between you, your team members, and the opposing teams while also having the game be fully voiced, but holy hell there can be a lot of reading.

There is also a bit of a disconnect between the gameplay of the rites and the sort of visual novel that plays out between them. You spend about 50 minutes of each hour playing the game on the visual novel side of the game, and the remaining 10 actually conducting rites, which is one of the more valid criticisms of the game since it can feel like very little time is actually spent playing (which itself is very fun). The game mitigates this a bit by upping the frequency of the rites as you progress through the story, but it can be a bit of a slog at first.

All told, if you like Supergiant's games and you understand that this is nothing at all like Bastion or Transistor (although it does build upon concepts introduced in those games), you will deeply enjoy this game.

It goes on sale for $5.00 basically every sale, so even if you're not entirely sure what you're getting into, there is a very low cost of entry to try out something wonderful and new.
 
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shortylickens

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Jul 15, 2003
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