“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” can certainly be considered one of the better indie games of the recent past. As its name suggests, the game tells a story about two brothers, Naiee (the younger brother) and Nyaa (the elder brother), who embark on a dangerous journey to save their sickened father. While the premise is simple and the subsequent plot might not win any awards in narrative aesthetics, “Brothers” shines in a different aspect: the game successfully manages to intertwine game-mechanics with the story’s major theme of loss and the difficulties to cope with it.
In the following I will briefly explain how these different aspects coalesce and result in a refreshing form of storyplaying, one that effectively combines story and gameplay. Therefore, I think, this approach should be embraced by other game designers who want to create meaningful playable stories.
The game’s story mainly revolves around the journey of the brothers, Naiee and Nyaa, and their suffered losses (both before and during the events of the game). The first stroke of fate the brothers have to cope with is the loss of their mother, who died from drowning while Naiee tried to save her. The event has left the young boy deeply scared, not only with grief and sorrow, but also with a pathological fear of water. More than ever now, Naiee depends on his elder brother Nyaa, a fact that is reflected in the many scenes in which they have to cross a lake or a river. To make things worse, the brothers face yet another potential loss: the one of their father. He has fallen sick, and, in order to save him, Naiee and Nyaa embark on a journey to the Tree of Life.
In contrast to other action-adventures, “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” features a rather interesting control scheme. Instead of manoeuvring one character at the time, the game allows the player to take control of both brothers simultaneously (one brother with each analog stick, respectively). While this seems unfamiliar at first, the player rapidly adjusts to the different controls and experiences fresh gameplay that radically differs from other action-adventure games. For the game to progress, it is crucial that the two brothers work together as a team. For instance: they lift heavy objects, swing across deadly gaps, navigate a boat, fly on the back of a bird, or help each other out as in the aforementioned example of crossing streams or lakes. Soon, the player manages the controls and enjoys letting the brothers work together. What is more important, though, it makes him directly experience the boys’ close relationship with one another. Obviously, there lies a deeper meaning behind this sort of gameplay.
Intertwining Story Theme and Game-Mechanics:
Having arrived at the Tree of Life, Naiee faces another terrible loss when his brother dies from the consequences of a previous battle with a gigantic spider. Naiee buries his dead brother and returns home with the Water of Life he has obtained from the tree. For the first time, Naiee has to cope with the hurdles of life on his own as he faces the perilous route home, alone and in fear.
However, it is not only Naiee that has suffered loss, but also the player. Having become accustomed to navigating both brothers at the same time, the loss of one of them becomes more obvious and noticeable as the second analog stick has become redundant. It is only one analog stick now which is necessary to play the game and to navigate Naiee. This game design choice underlines the loss Naiee has faced and is cleverly transferred to the player, who also experiences loss first hand.
During the route home, Naiee has no choice but to overcome his pathological fear of water and, in a sense, become a man. Yet, he is not quite alone. Although his brother has died, a ghostly apparition of Nyaa lends Naiee support in overcoming the several hurdles he faces. For this purpose, the game cleverly reinstates the second analog stick which, previously, has navigated Nyaa. With the help of his unconsciously present brother, Naiee manages to overcome his fears and becomes a man. Near the end of his journey, the ghostly apparition of Nyaa disappears, suggesting that Naiee’s transition to manhood is now complete.
“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” spins a beautiful yarn about the relationship of the brothers Naiee and Nyaa, the transition to adulthood and the obstacles that come with it, most importantly, the loss of our loved ones. Although the story is simple, the game shines when it comes to intertwining story theme with game-mechanics. The method comes with the benefit of immersing the player more deeply into the fictional world of “Brothers” and, above all, involves him at a more personal level.