WARNING: Major spoilers for the game Pyre. Another warning will be supplied at the spoiler section. You have been warned.
Hello! It’s been a bit, hasn’t it? Don’t fret, because I have another review for you! This week’s review, later than hoped, is the third and final game of the Supergiant games series as it stands. A game about exile, redemption, throwing balls, and the friends you made along the way, its Pyre. Let’s go!
You know how Bastion was a hack-and slash action game following The Kid, a silent protagonist, with wonderful omnipresent narration by Logan Cunningham? And how Transistor was a hack-and-slash action game following Red, a silent protagonist, with further omnipresent narration by Logan Cunningham? Pyre is a visual novel combined with a 3-vs-3 sports game. Yep. You play as, well, you, as you are exiled from the Commonwealth for the crime of reading, dropped in the river to be cast into the Downside. You are picked up by a band of three cloak-wearing mask-bearing weirdos who save your life, and also happen to be looking for someone who can read. Joining this group known as the Nightwings, you are dragged into the Rites, a special ceremony that can allow for the winners to be absolved of all misdeeds, returned to glory in the Commonwealth. As their Reader, you guide the Nightwings against other triumvirates who also seek freedom from the Downside, and while losing is not the end, it can drive your story in a multitude of directions. Can you find freedom through victory for you and the Nightwings? Or will you resign to your fate in the Downside for the rest of your days?
We can answer that question in a moment. For now, we look at the first thing you notice about the game, which is its visual design. If you took some of the stills from the cutscenes in Bastion and added more detail and a slightly-less cartoon-y art style, you’d come close to what Pyre has to offer. This is to say that, while relatively simple, Pyre’s visuals work very well, between the character designs of all of the people you meet, the Downside and its landmarks, and the character models for the Rites themselves. As mentioned, I feel a certain similarity between the visual style and use of color between Pyre and Bastion, but as both games were made by the same studio, this isn’t altogether surprising.
After what you first see comes what you first hear, and that is the music of the game. And following the standards set by Bastion and Transistor, Pyre’s soundtrack is an excellent body of work, a combination of pieces that set the tone for the game as well as flesh it out. Reminiscent of Bastion’s musical stylings with its prodigious use of acoustic guitar, Pyre’s soundtrack also has an in-game way to play music, using only the acoustic guitar. To be fair, it is one man and a guitar playing it for you, riding along with the rest of your party through the Downside. He’s not a miracle worker. Pyre’s soundtrack can be found over here. But do watch out for spoilers there, too.
As previously mentioned, Pyre is a combination of a visual novel and 3 vs 3 sports game. As a visual novel, much of the story is relayed through text, in the form of characters talking and interacting, and through the dialogue you learn about the characters, their hopes, dreams, aspirations, deepest fears, and the reason they wound up in the dump that is the Downside. This comes alongside the aforementioned Rites, the sports game part of Pyre, which can allow those who have been exiled to the Downside to return to the Commonwealth, civilization as we know it. The Rites play out as something similar to basketball, with a singular ball and goals on either end of the arena. The goal, in this case, are each teams’ pyre, the magical fires that triumvirates must protect to prove their worth of going free.
Each player can run, jump, and has an aura, represented by a visible circle around them, that they can throw. If you hit an opponent, they are banished for a time, and respawn back at their pyre. Aim of the game is to get the ball into the opponents’ pyre, so it shrinks down to zero. When a player grabs the ball, they lose their aura, leaving them open to opponent auras. You can run the ball into the flame to score, or you can try to throw the ball in, but throwing the ball in takes time and leaves you open, and running the ball in makes the player that scored unavailable until the next score is made. It’s all of these details and conditions that you have to think about while conducting the Rites, but if you find them too hard or too easy, a difficulty setting is available.
As you go through the game, you’ll meet more people that will add to your NBA party of exiles, and as you go through the Rites, win or lose, these characters you meet and interact with develop and grow as they live life. They gain enlightenment by participating in the Rites, which is the equivalent of experience, leading to levelling up and gaining new abilities to use in the Rites, like banishing opponents by throwing the ball at them, or being able to jump twice before landing. As you interact with other people, both in your party, in other parties fighting you, and others you pass by in your journeys, you learn more about them and the world as a whole, both the Downside you currently survive in and the Commonwealth from which you were exiled. If you’ve ever played a visual novel, you’re no stranger to interacting with people and figuring out their backstories, but for those coming to Pyre as their first visual novel, it’s not hard to pick up, just keep reading.
Spoilers – you have been warned ————————————————————————————–
So the big thing with Pyre is that the Rites allow people to go free. The detail left out at the start is that only one person can go free at a time, and only after a certain number of rites will a liberation rite commence. If you win, the person you picked from your party goes free and leaves the group, and if you lose, the other team’s chosen will go free. Who goes free from the Downside determines the ending you get, and how people’s stories unfold after the events of the game. The thing is, freedom isn’t always the best option for some, and only so many people can go free. You cannot free every member of your party, some will have to stay in the Downside. And after someone goes free, you have to continue the cycle to the end, without them. And no matter what, though, since there is a set number of people who can go free, there will always be a bittersweet ending, with some people trapped in the Downside away from the rest of the Nightwings. But this means that if none of your party members leave the Downside, there is an ending for even that, with its own ups and downs. Wins and losses can change the story drastically, but there is no best or worst ending, kind of like life. You have to see it to the end, with all of its ups, downs, and choices made along the way.
Spoilers – End ————————————————————————————————————-
Altogether, while Pyre is a game that no one really had expected from Supergiant Games, as the NBA freedom-seeking visual novel sports game, it is still an enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for a way to spend some time, get a good story, and/or play fantasy sportsball. Again, like Bastion or Transistor, Pyre is something to be experienced on your own, for the story that you get out of it personally. I think that watching someone else play through it does not fully communicate what the game has to offer. If you’d like to give Pyre a shot yourself, you can find it on Steam and Playstation 4.
This will be the end of the Supergiant games series. Join me in three years when they put out another game! While this review has taken some time to put together and get out, I will hopefully have another ready to go by next week. See you then!