See, I told you we would get you back up there! [immediately after] I miss them already.
Available on: Steam/PS4
Genre: VN RPG Adventure
Publisher: Supergiant Games
With reading a huge aspect in our world, and many love to read books in their spare time, it’s hard to see the world where you are not allowed to read. However, there are stories out there that depict how a world will be if literacy was indeed illegal. In the world of Pyre, literacy is illegal in Commonwealth and well…you tried to keep your reading a secret. Luckily, people don’t get executed, but those who break the rules get exiled to a land below called the Downside. For anyone that think they can somehow float back up, there is a boundary that blocks all who try to go back up. That doesn’t mean there is zero hope of going back to Commonwealth though.
This is where you come in, a recent exile due to Commonwealth figuring out that you are literate. On the brink of death, some strangers happen to come across you and one of them is nice enough to nurse you back to health. But you think they would do it without thinking you can help them in return? It so happens that the ability to read is an asset down in the Downside. The only way to get back up into Commonwealth is to participate in the Rites, an ancient ritual that pites teams of banded exiles to prove they are worthy to be forgiven for their transgressions. The people that took you in are in such a team called the Nightwings and a Reader is all they need so they will be able to start participating. Lucky for everyone, the Nightwings are always guaranteed to be participating at the rites, but they are needed for them to continue as the Rite meant to send the victor home, called the Liberation Rites, have to have the Nightwings as one of the teams. This would be the first time in a long time the Nightwings will participate and in turn, allow others to finally get a chance to be deemed worthy to return.
As you journey through the Downside to get to each Rite site, you will have time to get to know the characters that accompany you (as more decide to join your group). Learn about them and slowly learn that despite your first impression, there is more to them. See who they clash with and see if it happens to be resolved or not. If they happen to be liberated, it feels like you lost someone as you will never hear them talk, miss out of future interactions, and some conflicts won’t be resolved. The Reader character, in turn, is meant to be you putting yourself into the story. Everything tries to get you immersed, which does succeed, and the Reader’s identity is left up to who you are other than your in-game background (which you can also pick through a list of choices that try to encompass many choices different people may prefer). Even adversary exiles gets development. Pyre may be about trying to get back to Commonwealth and make it better up there, but it very well may be all about the characters. There are many different outcomes due to this and thus a lot of replayability to see what differs.
The Rites, to put it simply, is a sports game where 3 members of each team participate to try and extinguish the other’s pyre with an orb while also keeping their own lit. Each team may decide to have a Reader guide their movements, but either way only 1 teammate can move at one time. To fend off their opponents, each player has their own aura cast around them that will banish adversaries if they step into it ether by getting too close to you or if you cast it towards them. The one with the orb, however, will have their aura retreat back (unless there are some special circumstances), making them vulnerable. For them to score, they must either plunge themselves or throw the orb into a pyre to reduce its health. If they plunged into it, they would not be able to return for the next round unless they have a trinket or ability that prevents it.
This may seem simple enough, but there is a lot of strategies and tactics you can think of and use. Each character, the 3 who originally started out with you and future teammates you will meet throughout your travels, has different stats that have to do with their race so some will be fast, slow, have different abilities, and do more or less damage for example. This even goes deeper as your characters gain enlightenment, or experience, with each Rite that lets them gain abilities that you can tailor and you can give them talismans to gain a slight advantage. And with you knowing how your own characters handle, you will know which ones are best if say your adversaries are all harpies. However, they may get banishment sickness if they participate in too many rites in a row, forcing you to think of another tactic and get to using other characters (which may seem hard to work with, but once you get used to them not so much; you could always do practice Rites as well before you go against someone as well).
This would all fall apart if the enemy AI is terrible, and it’s pretty exceptional where they only goofed up a couple of times. The AI will constantly get harder to beat as they learn how to play better, often doing cheap tactics to trick you, and start equipping talismans as the Rites continue. If you want to make it harder, you can either raise the difficulty or activate Titan Stars that gives them the advantage in exchange for giving you more enlightenment.
An important lesson in Pyre is that losing does not mean losing, just that it is a learning experience. Picking yourself up after each loss and continue to compete is winning in a way. If you happen to lose during a Liberation Rite, it may be bitter sweet, but at least your adversary will be able to go back up to Commonwealth. You can even choose to lose on purpose if you think they deserve it more, as each character has their own history, why they got exiled, what they left behind, whether they want to stay down, what they will do if they go back up, etc.
Pyre’s soundtrack is absolutely amazing and you can tell that it was done with care. Each track feels different from the others and perfectly fits what theme they go to. Even when you first hear it and may not know the history behind the characters or setting, it just feels right. And the last song that Pyre plays in the campaign never failed to make me tear up even after my 3 playthroughs. Its art is also amazing as each area is beautifully constructed and character designs are unique. If you decide to get into the lore, you will even learn about each area.
Pyre is an absolutely beautiful game that was undoubtedly done with care to bring us the best product possible. I’m not even one to play sports games, but there are some that manages to rope me in and Pyre was one of them. The only fault would be no online multiplayer, but that doesn’t really matter as long as everything else is great. However, I do see why some may not like it due to this also being a visual novel as well. If you don’t mind this being a visual novel as well as the Rites resembling a sports game, I highly recommend playing Pyre as it is easily worth the price.