I’m always down for a good narrative RPG, so when I saw The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante’s trailer, with its dramatic flair and promise of meaningful choices, I knew I had to check it out.
The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante, much like other titles in the genre, puts you front and centre in its story. Along the way, you get to make choices that affect core aspects of your personality and standing, and those statistics lock or unlock important choices further down the line.
What sets The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante apart is all in its execution. Its inspiring writing style lifts the story off the pages, bringing it to life alongside immersive sound effects and stylised illustrations. It’s very easy to get caught up in Sir Brante’s life and attached to his relatives. That their fates are so strongly coupled to your decisions makes for real nail-biting decisions towards the final chapters.
And boy oh boy, did I mess up that first playthrough.
There are five chapters mapping the course of Sir Brante’s life, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a great scope of time as I have in this story. Reaching adulthood, you feel the weight of all those years and choices laid out behind you. With age, there comes a pace of change similar to real life, where later events come thick and fast, condensing themselves into solid blocks of happenings. Events in childhood still have an urgency to them, but by the time adulthood comes around, it’s a whole new level.
The world Sir Brante lives in is the stage for his triumphs and disasters. It’s a setting with a lot of depth to it, bringing countless societal issues to light, and Sir Brante’s unique position in it provides plenty of pitfalls for him to succumb to. He can die. Three times, in fact, before he properly kicks it. This three-deaths-then-you’re-out system is a clever way to hide a life system, wrapped into the world’s lore so seamlessly that I wonder which came first – lore or mechanic. Those three chances are a gift from the gods – the twins, represented by a shining pillar of light in the sky. Ever-present, they shadow every event just by their presence in societal conscience, whether you choose to believe in them or not. The commentary they offer you around each death is a nice touch, though it’s unclear whether your responses to the gods’ questions serve any purpose other than as a framing device for you to draw your own take on the story.
Each life stage gives you different stats to keep track of. While this might seem intimidating at face value, it’s not too bad when you’re playing along. They unlock gradually enough that by the time you reach the next stage, you’re used to the ones you have, and whenever you reach decisions, you can see relevant stats in the tooltips anyway. Things do get a little harder to keep track of near the end of the game, however. By this point you have a lot to keep track of, and you need to hit certain criteria to reach the ending you want. Having tried for a particular ending several times now with… mixed success… that’s a lot easier said than done.
In general, decisions tend to take you down one of four-ish routes: physical prowess, intellectual prowess, theological knowledge or subterfuge, with many variations in between. We leaned heavily towards the physical, largely because it coincided with the Brante family’s overall goal: to become true members of the nobility. Again, easier said than done because you’re in a family with siblings, and if anything can mess up a concrete plan, it’s other people with different ideas.
I found that despite the initial promise of wide branching, once you reach adulthood, you tend to get railroaded to a certain extent, or at least it feels like fewer possibilities are open to you than you might have thought in previous chapters. While truly branching narratives are admittedly one of the most difficult things to do well, and The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante has enough depth to make linearity hard to spot, it’s frustrating trying to replay adulthood in the hope of a particular outcome later on. I made three attempts with the aim of achieving all these goals: become hereditary nobility, ensure justice for the common folk and have the new faith prevail. Each attempt failed. My first failed so badly that most of my relatives died and so did I, but it retains a special place in my heart for just how bleak it got so quickly.
What was frustrating wasn’t that I failed – it was that I failed by one point pretty much each time, and I couldn’t find a way to scrape it back. Some decisions seem too dead set against you, where you can have something really bad happen now and know about it, or delay it only to have an unknown mess-up thrown in your face, and lose any chance for an in-between.
Thankfully, The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is an entertaining story. Given there are three main paths you can follow, which are notably different once you have locked into them, you’ll get at least three playthroughs’ worth out of it. More, if you fancy going back to try those really weird choices that look awesome but also seem like a really bad idea.
A part of the problem might be willpower. Willpower is a stat that stays with you throughout the game. It goes up and down depending on the decisions you make, just like any other statistic, but it acts as more of a barrier than other stats. It’s not something you can explicitly target – or rather, you can pick all the options that give you more willpower, but it feels bad to do so. It does add in an element of forward planning – do you take this option now and not have the will to do something later, or do you bide your time? – but with all the other stats involved that actually mean things, I think it’s unnecessary. Removing willpower would have opened the doors for so much more flexibility of choice. The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is meant to be an exercise in hardship and stubborn grit, yes, but it would be nice to see all the different flavours of that suffering a little easier.
My only other issue is perhaps just a case of misleading wording. When you increase your stats, you can see descriptions for each of the number ranges your character can fall into. When I saw ‘Invincible’ marked out on the valour scale, knowing that there were people I really wanted to beat, I wanted to go down the noble route and duels were a thing in this setting, I made that my goal. So it was a little disappointing further down the line when fights I’d been looking forwards to winning were actually just insta-deaths if I even tried. Lore-wise, there was good logic behind this, but the statistic’s wording had left me feeling a bit cheated.
While difficult to achieve a ‘good’ result, The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is without doubt a good game. It combines immaculate presentation and immersive mechanics with an incredibly detailed setting to set the scene for whatever story you decide to tell. After all, you are Sir Brante, so this is your story, and the prompts along the way allow you to frame it as you see fit. Whether the meaning you take away is an unending struggle from birth to death or an existence determined by the will of the gods, it’s all up to you.