Mixing genres is a tricky business, regardless of your medium. On paper your historical RTS/Dating sim hybrid might sound revolutionary but once it sees the light of day people might find the idea of dating Julius Caesar or Horatio Nelson between horrific battles rather incongruous. It’s the same reason you won’t hear Ariana Grande cover Eyehategod songs. The key is to ensure the two different styles complement each other and thankfully, this is something Pyre does expertly.
Released in July of this year, Pyre is Supergiant Games’ third title following on from Bastion and Transistor, and like its predecessors it has been met with lavish praise because of its unusual choice of mechanics. You see, Pyre could best be described as a mixture of Visual novel and sports game with RPG elements thrown in for good measure. And whilst this bizarre combination of mechanics might be enough to turn heads, its the way these disparate elements are interwoven that makes the game great.
Whilst this bizarre combination of mechanics might be enough to turn heads, its the way these disparate elements are interwoven that makes the game great.
The primary focus of Pyre’s gameplay are the ‘rites’ the player is required to periodically partake in. In brief, the object of these rites is to land a ball in your opponent’s pyre (i.e. goal) a requisite number of times until its extinguished whilst preventing your opponent from doing the same. Additionally, each character possesses an ‘aura’ which can be projected and temporarily banishes opposing team members upon contact. However the key factor in determining the outcome of the rites the makeup of your team as each character possesses slightly different abilities and advantages. Additionally, only those who compete will gain experience, adding an element of strategy to the game. Ultimately though, Pyre’s rites are an intense contest of coordination and manoeuvrability.
But for all the gameplay’s merits is it’s the story that ties the whole experience together. Pyre takes place in a fantasy world wherein criminals are exiled to an inhospitable land known as ‘The Downside’, and must complete the aforementioned rites in order to regain their freedom. As alluded to previously, Pyre’s story is mostly text-based, like a visual novel yet how the story actually plays out depends on the player’s decisions and their success in the rites.
This becomes all the more apparent in the aptly named ‘liberation rites’, where you must choose a member of your party to go free. The catch is that only your most experienced party members are eligible, which not only means you’ll be sacrificing your most skilled characters, but probably the ones you’ve built a rapport with, assuming you even win. Yet regardless of the outcome or who you choose, Pyre’s story unfolds in accordance with how you play. This interaction between gameplay and narrative, combined with Supergiant’s superb writing and characterisation makes for perhaps their best story yet.
As a medium, games are by definition defined by their gameplay and I admire how expertly Pyre’s narrative moulds itself around the gameplay.
Like I said at the start, some people might find Pyre’s mixing of genres offputting. I myself am not usually one for sports games or sports in general (thanks in no small part to the hours spent on cold, muddy schoolfields with only the cows in the adjoining farm for moral support). Yet I found the way Pyre re-contextualised its sportier elements incredibly compelling.
As a medium, games are by definition defined by their gameplay and I admire how expertly Pyre’s narrative moulds itself around the gameplay, something Supergiant Games accomplish masterfully. If you’re looking for something unique or just plain good, Pyre’s an absolute must.