Every nation has different ways of punishing criminals. Some countries send lawbreakers to the electric chair, others try to rehabilitate their prisoners and in some places committing a felony only incurs a fine. In the Commonwealth crooks are banished to a land known as Downside. Those who are exiled there can only return home by participating in a fantasy sport tournament dubbed the Rite. In Pyre, the third title from indie developer Supergiant Games, players assume the role of a Downside inhabitant named the Reader. As a member of the Nightwings faction he is expected to guide his team in contest that is essentially Middle Earth meets the Super Bowl.
Some people have described Pyre as a sports RPG, which I don’t think is accurate. Due to the oodles of text you have to wade through, the game feels more like a visual novel than Inazuma Eleven. The title that reminds me the most of Pyre would have to be Banner Saga. Both games possess gorgeous hand painted style graphics and they both revolve around travelling across the kingdom in a wagon. Occasionally you’ll reach a crossroads and need to decide what route to take. Unfortunately for the Nightwings their carriage does not come with GPS installed. To determine what route they should follow, Readers need to rely on instinct and their knowledge of the stars.
A large chunk of my playthrough involved reading, but that’s not a bad thing as both the story and characters are solid. What begins as a generic fantasy yarn gradually develops into a political tale, were convicts seek redemption by using the Rite ceremony to overthrow the Commonwealth’s corrupt government. The Nightwing’s roster contains a colourful bunch of players whose ranks include a flirtatious harpy, a chivalrous fish dude and a weasel who sports a most dashing moustache. Every character is unique and brings their own distinct skills to the field during matches. The aforementioned harpy can fly over opponents for example, whilst the imp who joins later in the story can use Middle Eastern techniques to eliminate adversaries via self-detonation.
My rating for Pyre is a three out of five. The game is decent, but as is the case with other Supergiant releases, I didn’t like it to the extent that other publications have. It’s a pity that Pyre isn’t available to purchase on Vita, because when it comes to text heavy titles I much prefer to play on a portable device. Clasping a handheld close to your face, akin to a book, is more comfortable than reading paragraphs off a TV. The 3v3 gameplay, were you evade enemies whilst trying to ferry an orb into the goal zone, is fun. RPG fans will however be disappointed that the character customization is limited to picking talents off a skill tree and choosing what skill-boosting talismans your players should hold.
In terms of length, Pyre took me twelve hours to complete. There’s some replay value, as I hear that there are different endings to unlock. How the story concludes will depend on your performance during key matches. The computer-controlled opponents aren’t too challenging, although things get slightly tougher the further you advance into the campaign. Not only will you have to face mightier teams, but you also have to contend with losing players every time the Nightwings triumph in the Rite finals. Pyre’s best feature would have to be its stellar musical score. The game’s biggest flaw is that the multiplayer cannot be enjoyed online. For that crime I will sentence Supergiant’s staff to an eternity in the Downside. Parole will only be granted when they patch in PSN matchmaking.