Pay your respects to this beguiling mash-up
Unique’ is an over-used word, but feels apt for this intriguing concoction, half a visual novel about a quest to escape the purgatory you’re trapped in, half an invented sport that resembles gothic basketball. While it might sound esoteric on paper, once you start roving the richly coloured Downside and compete to earn the right to escape it, there really is nothing else like Pyre on PlayStation. More importantly, the invention doesn’t come at the cost of quality. There’s no time wasted establishing Pyre’s distinctive world. Your character is banished from their home in the Commonwealth to the peculiar Downside, where a group of three travellers take pity on you and invite you into their wagon. Like the best visual novels, this puts the emphasis on your relationships with characters. Each person you interact with has a clear, engaging personality that it becomes easy to care about their struggles.
As the cast bulges throughout your journey, Supergiant gives you subtle ways of shaping the narrative. Whether it’s through dialogue options or minor decisions you make throughout, there’s a naturalism that avoids the feeling you’re just choosing a predefined path. With such a fascinating crew and thoughtful story that continually branches out in intriguing directions, the tale at the heart of Pyre does a fantastic job of creating a rich world you want to delve into.
LIGHT MY FIRE
Of course, that’s only half the experience. The Rituals – the sport/action bits – themselves are an addictive combination of tactics and thumb twitches. I won’t bore you with too many of the specifics, but the core idea is that two teams, made up of three, have to nab a Celestial Orb in the centre of the arena and get it into their opponents’ pyre by any means necessary.
There are wrinkles that make the action much more complex than just mindlessly running after the ball, such as character classes and powers that can stop opponents in their tracks, which add layers of strategy to the mix. You only control one character at a time, so how do you manoeuvre them across the pitch? Do you focus on speed to flank opponents or brute force to go through them? It’s an addictive system that grows in complexity every time you play a round.
In an inspired move, you can also play matches separately from the story in Versus mode. Whether it’s with a buddy on the sofa or AI, it’s a fun extension that lets you push this system in a thorough way.
What holds Pyre back from classic status is its repetitive structure. Relying on particular patterns during the later stages of the adventure – you learn a little more about your team, then take part in the ritual, repeat for a few hours – sucks some of the mystique out of the world. It’s never boring, but there’s a definite lull before the fantastic ending. That said, you will stay for the pay-off.
“HALF A VISUAL NOVEL, HALF A SPORT THAT RESEMBLES GOTHIC BASKETBALL.”
An engaging fantasy visual novel elegantly supplemented with an addictive and unique sport, Pyre is a true original. As gaming obsessions go, it burns bright, if not long. Ben Tyrer
The vivid hand-drawn art style is somehow even more gorgeous when in motion.
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