Free To Choose, Guaranteed To Suffer
HIGH Being in a secret relationship with the Archduke’s daughter.
LOW Finding out my willpower is drained and most choices are impossible.
WTF Getting beat up as a kid… by my grandad!
It is our lot in life to suffer, my grandmother used to say. Despite being one to never give up a fight, she would break out this mantra when things were spiraling out of her control, and especially while watching the news. That very same mantra can be applied to The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante — it is the main character’s lot to suffer, and the player is mostly powerless to change that destiny.
Developed by independent team Sever Studio, Life and Suffering is a visual novel, heavy on the novel and limited on the visual — the experience is exactly like reading a book in which the Life of Sir Brante unfolds. Naturally, the player will be called upon at appropriate moments to make a choice.
Set in a merciless world dominated by The Twins (stern gods that assign lots to each person) and the Arknians (a sort of “superior” race who force their laws and traditions onto the people) everyone else is either a noble or a commoner, and the commoner’s lot is to suffer. To rise above this fate, Brante will have to fight tooth and nail for a better place in society, for his family’s sake or, perhaps, for great justice.
Despite being a visual novel, the player’s freedom of choice is heavily influenced by the RPG-like skills and abilities they possess (like Eloquence or Nobility) which will increase or decrease according to past decisions. Still, despite the importance placed on these skills, it is “Willpower” that rules everything, acting almost like a health system. If it is at or below zero, many important choices will be greyed out regardless of whether or not Brante has the right skills, or if the right decisions were made in the past.
Unfortunately, this emphasis on Willpower tends to transform the gameplay, especially later in Sir Brante’s adult life, into something resembling a spin of Russian roulette — a random minor choice like convincing Brante’s sister not to get married might exhaust his willpower at an inopportune time and end up dooming him later on. On my first playthrough, my character plummeted from a pleasant life as a judge to misery and death in just a few pages because of a lesser choice like this.
One might argue that similar difficulties also happen in real life, but I don’t think strict realism is what the developers seem to be striving for. Having to care only about Willpower points renders many other choices pointless in the big scheme of things — the only real objective is to preserve the required Willpower in order to make large, important choices. Making things worse, it’s not possible to manually save. So, if the choices aren’t in one’s favor, the only alternative is to restart a whole chapter, which means wasting three or four hours given that it’s impossible to skip ‘already read’ dialogue as it is in most visual novels.
‘Tis a pity the player is made to suffer along with Sir Brante, because the world the developers designed is intriguing, especially when considering connections to our modern society. Despite not being generous with details as opposed to many other visual novels, the writing is, overall, pretty strong.
Graphically, Sir Brante employs a hand-drawn style featuring images that, while pretty, tend to be recycled too often, and sometimes the images don’t match the descriptions provided in the text. Frankly, Life and Suffering simply looks boring — 90% of the playtime is staring at an open book with little done to take advantage of its nature as an interactive medium apart from a handful of cutscenes.
Those lusting after a well-written visual novel with drab visuals and little ability to alter its outcome might enjoy The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante. As for me, although my opinion was initially favorable, my mood soured after wasting hours of playtime due to a minor choice that had no connection to the overarching plot. It’s still recommended to visual novel fans, but cautiously so.
Disclosures: This game is published by 101XP and developed by Sever Studio. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There is no multiplayer.
Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB. While there are no graphic depictions of violence or sex, the narrative elements in The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante do directly approach mature themes like sex, politics and violence. Hence, I would recommend the game at least for a Teen audience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Most of the gameplay is text-only with minimal audio cues that can be ignored. the text cannot be resized or altered. (See examples above.) The game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable. The entire game is controlled via mouse, with the keyboard only providing a few shortcuts to options or character panels.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).