Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

The younger brother is a bit of a trickster. He has a natural ability for the musical arts. He is kind to animals, preferring to set birds free from the cages that trap them than to see them chirping sadly in captivity. Yet as a young spirit, he finds himself leaning towards the inquisitive, playful and sometimes naughty side: teasing a bunny along the way or mischievously creeping up on an unexpecting villager. He is far more trusting and curious. His sometimes daring nature and carefree attitude lands him in trouble but at times, it is just what is needed to further a journey.

The older brother lacks musical talent. He knows personal property and respects it. Animals do not seem to take a shine to him but his heart is kind. You can see this in his gentle handling of them, and in his polite behaviour towards villagers. As the elder, he sees that his younger sibling is cared for, and encouraged in the journey ahead.

It is how I played his role without hesitation.

It is how the game designed his role, and perhaps wanted him to be played.

And I struggled to do so.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

This is what your older brother is supposed to do for you! In my case, even though I am the youngest, I am also the shortest. So... this is what my siblings would have to do to help me out anyway.

Playing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was a bit of a challenge for me for possibly strange reasons. I am right-handed. With the young brother set to be controlled on the PS3's right control stick, I found myself having to make a conscious effort to forge ahead with my left hand: which were the controls for the older brother.

The controls presented some difficulty for me in that as playing the older brother, I wanted him to shield his younger sibling from danger. I tried to always set the older brother to look ahead to take the brunt of any immediate threats. I had him exploring territory to ensure safe passageway.

Later in the game, there were moments where running from danger meant I wanted to put the younger brother ahead of the older. The brilliant design saw the younger faltering behind as weaker, shorter legs may very well perform in real life. Later still, the older brother was happy to charge forward leaving his younger sibling to fall behind. It was heart-breaking for me but I understood the narrative was being driven in that moment.

With a press of the designated buttons to control each other the brothers' actions respectively, the game is enriched by injecting the brothers' personalities through their interactions with each other, objects and inhabitants in the world. It's mostly up to you to discover the little personality traits scattered throughout the game and add some depth to help shape the narrative.

Some months before, I downloaded the demo. During my playtime, I wanted to experiment with the game. The demo tossed me into a situation chosen to primarily showcase the mechanics of game play.

It was there I did a horrible thing.

I let the younger brother fall to the jaws of a vicious dog. I wanted to see if the older brother would react to that action.

He did not.

There were no screams. No motions to save the younger brother. It was merely a fade to black.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet ReflectionNo, I didn't actually sit outside in the snow to play this game. The pictures of benches will make sense eventually.

With a snowy, quiet Sunday afternoon as my setting, in lieu of wrapping the presents I was supposed to be attending to; I played the game in its entirety. In the few short minutes it took from the start of the journey to get to the demo portion with the dog, I understood fully what I needed to do.

I never let the dog touch any of the brothers, and carefully made my way across that area with a singular thought in mind: Protect my younger sibling.

It was those moments when I had no other choice but to send my younger brother along first that I felt incredibly uneasy.

I cringed having recalled my reprehensible experiment having known nothing of the game when I played the demo.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

As I continued playing, I already knew a part of the reason as to why I was so enamoured with the journey in every step made.

Romantic relationships are at times the sort of themes in movies, television and games that are of little interest to me. Some portrayals can feel tacked on, uninspired and frustratingly unnecessary.

It is the same for my video games. I rarely do well with the over-saturation of damsel in distress stories. As one who plays a lot of JRPGs, a love story is a fairly prevalent theme and one I tend to ignore. I have learned to accept them as just being the norm for the most part. I tend to dislike the theme, and ultimately the game, when it becomes the central focus. Of course, it all depends on the characterization of the parties as well and that is subjective based on personality types I tend to gravitate towards.

That is not to say I always dislike love stories in my games. Goddamnit, I'm a huge fan of Elena and Drake in the Uncharted Series. I know though that because I'm just a fan of their individual personalities that makes it palatable for me.

There's also the hilarious and well-crafted dating sim elements to the Persona series that had me dating many of the girls in Persona 4 on different file saves. However, I found myself groaning at the typical, irrational, idealized and romanticized relationship built with Rise. Girls twirling their hair, acting 'cutesy' and pining for attention are not for me.

Then of course, there was another Atlus game that took the idea of romantic relationships and portrayed it in a gritty, somewhat plausible fashion.

It's the games and other media dealing with the family relationship, especially that of siblings that I personally find to be much more rewarding and interesting. It is refreshing to me when a game portrays one as the main focus to a story.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

Lately, my sister's son has been complaining about his lack of a sibling. I can understand what he means. But that's not a guarantee if he did have a sibling that he and said sibling would be close. "You can choose your friends but not your family," my sister always says. It's true. Blood sometimes means absolutely nothing.

In this respect, I am somewhat of a hypocrite. I may not like to see an idealized, romanticized relationship in my games but it is the perfect relationship between siblings that I applaud when I encounter it. These representations tend to tug at my heartstrings faster: Luigi's desperation, fear and anxiety at having been separated from his brother in Mario and Luigi: Dream Team; and Stocke's determination to save worlds falling to ruin in Atlus' Radiant Historia, based on his own morals and the bond with and will to protect his sister.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

It's my own bond with my family, friends, brother and sister that makes those portrayals of relationships all the more important and heartfelt for me.

Though, perhaps too I should be thinking on that aspect a bit more critically. It's certainly something to consider. It's certainly something I considered when thinking on who Brothers would resonate most with. A good story is one that should engage anyone but there are some tales that may be easier for one person to relate to based on said person's personal experiences. This is true of my own experiences and feelings invoked by this game.

All that said, Brothers also has a few instances of love in the romantic sense. They are artfully done for the most part, and one in particular is structured to further the narrative. There's also the brothers' relationship with their parents portrayed in somewhat of a grim representation. While the bond between the siblings is usually ideally depicted, the unit as a whole was burdened by the hardships of a family suffering sadness. The three instances of romantic love are there to enhance the story of the brothers and show their bond in question, fraying and ultimately strengthening.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

In the five or so hours it took me to get from the Brothers' house on the hill and back again, I stopped only to eat dinner. It's rare these days that I have the will to sit down and play a game for hours on end. Saying the scenery in Brothers is gorgeous is more than an understatement. The fairy tale elements to the backgrounds layer the world magnificently. There's a richness to this storybook creation that does not shy from the amazing and the brutal, too. There's life in every chapter, as much as there's a strengthening between the bond between the Older and Younger brother in every step.

Without going into spoilers, I will say that it was when the bond momentarily wavered, that I knew what would happen.

It's the execution in furthering the story that made it almost unbearable to play at a certain point: in part due to my own life experiences and in part to the gravity of the situation.

But it's the strength later on in a particular character and a rekindled bond, a culmination of the story and all your actions as the brothers up until that point, that made the game - an already engaging piece of literature to me - an absolute marvel.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

At various points in Brothers, there are benches on which the brothers can sit. And sit on them, I did. The benches often looked out on grandiose landscapes that lay the route ahead. There were magnificent mountains to scale or alternately, houses in the distance that lay as a memory to parts of the journey already traversed. I sat on the benches not just to consume the amazing landscapes but to share a quiet moment with a brother by my side. On the first couple of benches of the game, I would set one brother down, then the next.

Eventually, I began sitting the brothers down on those benches together.

I would take a snapshot of them every time I did.

The snapshots captured the brothers in their finest moments. There they were: siblings and best friends on an improbable, fantastic, overwhelming but necessary undertaking.

The gorgeous in-game scenery along with the darkness falling outside on my snowy, quiet Sunday evening and my increasing attachment to the brothers had me recalling my own family life, in game and not.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

I recalled my own sister and at other times, a friend, sitting with me on those benches in Animal Crossing. I had pleasant evenings chatting on those little benches overlooking the ocean. My sister and I would also sit on the chairs together for no other reason than to giggle at how ridiculous we were.

I recalled sitting on my father's hand-crafted bench at our childhood home. After our days of school and work during the evening hours when the sun always set at 6 p.m., we would gather under the soursop tree on that bench to discuss our days, have cups of tea or talk and laugh about anything.

I recalled those endless days of lying in the hammock with my sister: lazily taking in the summer sun or in my case, hiding in the shade. It's there we would laugh over the silliest things, as we always do.

In my family, I am the youngest. I lack a natural musical talent. I may be the one that animals take a shine to. I used to look to my sister and brother to protect me; they still do. Without question, they have always filled this role.

As time marches on, just as the younger brother's role expanded to help his older brother, become an equal and at times, be the strength to forge ahead; so have I learned to do same.

We are a brother, and sisters in arms, experiencing the journey that is this life, together.

Always.

Brothers...and a Sister: A Tale of Quiet Reflection

Currently listening to: "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" by Death Cab for Cutie and "Brothers" from the Full Metal Alchemist Soundtrack.

Unless tagged, all other images: www.brothersthegame.com

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