Game review: ‘Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ is an emotional journey

“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons,” a single-player video game, was released on August 7, 2013. It was developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games.

In the game, players simultaneously control two young brothers, Naiee and Naia, in a medieval world.

Naia, Naiee and villager overlooking their village. Screenshot by John Novotny.

Immediately, “Brothers” sets a somber tone by opening with Naiee, the younger brother, kneeling at his mother’s gravestone near his family’s house. Through a flashback, players learn that Naiee and his mother were on a boat in the ocean during a storm and she was thrown overboard, and struggles to stay afloat amid the tumultuous waves. Naiee attempts in vain to rescue her by gripping her hands and pulling her into the boat. He watches helplessly as his mother sinks deeper and deeper into the dark, blue ocean.

As the present begins to fade back in, Naiee sees the ghost of his mother appear from her gravestone and kiss his head. As their mother’s ghost fades away, Naia calls to his brother to help their father, who has suddenly fallen ill. Players then control the brothers, leading their father on a wheelbarrow to the village doctor. The brothers receive a map from the doctor and learn that they must embark on a long journey to find the medicine required to cure their father.

Naiee and Naia contemplating their journey. Screenshot by John Novotny.

The introduction to the characters is seamless and efficient. Wasting no time, it sets up the brothers’ task and sends them on their way.

A controller is required to play “Brothers,” even on PC. Players control Naia with the left trigger and stick. At the same time, the player controls Naiee with the right trigger and stick. It took some time to get used to the controls, but once I did, it felt fluid and natural.

The characters in “Brothers” speak a sort of garbled, made-up language. Although none of the characters in the game speak English, players can always tell what they are expressing through their gestures and tone of voice. The experience is somewhat similar to charades.

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“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” combines narrative and gameplay to create effective storytelling moments. Because of this combination, players become greatly invested in the characters and their journey.

Naia and Naiee sleeping by a campfire. Screenshot by John Novotny.

The brothers must work together to overcome obstacles during their journey. Several times, the brothers must cross rivers. Because of his mother’s drowning, Naiee is afraid of swimming and must hang onto Naia’s shoulders while crossing the rivers.

There are also several side paths where players can interact with villagers, animals and objects. Players learns about the brothers’ personalities during these interactions. If Naia interacts with shallow water, he will rub some on his face and neck to cool off, while Naiee’s interaction with the water results in him cupping his hands and throwing the water in the air above him. These compelling interactions highlight each brothers’ personality.

The interactions also provide moments of levity during some of the game’s bleakest moments. One of my favorite moments was seeing Naiee play rock-paper-scissors with a wild-haired inventor.

Before or after each main area of the game, players are given the opportunity to appreciate the environment and reflect on events by having the brothers sit on a bench.

The music, composed by Gustaf Grefberg, accentuates both the classic adventurous spirit of “Brothers,” in addition to darker themes.

“Brothers” features the most compelling narrative I have ever experienced in a game. The ending of “Brothers” is so impactful that it had me in tears until the credits rolled after my first playthrough.

“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” can be purchased for $15. At about the length of a movie, the game can be completed in about two-three hours. I highly recommend scheduling an afternoon to play through “Brothers” in a single sitting.