Dying, what an interesting experience! Well, I suppose none of us really know anything about it, but we sure love to fantasize. What is next, after all is dead and gone? According to Brutal Orchestra, what is next is a full-on roguelite strategy experience of having to track down our killer in order to get revenge. Well, not that we care that much about it, but it’s something to do while waiting for our eternal reward, I guess…
Brutal Orchestra begins with the death of the main character, whose name is Nowak. The story isn’t over yet, though, as the mysterious divinity called Bosch is soon to come to the hero’s aid. That same divinity then explains how Nowak can take his revenge on whoever caused the untimely ending. The first thing to do is to go through a tutorial, where Bosch will introduce us to the various mechanics in the game.
Let’s take a moment to summarize these. As mentioned, the game is a roguelite. Here, our party will move from point to point, selecting a location from three different choices. Also, the game doesn’t let us look around the whole map – it always locks our view to the single location, we’ve selected.
Some locations may offer us to have a conversation with an NPC, who could give us a quest and then join our party. Other places are more like bonus rooms with extra coins or items. Some locations have shops, too. Yet, most of them contain just enemies. After exploring 5 or 6 different locations, the number of places for us to travel to will begin to decline. At one point, we’ll have no other choice but to face the boss.
COLORS, SHAPES AND PIGMENTATIONS
Each character in our party, including us, has three different abilities. Some of these we can select in advance. Each turn, a hero may use a single ability, in addition to movement. The grid-based battlefield is divided into ten different cells – five for our party and five for the enemies. It’s essential to plan ahead which ability you’ll use and where you’ll move. The game also allows us to also swap two characters on the board. In addition, we’ll be shown each enemy’s intentions. Although, it may require some intuition to make sense of these clues.
Abilities come at a cost, though: pigment. Indeed, all enemies will drop colored orbs – their color based on that of the particular enemy’s health bar. These orbs represent the pigments, which’ll be used by our abilities. In addition, at the start of each turn, the game gives us three orbs of yellow pigmentation – the base color of our main character. Keep in mind, though, that it isn’t wise to hold on to too many of these orbs at once. Eventually they’ll begin to overflow, and our characters will take damage until we get rid of the excess ones.
When you win a fight, the game rewards you with coins. These serve the role of experience points. As soon as we have enough, we can use the “Rank up” ability to improve our characters. The upgrades are automatic, though – each hero’s abilities are enhanced, and they also get additional health points. Items are only found in chests, which are scattered randomly throughout the levels. While most items have both positive and negative effects, some of them often come in handy. For example, the pep powder, which provides 4 points of defense, when its user takes damage.
BLEEDING, VOMITING AND SUFFERING
Using our abilities, naturally, leads to various consequences. These may affect our orbs, our characters and, of course, our enemies. For example, an attack on the party may also consume all the stored orbs. Or, one of our hero’s skills may use up an additional randomly-chosen orb. I will not go too much in-depth, regarding all the different abilities, since half of the fun in Brutal Orchestra is in discovering them for yourself. Beware, however! Their list is long and exquisitely disgusting: from vomit and bleeding – to ears, being sensually licked (eww).
Each stage’s boss is randomly selected from a pool. Although I appreciate most of their designs – truth be told, there are some mechanics that felt a bit too extreme. Let me give you just one example. There is one boss, who will either completely restore the HP of the character in front of them or, instead, instakill them. This is completely random, so the player’ll have no idea whether to constantly move their heroes around the battlefield – or just leave them there they are and hope for the best.
HAVING FUN IN PURGATORY
Brutal Orchestra feels very much like a mix of the deckbuilding gameplay of Slay the Spire and the fleshy, meaty, infernal rooms of The Binding of Issac. But, despite the game’s apparently horrifying atmosphere, the interactions with Bosch and some other NPCs always have somewhat of a togue-in-cheeck feel to them and are actually pretty funny to witness. There might be a character who’ll call us “ugly” just to comment on our lack of self-respect. Or Bosch may, out-of-nowhere, start arguing with us about the meaning of the afterlife.
Considering that “brutal” is in its name, it’s not hard to guess that the game is brutally difficult. While not as extreme as some other roguelites, it does, however, rely heavily on RNG. Depending on our general luck, as well as what sort of enemies and items we’ll encounter – the game may already be decided after the first few fights. Unfortunately, until we manage to unlock some of the more powerful companions, the game can definitely feel a bit unbalanced and tiresome.
Brutal Orchestra features an amazing art style, perfectly conveying that feeling of being plunged into a distant, almost Beetlejuice-like afterlife. It has some great character design, both somber and funny (there is definitely some Undertale there, as well…). I also particularly appreciated how the perspective gives the player an illusion of a perpetual motion towards some objective, which, in most cases, is the end boss.
Highest grade also for the soundtrack. While it may need a few more songs to not get a bit repetitive, what is there is of exceptional quality: a fantastic mélange of electronica, free jazz and folk rock. Also, depending on the way the enemies transform and change, the music will follow suit and switch genres during the fight. Lovely.