Two Brothers / Chromophore: The Two Brothers

A game by Ackk Studios for PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U, and Xbox 360, originally released in 2013.
Two Brothers (a.k.a. Chromophore: The Two Brothers) is a narrative-focused action-RPG with a rather odd tale to tell. Roy Guarder is a scientist, inventor, and philosopher who embarks on a quest to search for the remains of a lost civilization of aquatic people. He and his wife set out across the mysterious Cursed Lands, a place so dangerous that it has gone untouched for more than 700 years.

The game begins with Roy and his wife climbing to the top of a mountain to reach Dry Bone Summit, the last known location where the lost civilization was said to have lived. Soon they encounter a gigantic fish, apparently the last of its race. Roy moves toward the fish but steps on a switch that activates a trap, sending out an arrow that kills his wife.

A mysterious stranger appears and asks Roy if he would like to restore the life of the thing he wants most. When Roy agrees, the stranger brings the fish back to life.

Following this opening sequence, Roy finds himself lying in a bed surrounded by light and color. The world he left was rendered in shades of gray – as inspired by classic Game Boy titles – and he has never seen colors like these before, nor even imagined that such colors could exist. Text at the bottom of the screen reads “Game Over”, and it appears that Roy has died and entered some kind of afterlife.

You are able to get out of bed and move freely around, and a flashing square at the bottom of the screen teleports you to a new area when you touch it. At this point, you find yourself on a series of floating platforms set high in the sky. Below, you can see your former gray world. Collision is a bit strange here, as you are blocked from walking into areas that appear accessible, while other points appear to be empty spaces in midair that allow you to walk freely across them.

As you wander toward the center of the area, a figure appears. He is a guide who informs Roy that he has died, but it is not yet his time; rather, something is binding him to the world below, and so he must return. Roy asks about his wife, but the guide says that he knows nothing, and sends him back to the surface.

A year passes, and we find that Roy has dedicated his life to researching the new colors that he discovered in the afterlife. He is attempting to find proof of these colors in the real world, but his quest has thus far proven unfruitful. He receives a letter from his brother Bivare who informs him that he has made some kind of promising discovery, and so Roy sets out to meet up with his brother, and the game properly gets underway.

Two Brothers is heavily focused on its narrative, with progress made by speaking to NPC’s, finding new locations to explore, and slowly uncovering the mystery of these strange new colors and Roy’s connection with the afterlife. It appears that Roy is unable to truly die, and each time he is killed – accidentally or by his own hand – he re-enters the colorful world in the sky. This is even used as a means of narrative progression, as previously killed characters may be encountered in the afterlife, providing information that allows Roy (and eventually his brother) to continue his quest.

The game has a good deal of nonlinearity as well, which is simultaneously to its benefit and its detriment. The nonlinear aspects allow players to explore the world freely and make choices that affect the game’s different endings. On the other hand, the player is often left with little direction as to where to proceed to continue the narrative, often resulting in wandering the world and speaking to every NPC he encounters in hopes that someone will point him in the right direction. It’s also possible to get wrapped up in side quests without a clear understanding of whether these will aid you in continuing the core narrative. As such, the game is better suited toward those players who wish to wander freely, and less so for those who wish to have a regular stream of defined objectives.

The player is equipped with a rather standard top-down action moveset. You begin with a sword that can be swung in four directions to hit enemies, and can also be used to break rocks, cut grass, and smash pots, per the conventions of The Legend of Zelda, from which this game draws inspiration. In addition, you have a projectile weapon in the form of arrows which can be tossed in eight directions to hit enemies at a distance, although many enemies can block these attacks. Pressing both ATTACK buttons together allows for a special attack. New weapons are discovered along the way, each with different ranges and speeds, although there are no stats to speak of, so the player is left to experiment with which weapon types work best.

Inventory is handled in a peculiar way as well. Rather than entering a pause menu to cycle through your weapons and other items, you instead employ a person to carry your wares for you in a backpack. This fellow will also do a bit of work when it comes to defeating monsters, although he largely acts in self-defense. When you wish to access your inventory, you issue a command, at which point your companion stops in his tracks and opens the bag… and you jump inside! The bag is bigger on the inside, featuring several rooms, including an aquarium, a room for your money (called “Kurency”), a restroom, an area for your quest items, and an armory for your weapons which may be picked up and equipped from here as well. When you are finished, you call to your companion again, and he lowers a rope down into the bag/room so you can climb back out.

Even conversing with NPC’s is a bit strange… NPC’s begin speaking when you simply walk into them, rather than requiring a button press to initiate a conversation as is the case in most games in the genre. However, all of the NPC’s also have separate dialogue if you strike them with your melee weapon. In many instances, this is just a humorous quip about your weapon, or a plea to stop hitting them, but it’s also a good way to get additional information. As such, it’s a good practice to speak with every NPC you encounter and then immediately crack them in the skull with your sword to see what else they have to say.

Adding to the strangeness is the fact that all of the world’s “buildings” are actually the bodies of animals… usually living animals. Apparently, homes and shops are built by growing these animals, with new rooms being added as the creatures increase in size. Each of these creatures has a door and doesn’t appear to mind being entered or lived in, and some of them will even greet you! You’ll find yourself travelling into the bodies of giant pandas, birds, fish, lizards, and all manner of wildlife throughout your adventure.

The game features an overworld, allowing the player to travel from village to village, enter dungeons, and fight through forests and other environments that act as transitions from one area of the map to the next. On rare occasions, you may find creatures running around the world map, and touching one sends you to a confined area with several different creatures to be fought, as well as a flashing square that allows you to return to the overworld.

Dungeons operate similarly to those found in The Legend of Zelda, with doorways allowing players to move between interconnected rooms, although there is less of a focus on using items as a means of progression. Still, there are a number of puzzles to be solved, such as statues that can be shot with arrows to swap you with the statue’s location, allowing you to cross gaps and activate weighted switches. Early on, you will encounter a dungeon known as the Eagle Shrine, which features a floor layout that is nearly identical to that of the first dungeon in The Legend of Zelda, which was also presented in the shape of an eagle.

Breaking pots and cutting grass allows you to discover hearts which restore a bit of your health, and you will occasionally consume Great Hearts, which offer you a permanent health increase. In neo-retro fashion, hearts are not represented in the traditional cutesy abstract style, but rather rendered as realistic body organs which the player must consume. Checkpoints are very frequent, with auto-saves occurring at every doorway, so you’ll rarely need to repeat much gameplay even if you do “die”. Enemy movements tend to be simple and easy to predict, so death – such as it is – is fairly infrequent as well, although there are some very challenging boss encounters that push the difficulty well beyond the game’s other encounters.

Spread throughout the world and dungeons are treasure chests that may contain money, hearts, items, or sometimes spiders that come out to attack you. Finding money is actually quite rare, although equally rare are instances where you require currency, as most items and equipment are found by exploring the world rather than making purchases. You will occasionally find special medallions that allow you to perform combos with your melee weapon for a limited time, essentially amounting to a higher attack speed which comes in handy when fighting of swarms of enemies.

The primary reward for toughing your way through dungeons and taking down bosses comes in the form of “spectrum shards”. Each shard has a different color and shape. In fact, when you die and go into the afterlife, you can see the world below you with color highlights showing where these shards may be found and guiding your adventure in that direction. You and your brother explore and fight to find these shards in the hope of bringing color to their world.

The game features a number of interesting scenarios, although some of these run counter to the traditional genre mechanics, which can make them a bit difficult to understand. For instance, one quest giver asks for water, and nearby is a girl carrying water, but no amount of speaking to these characters will make her give you any water, nor will she deliver it for you. Instead, you must use the traditional PUSH move – which is used in RPG’s to shove NPC’s out of the way – to push the girl over to the entrance of the building (a giant fish) and shove her inside. Since most games don’t allow NPC’s to pass through doorways, the solution isn’t immediately apparent.

That said, the game’s quirky world allows for a number of unique experiences, such as climbing inside the body of a large enemy to attack its heart from within and riding on the back of a giant turtle to move across a body of water. In addition, Roy and Bivare’s ability to enter the afterlife presents situations where puzzles may be solved by purposely allowing your character to die.

Narratively, the game has a strange tale to tell, although the storytelling is not always clear. Aside from the general lack of direction present in the nonlinear world, the game is occasionally put on hold in favor of lengthy rambling soliloquies from the philosophical protagonist, and is punctuated with occasional grammar and spelling issues. However, there is a good deal of variety in the game’s environments and villages, and plenty of humor to be found in the various dialogue exchanges. In addition to the obvious and numerous Legend of Zelda references, the game also refers to a number of contemporary indie games, including A.N.N.E and Delver’s Drop.

Ackk Studios was founded in 2010, although development of Two Brothers did not begin until 2012. The studio is comprised of six core members: programmer and artist Brian Allanson, composer Andrew Allanson, level designer and quest creator Ian Bailey, sound designer Jose Alfaro, illustrator Brigid Allanson, and Anthony Manfredonia who created additional music tracks for the game. Two Brothers was funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign.