In chapter two of My Big Sister, I start with a bird’s eye view of a therapist’s office. From my perch, I can see a little girl sitting in a chair. Her eyes are cast downward, feet barely touching the ground. The therapist has his back to me, and he speaks reassuringly to his patient.
The scene plays out typically until an undead girl suddenly appears out of thin air and eats the shrink in one bite. I’m startled – clearly this scenario isn’t what I’m expecting. Such is the nature of this storytelling adventure from the one man team of Stranga Games.
A Tale of Two Sisters
The game is centered around a sarcastic twelve year old girl named Luzia and her older sister Sombria. Much like the contrasting aspects of light and shadow that their names represent, the two are at odds with each other. They bicker constantly. Their sibling feud, however, is short lived, as the sisters find themselves kidnapped by a witch.
After Sombria is cursed and transformed into a Yokai ghost, it’s up to Luzia to find a way to return her big sister to normal, get them both home, and unlock the secrets to a much larger conspiracy the two are embroiled in.
The game is a top down, 8 bit adventure ala the old NES and Gameboy video aesthetics that a lot of indie games have embraced lately. I found the graphics to be oddly effective, matching the quirky tone that the game establishes for itself.
The world of My Big Sister, a peri-urban japantown complete with haunted cityscapes, bathhouses for the undead, and noodle shops for wandering spirits, is showcased well in this medium.
The music is equally effective – it’s crucial to get the sound right in a horror game. I was riveted by bloody scene reveals that were showcased in a high pitch ringing ambience or somber piano medley. My Big sister understands horror. The sounds match the settings, characters, and story arcs.
Minimum Game, Maximum Story
Ultimately, My Big Sister is a minimalist gameplay offering. As Luzia, you have a few directional buttons, an interaction key, and a small menu to show you the few items you need to solve puzzles. There are eight short chapters resulting in a few hours game time. Most of this is spent either exploring, uncovering an item you need to progress, or watching cut-scenes.
The puzzles are simple and offer no real challenge. Game progression is short and decidedly linear. Your job is to move narrative along. This might bother some casual players, but gameplay isn’t really the point here. My Big Sister has something to say, and it’s rewarding to listen. It’s surprising to see where this story goes. I found myself playing the game in its entirety just to see how it ends.
However, this does not mean this tale is perfect. The dialogue relies on some horror cliches. The story jumps a little too quickly at times from horror to humor, sad to silly, and mystery to revelation.
It’s a tonal jumble, for certain, but hey, so is childhood. This game never loses sight of the fact that it’s telling a story about growing up. As such, My Big Sister is consistent and enjoyable despite some narrative flaws.
The game poignantly covers serious themes of growth, familial responsibility, sibling rivalry, illness, isolation, and mental health, all in the course of a few hours of gameplay. It’s commendable that the developer has you tackle such serious life lessons in the confines of a short game.
The biggest issue I have with My Big Sister is the presentation of its ending. There are multiple conclusions to unlock, but the game inadequately prepares you for this. Since I had just spent seven chapters going through very specific, orchestrated gameplay beats, I was surprised when I went through the same motions and naturally unlocked the “Bad Ending”.
Afterwards, the credits informed me I could do better. I think the game could have done better. Some additional dialogue and character interactions that prepare players to truly hunt for a more hidden, optimal ending would have been helpful, rather than just surprising us through freedom of choice.
In conclusion, despite its gameplay minimalism and one or two narrative hiccups, I truly enjoyed My Big Sister‘s brief outing. Much like the relationship of the two sisters this game is centered on, you’ll find something that is both quirky and complete, with a real perspective and sense of self.
If you want to know more about My Big Sister, you can find this indie game on the Humble Store here. The price-tag is 5.99€ or your regional equivalent.