The Sexy Brutale: Timeless Masquerade
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
Dear readers: am I missing something? I am genuinely asking, as every time I see a masquerade party everyone seems to be having a blast. Am I missing out on beautiful musical numbers under the approval of not Satan? Am I missing out on masked orgies? (Great place to meet people so I have heard).
But more importantly, am, I missing out on attending parties at Sexy Brutale esque locations? I think I need to re-examine my social life, maybe join a few masquerade balls, hell I might even stumble into a masked orgy one day (could be worse). However, for now I have to make do with games such as the Sexy Brutale. It is a pretty great game!
Think of the Sexy Brutale as a Goundhog Day murder mystery. Similar to Happy Death Day with instead of Slashers it is Agatha Christie. You are Lafcadio Boone, a preacher who discovers himself trapped in a time loop at the yearly masquerade party at the Sexy Brutale casino. A strange entity known as Blood Girl (seriously she appears and disappears in a pool of blood) gives you a magic stop watch and asks you to save the various colourful party members. Along the way you try to uncover the reason why the servants are killing the guests and what is causing the loop.
Within the first few hours I thought (emphasis on the word thought) that I had the plot all figured out. The Sexy Brutale goes to places that I didn’t expect it to go (more on that later). Nor did I expect it to be as haunting as it turned out to be. The writing is great at waving in dry witty humour and personal tragedy without any total backlash. Nor did I expect the story to escalate in the ways it does. I am deeply impressed.
Deliver us from evil
I would like to examine Lafcadio Boone in detail (he will pose as the example of visual charactiztion and charactor action). He is great example of a silent protagonist that is not a pair of trousers for the player to slip on. I love the little touches that make him feel alive.
Like how, before the cupboard doors close Lafcadio makes a little cross. A little prayer to god to protection from being found, displaying both his faith and his fear of his foes discovering him.
The fact that he is a man of the church, saving people who are killed by the nefarious servants and reliving them of their various burdens (as metaphoric by the masks) is highly satisfying. It is also thematically appropriate for him because (ideally) Christians want to help people and relieve them of the various burdens that are straying them away from living happy lives (or dying).
Boone becomes the personification of good against the evil personified by the servants (whose grotesque bug like gas masks say everything). Boone becomes the savour of the people in the Sexy Brutale against a seemingly unstoppable evil (time and servants). Good fighting and slowly winning against time the inevitable.
That is not to say that all of the servants are bad people (though most of them are happily willing to kill). One such is in the private bar where Aurum Runes has a drink. The servant for the briefest of minutes regrets the murders and his participation in them.
Even if he doesn’t do anything to prevent Aurun Runes’s death. He shows the smallest bit of doubt, the smallest bit of humanity that makes the villain (at least until the twist) less than a cardboard cut out.
Time is omnipotent. It is barely controllable. Time as a theme is always present. The ticking of the clock is always present in the sound design. Boone has only a limited time to save a certain guest at any given time.
He both has all the time in the world and simultaneously never enough time to save the rest. The presence of clocks (motif) too are a constant reminder of time progressing. You have to complete certain tasks. Boone, despite having the ability to rewind time, is still helpless against the march of time.
Everything that is solved or obtained (asides from a few set items) get lost after the time loop is reset. Even if you save someone in one time loop they will not be saved within the next loop. You can only helplessly watch and listen to the sounds of people dying while you save the other. That person that is being saved, will only die in the next loop. You are helpless even with the power of time. Your desperation to save people from their horrible fate is a futile attempt of goodwill.
All this and masks
Considering that the casino is in the middle of a masquerade party everyone is dressed in their own costumes. As a metaphor this is rich in possibilities for interpretation. One can see the masks as a metaphor for what the wearer wants to be seen as.
Rather than their true selves. Boone and Golden Mask (one of the main antagonists) are prime examples of this metaphor for dishonestly. They are not what they seem nor are their motivations entirely what they seem. Golden Mask might want to see the guests die. But in reality his motivations are almost altruistic. Boone might be a kindly preacher who saves the souls of the guests.
However he is also tormented by his own personal problems and flaws. His good side is constantly fighting with some unsavoury aspects of his personality. (More on that later).
Masks also serve as a metaphor for burden. All the guests experience relief and a sense of clarity upon being saved. And one such expression of that relief is by removing the mask. Eventually all the characters are relieved of their masks and of their burdens. In doing so they are allowed to let go of their regrets and mistakes. They are able to live their lives as a result.
(Spoilers for the Sexy Brutale )
Boone, Golden mask, the servants and Lucas Bondes are all aspects of the same man (Lucas Bondes). Bondes, in all his good intentions, wanted to commit insurance fraud so he could insure the financial security of his family (blowing up the Sexy Brutale). However due to a terrible mistake. The bomb goes off too soon, which results in the deaths of everyone present at the masquerade party.
Being sole survivor, Lucas was torn apart by guilt and shame for his actions. He used his inventions to control time and forced himself to watch deaths of his friends over and over again. But his desire to redeem himself caused him to create the persona of Boone as the good side. Golden Mask formed his darker side, the feeling that they desired to die. It is only by accepting his guilt, he can redeem himself. At the core of the Sexy Brutale, redemption is the core theme. It is a story about a man who is so wrapped up in his own guilt and shame that he tortures himself for his crime. All the while desiring forgiveness that he feels he can never get.
The Sexy Brutale uses science fantasy to tell a tragic story about one man’s struggle for redemption. A need to let go of the past while trapped inside it. It is a surprisingly haunting title that manages its rather twisting subject matter very well.
The Sexy Brutale is at its core a point and click puzzle game. The difference is with the lack of moon logic that marr the average point and click game. There is also the real time aspect of the gameplay. It is more complex than just rubbing various interpretations of keys on various interpretations of doors.
At the start of each loop everything that is picked up or done is reversed. As a result, you have to memorise the location of key items and the movements of the person you have to save. It is unlike anything that I have seen in past adventure games.
All the time in the world
The main mechanic of the Sexy Brutale is the time loop itself. It is unlikely that you will have enough time to explore the relevant locations, track the movements of relevant people and understand what products go where before the day ends or the person dies.
As a result you have to memorise the movements of people according to time. Not to mention, to insure you can prevent bad things from happening. You also have to memorise the location of important items. Along with what you have to do with them within a limited time.
In any other game this might have been annoying trial and error. It is true to an extent but the relevant areas are rather small in design. This will allow the player to successfully memorising placement of items and movements without wasting time.
The Sexy Brutale offers a number of Clocks that allow you set the spawn point at the start of the loop. Insuring that time wasted from spawn points are minimised. Every time you crack something of the puzzle (another secret discovered, another hidden location) it is very satisfying, seeing the game save your progress provides the motivation to keep going.
Even though you lose most items once the loop is restarted (some exceptions like quest items are taken). You are encouraged to keep watch of your location, some items are only made available after a certain period of time. You are trained to be pragmatic, observant think critically and always manage the limited time you have. The loop might not be the most original mechanic, (Majora’s Mask has the same time loop mechanic). But it is well realised and well designed into the main puzzles.
Speaking of observation and monitoring movement, The Sexy Brutale’s other interesting mechanic is the fact that you cannot be in the same room with another person. Every time you encounter someone you have to leave the room or face a horrific game over.
As a result you have to monitor your enemies/ future murder victims from outside the room. Hiding in cupboards and watching through keyholes. This effectively fills in the possible plot hole of Boone just telling future murder victim to run away. You have to save them indirectly, through deduction of movements and listening in to conversations.
The guests and servants themselves become puzzles, puzzles that can be solved through observation and piecing together conversation. A puzzle within the overarching puzzle. It is immensely clever and intriguing to learn as you learn more about the person you are stalking. Motivation is provided for the player and we learn their movement patterns to help process the game. Reward and progression going hand in hand.
The Brutale itself
After saving someone you gain the power of their mask (Grayson Grayson for example can get you to unlock doors that were locked). This allows for organic exploration, somewhat similar to a metroidvania. This not only provides a sense of progress and reward for the player (another benefit to the metroidvania level design) for solving puzzles.
The Brutale expands as the player along with the story and gameplay. The Brutale itself feels alive, everyone is constantly moving, the ticking of the clock, the sound of each murder being committed. The world feels populated with people with their own agendas, the brilliant sound design reminding you of each murder.
This both works in terms of atmosphere but also encourages the player to maintain awareness of their surrounds. The inattentive player can easier be surprised by a sudden serpent/ guest that could spoil your plan before it gets into effect.
I do have a minor problem with the footstep sound effect. Because it is rather loud, and can often drown out other sounds unintentionally. But in most cases, you have to plan your strategy well and listen in order to avoid getting caught.
Art style and graphics:
The colourful, cartoonish visual design is timeless. (Pun not intentioned). Graphics wise, the Sexy Brutale is not technically the most impressive. However that does not stop the Sexy Brutale from looking beautiful with sharp, crisp colours.
(Please note: it turns out I was playing an outdated version of the game. A patch has reportedly fixed the problems listed here. Do not get the Humble Trove version. My criticisms on performance are null and void).
However there are some performance issues. Namely the freezing and long load times when entering large locations. It is distracting as otherwise the game runs quite well.
It is rather disappointing when you have to wait for upwards of a minute, before the game starts proper. Not to mention, you have to wait for thirty seconds before the room properly loads. You have to wonder what went wrong.
I love The Sexy Brutale, I truly do. It is an endlessly enjoyable, beautiful, finely crafted experience. Charming in its story and characters, I am more than happy to give this an entry into the Hall of Fame.