Brutal Orchestra's quirky premise makes purgatory compelling
The strange figure helping you navigate purgatory has some choice words when you encounter a possible recruit: "This one looks like he has some fight left in him. And the kind of self-loathing we can work with."
From its opening moments, Hieronymus Bosch's Brutal Orchestra deals with dark themes. In this turn-based roguelike strategy game, a demon named Bosch strikes a deal with you. Someone has murdered you and sent you to purgatory. The upside is that, eventually, your killer will join you in this place as well. Bosch can help you enact your vengeance when the time comes; but first, you'll need to create a party of misfits.
If you're familiar with the likes of The Binding of Isaac or Undertale, Brutal Orchestra relies on a similar style of bittersweet humor. During a run, you're given a variety of possible paths to choose from before you eventually face the area's boss encounter. While most of these routes lead to combat, you can find other inhabitants who will constantly remind you of the situation that you all find yourself in.
"I died itchy and now I can't scratch," says a handless skeleton upon greeting them. "My only regret is hesitation," they add, evoking sentiments of a past life. Others tell you about how much they miss their dog, or how they "did wanna live after all." These interactions are poignant messages about the scars of the afterlife, though they're often quite brief.
Meeting a potential party member results in similar conversations. Some characters might ask for mundane things, like money. There are more specific requests, such as killing a specific enemy type multiple times, or losing a companion to please a being with a bifurcated personality. It all sounds gritty—it's purgatory, after all—but Brutal Orchestra knows how to make the setting compelling, not disturbing.
Take the Music Man, for example. Whenever you engage in combat with this foe, a jazzy song kicks off in the background. The enemy's idle animation has them headbanging to the beat. If you fail to defeat them in time, they'll use their "feel the rhythm" ability, which morphs them into one out of three instrument-looking creatures that wouldn't be out of place in the real Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. After this transformation takes place, a new instrument is also added to the background music, turning the fight into a cacophony.
Brutal Orchestra shifts misery into curiosity. I've learned that equipping the stigmata item to a party member grants them a chance for an extra turn, and that I should keep an eye out for used syringes whenever I encounter a shop. The creature Revola has a chance of using an ability called "head in the clouds," and its description reminds you that you can only push someone so far before they stand up for themselves. When the ability is triggered, the enemy grows a long pair of legs that crash against the ground so hard next turn that they inflict damage to your whole party.
The afterlife tasks this band of misfits to constantly reconcile with a decayed environment, where hints of previous human emotions are turned and twisted together into something truly grotesque. However, at least they're not alone in their struggles.