Bhimra’s Central Palace
Unrest plays in a 2-dimensional perspective, with graphics designed to look hand-drawn. A large portion of the game will involve making dialogue choices to influence NPCs and progress the story. NPCs will all possess and react based on three values: Friendship, Respect, and Fear.Combat will be relatively rare, always avoidable, and very risky. However, it should be noted that playable character death does not result in a Game Over.Instead the game proceeds to the next chapter, with the previous playable character’s death influencing how the story ultimately plays out.
Shyam, the mercenary captain
The game takes place in ancient India in a time of great social upheaval, but will also contain some fantasy elements, such as the Naga, a race of snake-like humanoids. The game’s story is divided into eight chapters, with players taking on the role of five different characters, who each have their own backstory. The playable characters include a peasant girl who doesn’t want to go through with her arranged marriage, an elderly priest, the chief of the mercenary guild, and the sole heir of the former royal family who now lives as a street urchin.
History tends to chronicle the epic wars and fantastic feats of bravery. Many of the video games too tend to go down on that path. However, there are some daring independent and large game studios that have ventured into making games which show and educate people the other side of war. Unrest is one such game from a small indie developer, that allows you to experience what it was like living in ancient India. Bhimra is one of the mightiest and richest cities of ancient India. However, a severe drought brings the city down to its knees. The hunger and disease drives the residents of the city to the edge, and you get to experience it first hand from five viewpoints. A princess is forced to flee from her palace and hide in slums. A diplomat from the Nagas, a race of snake people, doing everything to mend the strained diplomatic relations between the two races. A mercenary captain trying to maintain peace in a city on the verge of violence and riot. A priest facing the hard decision of losing his faith or his family. Lastly, a young girl who is forced to marry for the survival of her village. As these people struggle to survive, a rebellion is brewing.
The interior of a grand temple
However, once you get to the stories, that’s where the real magic of Unrest sets in. Each of the story is powerful in its own right, the ones that hit the hardest are the peasant girl Tanya; the fallen princess Asha; and the priest Bhagwan. Most of your time is spent in conversations, where your replies shape your fate for good or ill, and discourse is rarely straightforward; Unrest is not a game that provides easy answers to complicated issues. Instead, you are rewarded for your ability to intelligently weave your way through conversations, suppressing any penchant for a brazen response. Yielding to the social laws is hardly virtuous, but it could keep you breathing.
The conversation interface
You wade through each of these stories through lots of written text and conversations where you have to make dialogue choices. To aid you in the tone of each dialogue is a helpful one-word description that helps you plan how to negotiate and talk yourself out of situations. You play the game from a top-down three quarters perspective, very much like Diablo and Baldurs Gate. Dialogues appear in big boxes filled with text. All dialogues are written. Yes, there is also a bit of violence, very little though. So, if you like hacking things up with swords and are averse to reading, then stop right now, Unrest is not the game for you. The developers have focused all efforts into crafting a rich world with lots of written dialogue with emotional depth, taking into consideration the caste system that has been a big part of India then and now too. You are forced to make tough decisions just for a meagre piece of bread, or for your very survival. The writing is top notch, and there are times where you will pause the game to absorb the gravity of the situation and your decision. Things really don’t let up in the game, and you actually feel for these characters.
Talking to everyone you meet can open new quest options.
With different ways to approach situations, Unrest encourages multiple playthroughs. Unfortunately, in replaying the game, I found myself disappointed by how completed stories affect the overall plot. Unrest claims that characters, left alive or otherwise, blend naturally into the game’s narrative after their tales are finished. However, only two individuals were ever mentioned, one of them just in a passing comment. In reality, the characters’ plights and their impact on the plot are superficial, existing merely to give you the impression that their lives changed something. But I found myself most disappointed in the game’s central story. Out of the four playable characters, there is one whose placement in the narrative is an anomaly; she experiences the hardships of her world, but no matter your influence on it, you cannot alter her course. I had even tried replaying certain sections in an effort to sabotage the final sequence of events, choosing options that I felt could have affected her path, but to no avail. Unrest ultimately opts for what is almost a fairy-tale-like conclusion, which goes against the messages that paved the way. At the end of her journey, the character ends up in a situation similar to the one that started it; the ending, uninspired, rang hollow. After I completed Unrest, I spent some time contemplating the circular logic behind the conclusion. I thought, perhaps, that the game was attempting to explain that no matter how hard we try to change our destinies, fate is carved in stone and impervious to our influence. But I could be searching for a deeper meaning where one doesn’t exist. A quote by a character near the end of the game seems appropriate: “When you get lost in a happy story, all the other details and consequences are nothing, and anything becomes possible.”
You can’t make everyone happy, especially the desperate.
While Unrest scores high in its simple yet effective writing, the graphics leave more to be desired. Sure, at first glance, the hand drawn visuals bring to mind Bal Bharati text book illustrations most Indians are familiar with in school. This also brings a bit of nostalgia in the first hour of the game or so. However, the gritty realism in the story loses a bit when it comes to the presentation. Even something close to the first Baldurs Gate or the original Diablo would have increased the impact of the story ten-fold. Unrest is a beautifully written tale, with stories from a fantasy ancient troubled time that punch you in the stomach. Think of it as an interactive book, where you drive the story through clever dialogues. Recommended for gamers who want something different and non-gamers who want something that’s not unconventional to read and experience.
- Tackles challenging ethical dilemmas
- Well written
- Mature and realistic
- Offers a completely new experience, from a novel point of view
- Very short
- Characters walk slowly and weirdly
Conclusion Unrest offers a gripping story about hope, failure, action and inaction, fear and security, which feels more like an interactive visual novel than an actual game. And a well-written one, at that. Sort of like A Game of Thrones without endlessly waiting for the dragons to come, the game delivers its quick shot of gripping narrative, challenges you to make a couple of life and death decisions, then leaves you boiling in the karmic print of your choices.