Unrest is an indie RPG set in the unconventional locale of ancient India, and lack of convention is the crux of its design. Constructed as a top-down 2D adventure, combat is essentially non-existent and interaction occurs instead through an intricate conversation system designed to manipulate each level’s colourful residents. Five equally intriguing protagonists offer five distinct stories; the rich overarching narrative is explored from a diverse set of perspectives in a setting where ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are subjective labels.
Developer Pyrodactyl achieves an extraordinary amount of energy and detail in their creation of a thriving Indian city. Each expansive chapter boast a variety of personalities, discourse, and spectacle. Walking through scenes evokes the atmosphere of passing through a real town, where every NPC has their own tale and individuality. Graphics are represented by charming hand-drawn art and the style of the UI, fonts and soundtrack are reminiscent of traditional Indian origins.
Particularly engaging, every new location and encounter is recorded in a journal that can be read for extra flavour – even minor characters all have unique, reactive chatter, and the world breathes with stories to be discovered. The writing is also excellent, which is essential considering a heavy focus on dialogue.
Unrest encourages players to manoeuvre their way through complex social exchanges to progress an elaborate narrative, and aid – or ruin – the protagonist’s goals. At the top of each dialogue box, three bars indicate an encountered character’s attitudes, and these are influenced by the selection of one of three replies. The available approaches vary as to each NPC’s context, making conversations appear to be far more interesting than the unrealistic blue/red, good/bad, choices common to many modern RPGs. The “brilliant complexity” of this system has been predominantly stated in Unrest’s marketing – sadly, the reality is slightly disappointing.
The tone-reactive personality bars are largely superficial, and the branching dialogue paths have little significant effect on the overall outcome. The same chapters always follow the same plotline, and even a protagonist’s death does not halt the weary trudge forward. For the promise of combined factors influencing the epilogue, only a few specific decisions are represented in the end-state. Mechanics occasionally interfere with the narrative, such as during one chapter when I was approached by a rough-looking child from the slum, honourably offering to help me to my feet. “Should I have faith in the integrity of a fellow sufferer, or give in to the cynicism that pervades this district?” I asked myself contemplatively, before noticing his personality bars indicated intense disdain and merely fake concern for my well-being.
Some bugs were consistently persistent, from trivial spelling mistakes and a crude walking animation, to an increasingly aggravating screen flash after every single conversation choice. In some conversations, text would act as if I had selected a different dialogue option, or would dismiss my choices entirely – presumably so as not to disrupt the previously determined linear plot.
Within the story, the mythical ‘Naga’ are a serpent race whose prosperous empire seeks to offload its excess workforce onto the human cities. Unrest takes advantage of this political conflict, and the player can opt to sympathize with immigrants thrust into an unfamiliar environment, or alternatively, take a stand against the outsiders appropriating food and starving humans. Naga are no explicit villains, and each chapter explores an alternative perspective to the predicament, sympathies constantly being shifted; yet their inclusion remains slightly bewildering, an immersion-breaker to an otherwise historically influenced representation of ancient India.
Fortunately the human/Naga conflict is written well, and it creates a setting wherein social questions and injustices can be explored. The five protagonists’ stories are surprisingly diverse, portraying unconventional narratives for women in games. For instance, 15 year old Tanya is a victim of the city’s classist society, forced into an arranged marriage in order to improve her family’s standing. You can choose how to resolve dilemmas such as this, evaluating what is truly morally correct within a complex context. Exploration of each level reveals a variety of vignettes reflecting the impact of social status. These character’s problems are often unable to be solved, and so they serve as harsh reminders of a bitter reality. The realistic representation of a patriarchal society is certainly emotive: the intense fear a woman expressed when I spoke to her first instead of her husband stayed with me.
There are no all-powerful heroes: only victims of circumstance. Moral decisions are purposefully ambiguous, and you are punished for acting naively. It often feels like whatever path is chosen the outcome is always bleak – and this is a crucial notion. Though somewhat dissatisfying to play, thematically, static chapters and ineffective dialogue choices feel like a reflection of the futility of disadvantaged individuals to make revolutionary changes. It is a refreshing perspective compared to the world-shattering influence of most RPG heroes. Comparatively, Unrest is far more humanizing and ultimately asserts a more powerful message: that there is never a perfect solution to minimize human (and Naga) suffering. Unfortunately, for an enjoyable adventure title, this message is rather depressing.
But why is it that enjoyment is so commonly seen as the primary goal, the only measure of success? ‘Tragedy’ has always been a popular dramatic form within novels and films – yet the word “game” is almost synonymous with “fun.” Unrest proposes the purpose of this medium does not have to be to provide recreational light entertainment. Instead, it succeeds by making us think, empathize, and question morality. It does not have to offer a shallow happy ending – through a thoughtful story and humble characters, it gives us a lot more.
- Makes you think
- Complex social exchanges
- Excellent writing
- Branching dialogue doesn't have a massive effect on ending
- A bit depressing