Visual novel crossed with Blood Bowl is not a combination I was expecting. However, that's what I got when I opened up Pyre. I found myself cast in the role of "reader", an omniscient character who just happens to encounter a team of three rebels, trying to escape from exile. I am the only person who can understand their mystic tome of knowledge and perform the rites of the stars, which give the rebels their one and only possible method to get back to civilisation.
Playing magic rugby.
No, seriously. Our team have to get the magic star crystal (ball) past the opposing team, and plunge it into their sacred fire (goal), to build up tithe (points) and so prove ourselves worthy recipients of the god's glory (be the winner). The games are fast and frantic, and this can lead to a bit of difficulty with the control system. I've primarily played with a keyboard/mouse combo, and have occasionally found myself failing rather badly by hitting the wrong key at just the wrong moment. I really must have a look at trying a controller with it, to see if that's any easier.
It's a bit of rugby (running with the ball), bit of basketball (passing to teammates), bit of strategy (different types of player, levelling up-ness, equippable items etc) and a bit of dueling (using your spiritual energy to throw opponents into the sin bin).
The games are given a running commentary by a Jeremy Irons-alike, who is archly sarcastic, and one of the most fun elements. The commentary is always precise to the actual game timeline (which might not actually be that technically impressive, but I don't play many sports games, so it seems nifty to me) and provides a little burst of shame when you fail miserably.
The sporting element is surprisingly good fun, for someone who doesn't really play this sort of thing, and seems to be pegged at just about the right difficulty level, such that I've managed to avoid rage-quitting thus far. There's nothing unfair about it, in that the AI doesn't seem to have any artificial advantages above and beyond the expected rules.
The rugby rites are strung between a quaint little visual novel, with our team of cultists struggling through a deadly world, while trying to cling onto hope and sanity against difficult odds. Their characters are sufficiently distinct to stay interesting throughout, and the story behind the world is a rather glorious plot. This is a little bare at times though, and could be written a little more lengthily. It felt like I was skimming a lot of the time. Does have a rather cool feature of hovering over keywords to tell you more about the world though.
It's an unexpected little gem that I find myself liking more every time I come back to it. If you hate sports games with a passion, it's probably not for you. But if you have any interest, might be worth a look.