My Big Sister is one of those rare gems which manages to draw upon various pop culture influences, be it Western or Eastern, melding all of its inspirations together to create something that ends up being far bigger than the sum of its influences. There are all these little homages to iconic films in both Western and Eastern cinema – everything from Spirited Away (2001) to Exorcist (1973) – but all these ideas somehow come together to create something which ultimately feels wholly original and inventive. My Big Sister doesn’t have much of an asking price, and so it won’t set your budget back too much in order to experience an engaging puzzle adventure driven by a truly gripping story.
Story is the major crux of My Big Sister, and as the title would imply it is a tale of two sisters who must navigate a setting where the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. It is a surrealist style of fantasy world, one that is grounded in some places and yet oddly supernatural in others. What really adds to the surrealism is the sense of normality which the characters exhibit in their reaction to the world they occupy. In My Big Sister players take control of Luzia, a young girl who is shockingly pragmatic for a 12-year-old, even when facing the most shocking and disturbing situations. Luzia is certainly a well written character with consistently amusing dialogue (especially her observations) and her goal is to help her ghoulish looking sister Sombria (lovingly nicknamed as Sombie) reach home and break a rather complicated curse.
Luzia and Sombria share a charming and relatable sibling dynamic, and in their complicated relationship dictated by supernatural forces, there are heartwarming moments of sisterly love, and yet just as many moments of senseless bickering and name-calling (things occasionally get weirdly creepy too). Luzia and Sombria share a confusing yet unbreakable sibling bond, and the way their relationship is portrayed feels very authentic. Their story is a complicated yet fascinating journey to stay together as a family, all while they try to break a terrifying curse, with which they encounter some truly horrific situations. The explicit content and strong language warning at the start of the game isn’t kidding around.
What’s fascinating about My Big Sister is that it is a cohesive juxtaposition of themes and emotions, as the game shifts from being a tense horror adventure to a charming fantastical adventure, and it ranges from moments which are clever and funny to those which are downright disturbing to stomach. Yet, despite these juxtapositions there is never any inconsistency in the narrative and character development, as everything comes together in such an organic fashion that you can’t help but applaud the script.
There are many themes and plot devices used, from flashbacks to time skips to reality bending, and yet underlying all those twists, turns, and loops is a consistent sense of profound existentialism. Everything about My Big Sister, from the scary bits to the confusing, all touch upon the awe, wonder, and horror which come when coming to terms with existence. Thankfully, My Big Sister is rarely ever presumptuous or pretentiously philosophical in its approach, instead letting the characters and their plight deliver these profound themes and messages for the player to take in at their own pace.
Speaking of not being presumptuous, as an adventure game built around puzzle-solving My Big Sister rarely ever gets confusing or convoluted in its gameplay. The puzzles are clever enough to be challenging and yet not simple enough to be too obvious. Some puzzles come together quite naturally as they probe a player’s sense of grounded logic, and the occasional supernatural puzzles have satisfying eureka moments as you figure out their solution. The gameplay flow melds nicely with the narrative flow, and there’s never a sense of contradiction as the puzzles tend to be based on situations unfolding in the story. The most satisfying is figuring out the true ending out of the other possible outcomes, which is a satisfying conclusion that leaves the player with plenty to speculate.
As smooth as the game flows, there are occasional glitches and bugs but nothing which can be deemed as game-breaking. There are other nagging moments too, such as when NPC dialogue does not update after major events unfolding, and minor things like this can take you out of the immersion which the game as a whole does such a great job of otherwise.
My Big Sister on Xbox One is visually and artistically a very limited game, and yet even its amateur assets somehow create a game world which players will easily immerse themselves into, and also be genuinely unnerved by the blood and gore despite the graphical simplicity. What brings it all together so well is the music, a fantastic soundtrack with a mix of peaceful oriental instrumental pieces and, at opportune times, some truly creepy tunes which will make you reconsider playing the game at night. It’s a memorable soundtrack for sure.
My Big Sister is about telling a profoundly memorable story, and doing so via a puzzle-adventure vehicle which is just as enjoyable. There is a nice meld of story development and puzzle solving which helps My Big Sister feel like more of a video game than most narrative-focused adventure games. My Big Sister is all about the value of family, and yet it is also about the value of one’s existence in the grand cosmic scheme of things. Not many games will make you confront the awe and horror of existentialism.