In Bittersweet Birthday’s demo, I’m just a precocious young boy with a head full of hair and a backpack slung over my shoulder. And yet here I am waking up in a cold, sterile cell deep in the bowels of an abandoned lab. A voice on the radio warns me to be careful, and I creep past damaged hospital beds, blood splattered doors, and big buttons meant to activate containment measures. For what initially appeared like a cutesy adventure ala Earthbound or Undertale, this is not the tone I expected from the outset. Before too long, I’m stuck in a giant metal room, and a young crow-boy hybrid calling himself the Dark Sun is shooting hundreds of arrows and fireballs at me.
It’s the kind of bullet hell experience anyone who’s played Eldest Souls or Titan Souls will be familiar with. My screen quickly fills with waves and waves of feathers that cut into me, or explode on a delayed fuse. Periodically, my foe sprints across the arena, leaving trails of fire in his wake. My only solution is to dodge-roll and quickly counter with a three-punch combo, laying on the pressure when I break his focus and stun him on the ground. After several brutal attempts, I finally claim victory. Rather than answers, I’m greeted with a sudden shift to a scenic cliffside view overlooking a vast seaside mountain range. Bittersweet Birthday certainly isn’t afraid of massive tonal shifts.
My crow acquaintance reappears in the sky, vowing revenge with the theatrics of a 13-year-old goth kid discovering Edgar Allan Poe. Turns out he’s my brother Rocc, and he’s quickly scolded by our mutual mother, who reminds him he needs to get to work guarding the town from calamity. Only mom isn’t…a mom. She’s a walking, talking pile of glitchy pixels, like a Tetris block come to life. Even in this strange, rapidly shifting world, she sticks out. But if it matters to the player character and his supposed bird brother, no one comments on it.
Bittersweet Birthday’s demo quickly shifts to a familiar old school RPG adventure format from there. Mom reminds Rocc and I that there’s a concert happening tonight in our bustling village, and it’s my brother’s responsibility as Guardian of the region to make sure no harm befalls either the townspeople or any of the metalhead concertgoers. Rocc scoffs, reminding mom that “the great evil” hasn’t been seen for nine generations, and none of the similarly bird-man Guardians before him had to do anything of note. It’s quite the lore dump, but it’s handled with enough conversational grace and trickled out slowly enough that I’m interested to see wherever this peculiar tale of two brothers might go.