Before we get started here, I’d like to state that the majority of this analysis will be my interpretation on the events of the game. To get the most out of this, it would be best if you had played the game first. If not, then reading this could either A) Completely spoil the game for you, or B) Give you more of a drive to play the game. I don’t know which it will be, because susceptibility to spoilers changers per person, and I don’t know how much of a giveaway this analysis will be of the events in the game.
You could just play it safe and play this incredible, time-manipulation-oriented game prior to reading this. It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen in gaming. Others have attempted it, yes, but Braid was the first to actually succeed, and what an overwhelming success it was.
This game doesn’t just allow you to rewind time on a whim. It allows you to rewind specific objects through time, freeze time in localized areas, match the movement of time with your forward or backward motions. Braid gives you an incredible variety of control over the flow of time, and this plays a very important role in the understanding of the game’s events. Similar to The Company of Myself, this game immerses the player in the character’s story by forcing them to take part in the character’s actions.
The ingenuity of it all comes from the various ways the player must manipulate time to reach the goal of each level. As soon as you have learned one method, feel like you have mastered it, another, completely different mode of manipulation is thrown your way. As soon as the player is comfortable with reversing the flow of time, they have to deal with objects that don’t obey the manipulations. After that are the character’s shadows, or “ghosts,” which are essentially time-space duplicates.
After each component is mastered, a new way of thinking must be learned. At the peak of each new method of manipulation, the player is able to logically deduce how to solve every problem. They feel intelligent in a new way, and they feel on top of their game. It’s a good feeling, but the very next level breaks that down. Back to the basics. The player must relearn everything they thought they knew. As frustrating as it can be, it builds a kind of self-confidence; an ability to start from nothing and reach any goal that needs to be achieved. It formulates the concept, however faint, that nothing is impossible, that tasks can always be accomplished. This is the psychological reward of a game such as Braid.
The storyline, if properly deciphered, or even realized, is something that can be much more rewarding. Now, if you have not played Braid yet, and do not want anything spoiled, I would stop here. Otherwise, carry on.
Most people will understand the fact that Tim left someone he loved to pursue someone or something else, some will see that the princess is a metaphor for the atomic bomb, but few will see that there are two storylines: A metaphorical one, played forwards, and a romantic one, played backwards. I’ll start with the metaphorical, as it will be easier to see, therefore, easier to understand.
Note how Tim leaves the girl to pursue the Princess. All throughout the game, he is trying to find her, yet cannot come up with an easy way to do so. He begins relying on his feelings and thoughts, believing that they will eventually lead him to the Princess. In this regard, his pursuit of her is very similar to the scientific method. He strolls around various areas, taking notes of how he feels, just as one would do a variety of experiments, taking note of the results. Tim’s pursuit of the Princess is a scientific one, eventually leading to an incredible breakthrough.
The entire game is Tim’s discovery of the atomic bomb, and, as expressed in the epilogue, it was a success. It details all of the finer points, connecting Braid to the Manhattan Project even more so. It even discusses the methods Tim used, and the end of the epilogue states that it “feels like an acceptable start:” The start of the arms race. Aside from that, the beginning scene is a bombed city.
There is another point in all of this, though. If the story is of the discovery of the atomic bomb, then where does time manipulation fit in? Well, shouldn’t we all feel guilty of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Shouldn’t we wish that such a tremendous demonstration of the barbarity of humanity never occurred? Shouldn’t we desire to reverse time, and prevent this discovery? Therein lies the connection to time manipulation.
The other storyline is something that astounded me when I discovered it. In World One (The last world you unlock), Tim tells of how he lives opposite everyone else. Where he is pursuing a spark that will later grow into a “palace where we can exist in peace,” everyone else is leaving this “palace,” forgetting of its existence, and forgetting what they once had. At least, this is true from Tim’s perspective. But, keep in mind, that Tim is living his life in reverse.
As he left the one he loved to pursue this Princess, he states that he didn’t need to say anything. She already knew. It implies a fading, dying love, ending with Tim walking out on her to find the girl that has always been on his mind. Now play this in reverse. There is a girl, a princess, that Tim can’t stop thinking about. He meets this girl, and a love is born. It is weak at first, filled with distrust, yet it grows. As Tim states, “he thought he had been cultivating the perfect relationship.” Played in reverse, this is true, and their love continues to grow.
As you play through the game (and progress backwards through this storyline), you will reach the final scene, where the backwards nature of their romantic tale is revealed. What appears to be a kidnapper becomes the “Princess’s” “knight in shining armor,” And together, they are happy. This Knight is the original “Tim.”
In the final scene, the current Tim must come to terms with his past (Which is, coincidentally, her future). He sees that he has been living backwards, and effectively chases the Princess away from his current self in the act, pushing her into the arms of his past self.
Tim was blinded by what he believed. He wasn’t moving towards some great palace, but away from it. It is everyone else who actively pursue what they desire, while Tim left that which he loved the most. This is the initial mistake that Tim made, as referenced in the very first book you open. By the end, he sees that, once upon a time, they were happy together. It is time for him to start living forward.
The multi-layered, interlacing storylines are what completely blew my mind with Braid. It is the kind of hook that keeps players interested, long after playing the game. There will always be a desire to figure out meaning, and this game gives plenty of meanings to decipher. For intellectuals, this game is brilliant. The incredible variety in time manipulation was what got me hooked into the game, but the two storylines, running in opposite directions, are what makes this game truly memorable. And yet, the connections do not stop there. A “braid” is a series of connected things, such as two storylines, crisscrossing each other. It is multiple meanings, such as the braid of stories, or the Princess’s “braid.” The title of the game itself references both the storylines and the Princess, making it an autonym (A word that defines itself).
The multiple layers of this game make it truly unique. The play style, although not necessarily new, is something that no other game has fully succeeded in doing. Braid is beautiful for these reasons.