An adventure game and murder mystery walk into a bar.
Trago is a narrative adventure game which takes place entirely in the confines of a bar named, aptly enough, Trago – a Brazilian watering hole that’s as dingy as it is charming. But it does have alcohol, and that suits just fine for the recently-dumped Juca, who wishes only to whittle each night away with barside chatter and wallow in enough shots to put a large bear out of commission. It is only on Sunday night when one of the owners pulls a gun out and shoots Juca in the head that he realizes he may not have picked the best bar for a nightcap.
After dying, the game flashbacks the player all the way back to Thursday night, the very night Juca stumbled upon the bar he will be unwittingly murdered in only a few days later. Each night plays out in real time as you spend time chatting up locals and piecing together the mystery – all while getting real buzzed. It’s up to the player to make their way through each day sequentially and figure out how to prevent Juca’s death before his luck – and drink – runs dry on that ill-fated Sunday night.
Trago’s promising setup could have made for a really unique narrative adventure game. Sadly, much of this promise is lost in the execution. Despite the very appealing visual design, Trago, in gameplay and narrative, is too unfocused and rudimentary to capitalise on its premise. Instead, its opening sequence starts with a bang that, by the time you’ve made your way back around to Sunday, couldn’t feel any more like a fizzle.
Gameplay-wise, Trago has very light adventure game elements. There is no inventory management, so your actions are limited to the few interactable objects in the bar; you can talk to characters, flip channels on the bar TV, call someone on the telephone and, of course, drink the night away. Certain events are time-sensitive, and as such the game is nice enough to let you adjust the speed at which time passes.
However, to say Trago has adventure game-style puzzles would be misleading. The lack of objects and people to interact with means gameplay is largely confined to clicking on everything in the room routinely until something eventually happens – uninspired, to say the least. To add insult to injury, the big final puzzle of the game essentially boils down to a reading comprehension quiz, which is about as exhilarating as it sounds.
There is also, of course, the shot-drinking, which has its own mini-game/QTE in which you must rapidly tap a combination of keys to drink the shot before the time runs out. The real draw of drinking is its distinct purpose in gameplay; the people you have access to call on the bar’s telephone depends on how many shots you do. This is a particularly nice touch; like Juca, I’m sure many-a drinker out there has downed enough liquid courage to convince themselves calling their ex would be a bright idea.
You might think that the gameplay of Trago being so simplistic may warrant a picking up of the slack in the narrative department – especially with such an intriguing, strangely-gruesome opening sequence. However, after the first day, the story plays out so predictably that I’d hazard to call Trago much of a mystery at all. Even if the game didn’t show you who the big bad killer was in the opening flash-forward, you are nudged with so many winks and nudges in the dialogue that you’d probably be able to get a general idea of what occurred and who killed who long before you even make it to Sunday. It’s also worth mentioning the English translation is quite rough, with a lot of spelling and grammatical errors in most of the dialogue. It isn’t bad enough to be a deal-breaker, but it feels very sloppy.
Despite being narrative-driven, there’s not a whole lot of narrative going on, and characters have about as many dimensions as the screen you’re reading this on; so much so that I found myself completely ambivalent when certain characters had very unfortunate things occur to them. Unlike the similarly bar-based narrative adventure game, VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action, which has strong, substantial characters and thoughtful worldbuilding, Trago is complacent with almost entirely focusing on the mystery at hand – which, as discussed, ends up being the weakest part of the game. For Trago not to use its initial mystery as a means of further developing its characters and the colourful nightlife of Brazil feels like the greatest missed opportunity of all.
After playing through the game several times and getting most of the endings, I’m still not quite sure what to make of Trago. There are a ton of interesting ideas at play narratively and gameplay-wise, but none of those ideas are fleshed out enough to properly complement one another. As a result, Trago comes across as a bit of a tipsy, shambling mess that can’t decide what it wants to be.
Jace is a lover of games experimental and strange. He is always chasing after wholly new experiences.