Time and Perfection in Braid

I am a perfectionist in many aspects of my life. Perfection can mean many different things in a game though. Is it never making a mistake, or being able to fix your mistakes when you do make them? Is it finding every easter egg, puzzle piece, or extra point? Is it completing the game in as little time as possible and getting achievements? Is it playing every level and moving on as quickly as possible, or solving every puzzle in the level to advance the story further? Perfection can be any or all of these things. Personally, I like to advance through levels as quickly as possible much like how I read very quickly. This speed allows me to see every chapter or level and discover how the story ends as soon as I can. I constantly move forward and only go back if I need more collection items to move forward or if there was a particularly interesting puzzle I want to try to solve.

Braid allows you to explore the idea of rewinding time and doing something over and over again until you reach perfection. This repetition becomes almost an obsession with finding every single puzzle piece and completing every level fully, similar to the obsession the character has with erasing every mistake and finding his princess in the next castle. As soon as the character dies or fails to complete a puzzle you can shift backwards in time to act as if the mistake never happened. Every move can be repeated over and over and over again until you finally learn what to do and can jump across that gap or use your own shadow to pull a lever.

If you ignore this obsession with perfection and your ability to rewind time you can quickly progress through the levels without much trouble. The real difficulty in Braid, and where my team often got stuck, is in the puzzle pieces hidden behind elaborate puzzles that require you to rewind time again and again to solve them. We often ended up moving on to the next level without spending the extra time to challenge ourselves more and fully complete the level. Since we skipped a large number of the puzzle pieces, we were left with missing pieces to the story and could not fully experience everything the game wanted to show us. We could not experience as much of the frustration of repeating an action over and over again until perfection. It caused us to miss some of the point of the story and the complexity of the levels. The missing puzzle pieces left our image of the narrative and the game incomplete.

In order to experience the entire story of Braid you must have the skill and patience to truly perfect every level. This makes it so that more casual gamers can’t fully enjoy the game because the levels start out difficult and only get harder as the game progresses. Much like the character seeks to avoid the mistakes he has made searching for the princess by rewinding time again and again the player has to seek to avoid their own mistakes. This often requires more skill and patience than I have.

My team and I also did not originally realize just how important the puzzle pieces were to the story and by the end the puzzles were so difficult that we could not solve them. If you can achieve perfection though, Braid rewards you by hiding a secret ending in plain sight that can only be accessed by collecting eight stars hidden even deeper in the levels than the puzzle pieces. Even when you think you have reached the end by collecting every puzzle piece, you haven’t. For the few that can reach the hidden ending, the story changes significantly, pointing to an unreliable narrator whose quest for perfection and manipulation of time ruins everything around him. By truly achieving a perfect game you find an even worse ending than you would if you just stopped once you found all of the puzzle pieces.

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