The best way of playing Trago is to go in without any knowledge of what it’s like so that you can stumble your way around. Figuring things out this way makes for a slightly awkward first impression, granted, but this is a narrative-heavy game that’s unlike anything else, and slowly piecing together which parts of the game are important and which can be safely ignored ends up being a significant part of the fun. Developed by Brazilian developer SpaceGiraff3 and possessing many of the dialogue quirks that tend to pop up when Brazilian Portuguese is translated into English, TRAGO is a flawed gem that has one foot firmly planted in reality while the rest of the body is drunk in some parallel reality lacking any of the same rules of causality and chronology. It’s a magically psychotic game with a tone unlike anything I’ve ever played, and while it’s relatively short (even with a ton of experimentation, it lasted me a little over three hours), it’s an inexpensive slice of madness perfect for when you’re burned out on more “normal” games.
TRAGO is small-scale storytelling done (mostly) right
You play as Juca, a man who’s going through a rough patch with his girlfriend, Jessica, after being accused (apparently erroneously) of having an affair. Deciding to drink away his worries, he begins to frequent the Trago bar, which is staffed by friendly bartender Joana and frequented by former manager Carlos. The game begins with Carlos shooting Juca in the head on Sunday, however, which is the last day chronologically. From there, you go back to Thursday and are left to either stumble back into that same fate or figure out how to get one of the other endings instead. It’s an interesting setup, albeit a slightly confusing one, as Sunday technically counts as the first day despite being the last one chronologically. When the game first came out and I came across a game-blocking bug (which has since been fixed), then, I thought that I was stuck on the last day.
That kind of confusion is inherent to the experience, initially being a frustrating component before you realize that it lends a weirdly dreamlike effect to everything that happens. For example, while hunting for better endings, you might assume that drinking too much at once and passing out has an underlying significance, but it mostly just cuts the day short. Speaking of which, you’re intended to converse with Joana and Carlos to become familiar with them, with the dialogue during later days making it sound like you’re all familiar with each other even if you passed out and didn’t talk to them at all. That’s mostly a limitation of narrative-heavy games in general, though.
What makes TRAGO’s story so interesting to me despite its relative straightforwardness is the way reality and the unreal are constantly being mixed together. One moment Joana is mentioning something about how much she likes the Malkavians in Vampire: The Masquerade—as most people do—and the next you’re talking to a fourth-wall breaking television set and buying movie tickets from it. Things like this make Juca feel less like a depressed guy at a bar and more like a reality-shaping demigod on a quest to undo the practically inevitable fate awaiting him.
Drinking for courage and protection
When you’re not conversing with Joana and Carlos or messing around with the television, you’re most likely either calling people on the phone or drinking in order to unlock those telephone calls. Basically, you earn a TRAGO point for each shot that you down, with all phone calls having a minimum point threshold. Calling Jessica on Sunday requires 7 TRAGO points, for example, while calling the police requires 9. These points aren’t used up by phone calls, either, so you’re never in a position where you have to pick and choose who to talk to. That’s not entirely accurate, though, as some conversations can progress things forward and supplant previous conversations.
Drinking is one of TRAGO’s weirder elements, playing out as a kind of timed QTE sequence where you have to hit a sequence of letters in order to slowly down the shot. As you finish the sequence, more letters are added on until you’re dealing with an 8-letter long sequence. That might sound overbearing, but the time limit is pretty generous, and the sequences are designed to be rhythmic and avoid awkwardly contorting your hand. Even if you’re unable to perform even the most basic of QTEs, however, most of TRAGO is still well within reach to you. Drinking a bunch of shots is only required to pass out, and you can exit out of the drinking minigame at any time to reset it and keep your earned TRAGO points. That means that you can reasonably do the easy beginning sequences over and over again to build up points without penalty.
Despite the overall accessibility of the mechanics, however, there are some bugs. In some ways, these reinforce the weirdness of the whole experience, but they can also be slightly grating show-stoppers. Most of the bugs I encountered seem to boil down to missed triggers, like sound effects playing forever after missing the cue to stop and the bar failing to close at closing time (12:10). These are minor things that you can work around without too much effort given the shorter length of the game.
The visuals and music are pleasant, but there’s not much of either
I could continue listing off some of TRAGO’s weird quirks—such as the way items persist between playthroughs (good), or how your unlocked endings aren’t remembered when you exit out of the game and start it back up again (bad)—but it’s probably best to just move on to the visuals and Music. Both of these share the same pros and cons, being well designed and implemented, but there not being enough of either. Visually, the art style kind of reminds me of Broken Age, which is always a good thing given how nice that game looked, while the music reminds me a lot of the beginning of a jukebox track in The Longest Journey. The music could probably stand to be a little louder, but it’s definitely pleasant. Both the visuals (mostly in the form of Juca’s shirt) and music change from day to day, but I found myself wanting more art and more music.
Story: 3/3 Gameplay: 2/3 Visuals: 1/2 Music: 1/2 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ – 7/10
*Click here and scroll to the bottom for a detailed explanation of what these numbers mean
TRAGO review Screenshots
*A Steam key for TRAGO was provided for the purpose of this review
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