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Backlog Twosome | Song of Horror

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We’ve all had one of those mornings where a song gets stuck in your head and you swear it’ll play in there, on a solid loop, until it drives you bonkers. Well, that’s exactly what’s going on in Song of Horror, except this little ditty will not only make you cuckoo for cocoa puffs, but it has downright deadly consequences if you can’t find a way to quiet the clatter.

Daniel Noyer had the unfortunate luck of checking up on a co-worker and encountering a music box that would forever change his life. The song it plays infects the listener and apparently any area they come in contact with, with a dark and malignant presence hellbent on adding his soul and anyone else’s who gets involved, to it’s collection. So, did we feel this survival horror serenade deserved a standing ovation and a Grammy? Or are we going to be rewarded with nothing but a kick in the melodious cranny? 

I like a good survival horror game, so once I learned that’s exactly what Song of Horror was, I was definitely looking forward to jumping in and seeing what it brought to the table. The trailer we watched prior to starting seemed to show off some really nice graphics and a lot of creepy moments to look forward to.

These kinds of games are always fun to play together, especially since we both love horror movies so much, and two heads are always better than one when it comes to taking down a story filled with devilish puzzles.

Since Song of Horror was Protocol Games’ first big release, there wasn’t much to go off of when we first encountered the game. That said, what they were going for – a Lovecraftian exploration based horror adventure game, really had me intrigued. I liked the idea of solving environmental puzzles all the while trying not to get caught by an ever present evil!

Although the trailers themselves didn’t really sell me on its look, I was willing to take the plunge in the hopes that not only would Song of Horror surprise me, but also reveal itself as the cult classic horror game I’ve been longing for!

Based on our first impressions, and if we had stopped at the first episode of the game, I probably would have said absolutely yes this game holds up! It may not have been the most polished game in existence, but Song of Horror did just enough things right, and had just enough potential that I would have been waiting with bated breath for a sequel or a follow up episode. As we got further and further into the game however, Song of Horror’s quirks became less endearing and more infuriating.

For most of the game you’ll be walking (slowly), for fear that if you run, you’ll attract the ghosts and monsters that are lurking around every corner. The problem is, you walk at a snail’s pace, and the fact that you’ll be back tracking across the entire map several times, your character’s speed really wears on you! Especially as the maps become bigger and bigger with each new episode. Compound that with puzzles that become more and more obtuse and convoluted as you progress, and you have yourself a recipe for frustration.

In some cases, the slower pace can add to the suspense of the game, and there really are some intense moments, but a few of the key mechanics of the game really drag it down. Things like perma-death, poorly telegraphed death traps, the lack of checkpoints, and constant grunts, gasps, and exclamations from your characters really make you question if you want to continue after you fail.

If you’re putting Song of Horror up against something like Resident Evil, then no, it definitely doesn’t hold up. Now, if you’re putting it up against the Silent Hill franchise… it’s still a no. Well, unless we’re comparing puzzles that make you want to smash your face off the floor, then yes the early Silent Hill games are great comparisons. Don’t get me wrong here, Song of Horror is plenty creepy with lots of things that constantly keep you on edge, but one long-assed story combined with one too many soul stealing puzzles does not a good survival horror make, unfortunately.

At first I really liked the whole “listening at the door” mechanic and I’m definitely still on board for it to be used again somewhere. However, as the game went on it became just one more annoying thing you had to do that dragged this lengthy story out even longer. That and the mixed results of sometimes hearing nothing on the other side, opening the door and living, compared to sometimes hearing nothing, opening the door, and dying. That was frustrating as heck. I don’t think the rogue-like mechanic works very well when you’re playing through such a complex and convoluted game. That and starting all the way over should you lose your characters even if you played by all the rules, is just a recipe for people walking away from the game and never coming back. That’s if some of those astonishingly obtuse puzzles don’t make you do it first!

Also, the fact that you could play as characters who themselves set up the puzzles or had items that could have side-stepped portions of the puzzles was just an odd design. For example, you can play as Erica who wrote a cypher for her father, but can’t solve it herself, and the fact that she gives you no extra hints as to how to solve it kind of ruined the immersion. That or playing as one of the characters who has a candle (weird in and of itself) or a lighter and they can’t light a fire without matches…? Games like these are meant to be immersive if the horror is really going to latch on to the player. So, giving the characters unique items that don’t offer any sort of advantage AND that throw off the story is just a big no-no. I’d say maybe just give everyone flashlights and call it a day.

The creep factor was definitely there with bells on, but at some point you’re just willing these people to get their souls stolen just so you don’t have to roll the dice on one more instant death event and start the whole chapter over again.

Unfortunately there were more than a few things that rubbed me the wrong way while playing Song of Horror, but what irked me to no end was its focus on perma-death. Now, we’ve played many games that had similar mechanics, and we’ve died and retried hundreds of times trying to overcome whatever challenge we were faced up against. The difference here is that those games were fun at their core, and the idea of failing and restarting wasn’t a hindrance, but an opportunity to try and improve. Things like that can be infinitely rewarding, but in the case of Song of Horror, it just crippled the experience through and through.

Don’t get me wrong, I really did think the idea had merit! I liked that there were stakes tied to exploring these environments. The fact that it can affect some story elements in the future, was kind of cool as well, but I just don’t think that at its base level the game was fun enough to inspire me to keep playing after having to restart a chapter from the beginning. It’s hard to say if removing the feature would really improve it however, since if you play Song of Horror on the easiest difficulty, they remove perma-death, and it still wasn’t the greatest experience. Though the root of it all might just be that the devs need to rethink how they balance the rest of the game, to make perma-death less frustrating and more rewarding.

That said, what I really liked about Song of Horror was its premise. I always love a good Lovecraftian story, and what Song of Horror was going for, had a lot of the elements that you look for in a good eldritch horror experience. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the game was bogged down by bad design.

Though Song of Horror itself may have lugged us through the dirt on multiple occasions, we still found fun in playing it. Like watching a campy horror movie, there were plenty of scenes that had us rolling our eyes, laughing out loud, or coming up with off-beat side stories for each of the characters. From an “actually playing it TOGETHER” standpoint though, it wasn’t the easiest game to pass the controller back and forth. Although it was split up into multiple chapters, each chapter was relatively long, so we ended up switching turns either after each death, or scene change.

In the end, and as we got more and more fed up with the game however, we ended up taking on the “navigator and pilot” approach, where one of us recited a guide while the other fumbled around and followed the instructions. At that point the game became much more tolerable, but it also really shone a light on how convoluted some of the puzzles could be! Which makes me glad we didn’t spend hours trying to figure them out ourselves. I honestly don’t think we would have completed it otherwise!

Normally this type of game is perfect for us to play together and at first it definitely was. The puzzles were intuitive and engaging, the gameplay and story were always just fine but creepy enough to keep us interested for sure. Even some of the jankier bits with the awkwardly animated characters with their horrendous teeth and constant on-loop panic sounds didn’t really bother us much. Except once the chapters got longer and more convoluted. To compensate we sadly found ourselves just reading through a guide just to get through it. Having to start such long and confusing chapters over again was definitely a no go and it really came down to either using a guide to get to the end, or dropping it like it was hot, and we really don’t like not being able to finish games we are destined to write about.

Expect to lose your patience a lot faster than ole Daniel loses his precious sanity with this one unfortunately. Song of Horror has some solid potential to be great. Lots of unique mechanics, with plenty of genuinely scary monsters and events. However, in the end the fun just wavered exponentially after the first episode. The game got less and less enjoyable the further in you got, and for as long as Song of Horror is, that meant that by the end we weren’t having any fun at all. I know plenty of people have had different takes on this game, but this was our experience with it and it absolutely makes us sad to withhold our recommendation. There are much less frustrating survival horror games out there and tackling a much beloved genre such as this means that high expectations gives you a higher platform to rise or fall from.

If you’re interested in checking our Song of Horror for yourself, you can find it right now on the Xbox Store, the PlayStation Store, and Steam.