Review: Get in the Spooky Spirit with Song of Horror

Screenshot: Song of Horror Halloween is technically still a little ways off, but it’s never too early to get into the spooky spirit. Video games, in my opinion, have a way of making you feel helpless in ways that film and other storytelling mediums cannot. With horror video games emphasizing helplessness and avoidance of confrontations, horror games have become a little scarier. Problems can’t be solved with firearms, and you have to keep in mind hiding places to get away from impossible to kill enemies.  Song of Horror continues this trend, and is a perfect game to start to forget summer and get into the Halloween spirit. Song of Horror is a survival horror and adventure game where you take control of multiple characters over several episodes to discover a mystery surrounding a supernatural music box. Originally released in episodic format, Song of Horror is available now as a complete package of five episodes. Song of Horror obviously has a lot of horror influences with each of its episodes actually being influenced by major video game horror franchises. Unlike most survival horror games, dying doesn’t just set you back to a previous save point—it actually has wider effect with character permadeath. Song of Horror features 13 playable characters, each with their own perspective on the world and horrors around them. It’s certainly an ambitious title with a lot of potential—and it almost pulls it all off, but there are a few things holding it back from greatness, but it’s still a solid survival horror game. Screenshot: Song of Horror If you’ve played a survival horror game before, Song of Horror will be extremely familiar. Your goal throughout the game is to explore your surroundings to find items that can help you overcome obstacles while avoiding death. Death comes at the hands of The Presence—a horror that would fit right in with other Lovecraftian horrors. Dark, taking many forms, The Presence can (and probably will) outright kill your character if you’re not careful. Even just opening a door can lead to instant demise. There are also moments where you have to hide or otherwise act, accompanied by a quick-time event. I’m not a huge fan of this type of gameplay, especially when character death is on the line. And remember: there’s permadeath, adding extra weight to character death. It’s especially hard if you become attached to a character, or if it’s the last one in that episode. Once all the characters in an episode are dead, you have to restart that episode from the beginning. A character dying also has an effect on the story—but in ways that aren’t as impactful as I would have hoped: that character will just be missing in later episodes, and that’s even if they were going to play a part in that episode at all. It’s possible to turn the permadeath mechanic off in the settings, though the developers urge you to keep it on with a short note. Song of Horror obviously takes cues from many sources, especially video games. It does a great job building atmosphere and tension. While it features quite a few jump scares, it can be genuinely spooky, too. It’s definitely scariest when it’s trying to be subtle: sometimes you can catch a glimpse of something watching you in the doorway, or fingerprints appearing on glass. It also has interesting, detailed environments. Character animations aren’t so great, however, especially facial animations. The voice acting is also very uneven with the occasionally bad line delivery. Screenshot: Song of Horror While Song of Horrors doesn’t have tank controls (thank god) its control scheme manages to somehow feel older, but only because it is so cumbersome. Song of Horrors requires exploration and backtracking to solve its puzzles, but movement is a miserable experience. Everything in Song of Horrors moves so damn slow. You can jog a bit, but even jogging starts out slowly and rooms are often so small that by the time you get up to full speed you’ll already be where you’re trying to get. I really can’t emphasize how annoyingly slow Song of Horror can feel. Thankfully I never had to fully restart an episode, because even if I knew exactly where to go and what to do, the slowness would have made me quit outright.  Another complaint I have about Song of Horrors, which is exacerbated by its slow movement, is how frustrating the puzzles can be. They rarely use ‘moon logic’ but still require careful exploration and lots of backtracking. Sometimes it can feel like Song of Horror is punishing you for taking risks, too. Sometimes when I found myself lost and unsure what to do, I decided to finally take a risk I’ve been avoiding—just for it to end in that character’s death. Devious, but also frustrating in a way that can feel unfun. Song of Horror is a competent horror game, but it also feels like it has wasted potential. I appreciate its homage to other horror classics, and can easily recommend Song of Horror to anyone who enjoys a good survival horror game. While the concept of permadeath is offputting, and jump scares can get a little annoying, Song of Horror weaves an interesting story and manages some genuinely spooky moments.   Song of Horror is available on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.       If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. 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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.