The Sword is Singing But My Soul is Screaming
There seems to be an oversaturation of roguelike games these days. The independent market is fraught with them, and there’s very likely no chance of it stopping anytime soon. At this point, I find myself hard pressed to remember just when this onslaught even began. This insane complexity disguised as fun. Alas, here we are. Swimming in a sea of repetition, with no shore in sight.
For some time now, roguelikes have allowed designers to take poor balancing and instead call it “challenging,” placing the onus of playability entirely on the gamer when done poorly. Don’t misunderstand me, some designers are able to make this formula work. Most, it seems, are not, though. Where Songbringer falls on this list, it’s hard to say exactly. There are moments where the game definitely has its shit together. However, for every minute of fun and intrigue, there’s equal if not more frustration and teeth grinding. Couple this with the latest trend of giving no instructions for gameplay, and you have for yourself a game that is going to appeal to a niche group of players.
Still, Songbringer offers some very beautiful environments with gameplay that is both parts fun and absorbing. That is, if you can figure out how to manipulate the mechanics to your advantage. As you traverse the world your ability to do just that will be put to the test. If you can collect and combine items along the way, that burden is lifted, if only somewhat.
Joined by Jib, your trusty cyborg compatriot, players will get to explore a labyrinthine complex beautifully constructed of pixels and death. Clear dungeons, fight bosses, break controllers, and hopefully live to tell the tale.
“It Just Looks And Sounds Cool.”
Players will be introduced to Planet Ekzera the same way a newborn child is introduced to the world. No, not cold, wet, and screaming, though for all the clarity provided you that wouldn’t be much of a downgrade. No, instead the player will be clueless and without any basis for how they’re supposed to operate in this strange world for at least several hours. Never fear, because if you feel out of touch you’ll be glad to know that the protagonist, Roq, is in the same boat as you.
Having been part of a scouting party before the events of the game, Roq and his team were thrown from the sky during a lightning storm. They’ve since been separated and cut off from their ship, the titular Songbringer.
As Roq seeks out his missing party members, he comes across a sword that is unlike any other. It hums when in use, sounding like a weird cross between Frodo’s sword Sting and a lightsaber. This doesn’t really hold any significance for combat, mind you; it just looks and sounds cool. Shortly after this, Roq finds caves filled with mysterious creatures and people, all of whom seem trapped in a sort of stasis. For the time being, Roq can’t do much for these people, but his presence does come to awaken one of the beings: a multi-eyed monster donning a goat skull.
Further exploration of Ekzera reveals that strange monsters roam these lands. Tentacle monsters, glob mobsters, weird miniature versions of Snuffleupagus, chicken men and spider bees are just a few examples. These are the beasts of the surface world, mind you. What awaits the player below in dungeons is far worse.
“You’re Going To Have A Bad Time.”
While the assortments of monsters the player will face vary, what never lets up is the complexity of dungeons and the level of difficulty the bosses offer. Giant goat demons, time-warping dragons, and replicating blob monsters are just a few of the things players are going to come across in their journeys through Ekzera. Each battle is varied and forces the player to change up their game style. However, if you can’t figure out the changes that are necessary to assure your victory, you’re going to have a bad time.
The player’s best assurance of victory will come from combining items found around Ekzera. Once the player is able to access the Songbringer ship again, they can revisit anytime they want so long as they’re not surrounded by enemies. On Songbringer is a robot that can combine items. Choose wisely, because once combined, the result is permanent. Thankfully there isn’t a wide array of items to pick from, so your opportunities to screw up are limited. I’ve so far been rocking a lightning ghost sword and ice bombs, which makes me feel like a cyberpunk Game of Thrones character when my fights are going well. The downside is that my fights are rarely going well. At one point I thought I’d finally earned a victory against the aforementioned blob monster, only to find that my game had actually frozen. Seems to be just my luck, huh?
“A Weird Lovechild Between Shoegaze and EDM”
When first shown Songbringer, I was informed that the developers were likening it as a cross between The Legend of Zelda and a Burning Man concert. I hoped that this would mean that the soundtrack for a game called, of all things, Songbringer would be amazing. Alas, there isn’t much music to speak of for the game. The best I could compare the music to is a weird lovechild between Shoegaze and EDM. If you’re not sure what that means, don’t worry. If I hadn’t experienced it for myself, I wouldn’t know what that means either.
The art is nice enough, I suppose. Although, normal sized enemies can be hard to pinpoint in the busy environments of the surface world and the cluttered dungeons. Because there are often holes or impassable boundaries in the surrounding areas as well, it’s very easy to get caught and trapped when ambushed. If you’ve fused your sword with the lightning cube, as I did, this can be doubly problematic, since using the sword creates random fires that can cause as much harm to you as your enemies.
More on that sword: it seems an odd choice that any weapon as powerful as this should first and often cause knockback instead of straight up critical damage to enemies. This became a huge issue as environments are often cluttered with enemies. I was sometimes only batting them around instead of killing them, often accidentally positioning them directly behind me as a result. This was frustrating because Roq only starts with a set amount of health. About three hearts, or “courage” to be exact. More “courage” is earned with the death of dungeon bosses, but it’s a slow process. You’ll be fighting more enemies than you’ll earn health.
“Your First Few Hours of Songbringer Are Fraught With Tension.”
At this point it should go without saying that your first few hours of Songbringer are fraught with tension. It really doesn’t ease up much over the course of the game either, unfortunately.
The fact that the story is so slow to develop, you have no instructions on what to do or where to go, and your boss battles are at times utterly insane leaves much to be desired. I had fun at times, but more often than not I was either bored or frustrated. Songbringer’s eccentricities are enticing and endearing to be certain, but last only for so long. At the end of the day, weird does not a good game make.
While I won’t deny that there are those who would enjoy Songbringer for what it is, I feel that the genre at large offers better titles for gamers to purchase.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC, Xbox One; Publisher: Wizard Fu ; Developer: Wizard Fu ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 1 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Songbringer given to HeyPoorPlayer by the developer.