Song of Horror is a classic Survival Horror game published by Raiser Games and developed by Protocol Games. Raiser Games have a few other titles published on the Xbox marketplace, but they all seem to be management games and this is Protocol Games’ first title to appear on the marketplace. The developers started creating Song of Horror after a failed Kickstarter dating back to 2015, they released the game on steam in 2019 with console release dates slated for 2020 until the game was delayed to May 28th 2021. The game itself pays tribute to older survival horror games while not involving regular combat like that seen from older Resident Evil games along with fixed cameras.
The gameplay for Song of Horror is filled with many puzzles to solve through the five main episodes of the game with a twist. The game does allow deaths, but if you die with a character, they will remain dead for the rest of the playthrough. There are over a dozen characters, but not all are main characters and they become available in batches per episode. They all have a reason why they are at the mansion, but are playable in case you run out of people. The characters do have background stories that are shown when exploring the mansion in search for the main protagonist, Daniel, who was last seen heading into the creepy mansion. While walking around in rooms, markers display items that can be examined and each character will comment on the items and they will all be unique to what character you chose after a death. Since I just mentioned deaths, I’ll explain a little more in detail about the game’s respawn system. Per each episode in the game there is a small list of characters that the player may choose from and they will have different stats and a light source. The light sources can all be used with the right trigger and never depletes. The stats differ between characters, and they all affect game play and can make playing easier or harder depending on the circumstances. The specific stats are; Speed, Stealth, Serenity, and Strength.
Those 4 ‘S’ stats will tie into the combat and survival side of the game. The enemy in the game is known as “The Presence.” As the player explores and walks around more, there will be moments where the Presence is trying to get through a door and the player must run to the door in time to try and hold it closed with a short quick time event (QTE). There are QTEs for more than just doors; if you’re running from the Presence, there are objects the player can hide in and must focus on timed breathing to help calm ourselves down. The map in the game is vital when exploring, Hiding spots will be marked along with key items that may have been dropped after the death of another character. The player should use the map as often as possible to help cut down the number of times you walk in between rooms wandering around. Aimless wandering should be avoided since the player can listen next to doors when prompted, this is the most used feature in the game since the Presence moves around and can be hiding in the next room. I made the mistake of rushing into a small bedroom in the first episode and lost a character to a female ghost. The character was dead the moment I opened the door and a cutscene started playing. The game does have an auto save feature and can’t be beaten with tricks other than messing with cloud saves or lowering the difficulty.
The scares provided throughout the game are mainly jump scares through brief cutscenes, but the perma-death mechanic in the game will keep the player on the edge of their seat. Having the thought of losing progress on an episode due to rushing does force the player to be more cautious. I enjoyed the feeling of risk this mechanic provided, yet it is still capable of disabling in the settings. The puzzles in the game are challenging, but never discourage players from trying to solve them. Just some examples of some puzzles in the game involve fixing a fuse box with new fuses you find, but the player also needs to clean water up next to an exposed wire before turning the power back on. Turning on the power will open new rooms up and provide new items to apply elsewhere in the mansion. The character will even make a remark when looking at a key item and say what it could be used for and key items will begin to flash after examining it. The hardest part of the game is avoiding random events of Dark Presence attacks and ensuring that you don’t rush into a room before checking for prompts to listen at the door. There is a heartbeat functionality in the game that lets the player know the current Serenity state of the character, so best to keep your character calm to prevent deaths. If you do lose all of your characters, then you’ll fail the episode and will have to restart from the beginning of just that episode. Strength will help with closing the door on the Presence since at certain doors they may be trying to break through. Stealth will aid in hiding and speed pertains to movement and running with the left trigger.
Using the left bumper, the player can view all of the items in their inventory and can examine or combine some items to be able to use. The game has no true fighting combat, however there will be minigames to help push back the dark entities chasing the player. A good example of this is when the player spins around looking through a small mirror and shines a light on enemies before they reach them. Failing any of the minigames throughout the game will result in a death, so the player needs to always be alert when playing since one can be triggered by exploring. The minigames all have tutorials on the first run through of the game and typically involve holding a door closed or controlling the character’s breathing.
There are four difficulties in the game with three including perma-death. The game is intended to be played on ‘Edgar Alan Poe’ difficulty with an option to lower to ‘M.R. James’ or ‘E.T.A. Hoffman.‘ The hardest of the four is called ‘H.P. Lovecraft’ and will make the game much harder with no learning curve provided. The achievements in Song of Horror are satisfying to earn, they will require a play through on some of the harder difficulties while not losing any characters. Some achievements are missable and tied to specific characters through the episodes, but the majority are linked to story mode and will happen naturally.
Sound design in Song of Horror has been made to showcase the true song of terror, which is silence. The game isn’t completely silent, but the developers knew when to add a moment of peace to make other moments more stressful and is best played with headphones. The sound design in the game also encourages the player to look for a quick solution at tense moments like keeping the doors closed when the Presence is trying to breach. There are sound cues that the player needs to be alert of when listening to a door. Yet, there is a setting as well to help those who can’t play in a completely quiet environment, enabling this setting will provide more visual cues rather than audio. The music in the game is minimal and sets the tone one should expect while playing a horror game. At the beginning of the game, Daniel walks into the massive home and hears the music box which seems to be the source of the Dark Presence. No spoilers here at Xbox Tavern, but the story is high quality and filled with fun twists and connections to be made between characters involving the Dark Presence.
The visuals for the game were not as impressive as the sound design or gameplay; the game looks aged. This could be intentional since it’s paying tribute to the classical survival horror genre and is also set in the late 1990’s. The characters dialogue doesn’t align with mouth movements and the game looks like its running at a lower resolution. The developers put a lot of effort into design for their game with many details scattered through the episodes to read and examine. When the enemy makes itself known, for the most part, it’s obvious what to avoid and what to do with the character shouting directions at tense moments. The game is rather dark and you will be moving from one dark room to another for the majority of the game with fixed camera angles that tilt around with movement. While moving to different rooms, the player will be hoping to find some new key item. The idea of involving over a dozen characters sounds daunting to some, but the story and exploration make almost every character seem like the main protagonist with their backstory they share. The cutscenes that occur seem to be hand drawn animations in between episodes and help provide a better understanding of the events. The cutscenes that play during an episode are tied to the Presence spawning or perhaps the player just solved a puzzle. All of these scenes are skippable, but do not last long anyways. Those particular scenes are in game footage and act more as zoom ins. The death scenes are also decent, but are interchangeable and not unique for each character. It typically involves a jump scare or a character being dragged away and then a black screen announcing the end of that character’s story.
Longevity for this title is substantial considering it will require a playthrough to unlock the Harder mode, but the harder mode will require some practice and item memorization. Each episode takes an average of two hours and there are 5 in total. The game is entirely single player, but the difficulty and achievements are a challenge that will leave the player running through more than once. The cutscenes are skippable and speed running the game would also be fun with managing Serenity levels.
Song of Horror is one of the best indie Survival Horror games I’ve played in years and it doesn’t even include weaponry to use. There’s even a character who has a holster with a loaded gun, but claims he wishes to never use it. When the Kickstarter failed, the developers doubled down and still made a wonderful game. When they released it for PC, they listened to feedback and tweaked the game improving on it. Their love is visible with the details in the mansion, with their story, and care for updating and fixing the bugs. I look forward to what Protocol Games works on next considering the quality of this game alone, whether it’ll be a new project or perhaps a sequel of this game. If you’re the type of gamer that enjoys a horror game with a creepy home and lots of puzzles, then this game is perfect for you. Lacking the shooting combat that is involved in most of the games in this genre makes it unique and memorable. However, it won’t be a breeze on harder difficulties and will demand a high level of concentration and patience. Players will need to listen at every door and read the subtitles for what characters say. Walking into certain rooms is a perma-death if not solving certain puzzles first, this will keep players attentive. The story will be a mind warp with constant questioning of, “is my character in a dream state,” and you will want to play the game again after seeing the ending scenes.
Song of Horror is a wonderful psychological horror title with an even better story, the fixed camera and unique gameplay will keep players on the edge of their seats to avoid the perma-death feature.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.