Launching originally on the PC back in 2019, Song of Horror is a survival horror that dares to be different. The game impressed us at launch as it featured an episodic structure and a permadeath mechanic where each playable character will be gone forever if you lead them into danger. We reviewed the game's first episode when it landed in 2019, but with it now landing on consoles we've returned to give our thoughts on the entire five-part package.
As mentioned previously, Song of Horror's chilling narrative unfolds over the course of five separate episodes. It sees you play as Daniel Noyer, an alcoholic and recent divorcee, who has been tasked with searching for a missing author. When arriving at his creepy mansion, Daniel makes several strange discoveries and eventually becomes a missing person too. I found the voice acting within Song of Horror to be a little hit or miss (especially with minor characters), but what I did enjoy was the almost comic book-like style used in the cutscenes.
Something that helps to set Song of Horror apart from other contemporary horrors is its permadeath mechanic. At the start of each chapter you can select between several playable characters and these have their own individual stats, special items, and light sources. Personally, I didn't really see that much of a difference between characters, but it was interesting to see how they all had their own personal interactions with objects. Once each of these characters are killed you can no longer play as them again and you are forced to restart a chapter entirely if there are no survivors. Luckily, for those who want to play the game casually, there is a mode present that doesn't feature the stresses of permadeath.
The permadeath I found to create a sense of stress and tension that I have rarely felt from other horrors. If you slip up here death is pretty much imminent and the cutscenes that accompany your demise are that skin crawling that you'll never want to witness them again. Monsters can be lurking around every corner, so you need to listen to the sounds behind each door before entering and you need to think twice when encountering a risky situation. At times, you'll be asked whether you want to risk grabbing an item by doing something like sticking your hand in a bathtub or lifting the cover off a dusty old mirror and it's never clear whether this is a required step or if it's another trap leading to your death.
Combat isn't present here, but there are still several interactive scenarios where you will need to save yourself in the face of danger. You'll occasionally need to time button presses along with a graphic onscreen to slow down your heart rate and prevent yourself from making noise when a creature is nearby. These moments happen randomly each time, which essentially means that no two playthroughs of the game are the same. Whilst it was tense knowing each of these situations could be fatal, it still found it pretty tedious that you had to perform the same button mashing exercise again and again.
As well as scaring you senseless, Song of Horror actually demands a lot of thought from the player. Surprisingly, it plays out similar to a classic point-and-click adventure, as you need to examine your surroundings and collect items that can be used to solve puzzles. When encountering an issue such as a key that is too far away to reach, you need to examine your inventory to find the right tools for the job, and at times, you'll need to combine items together. Collectibles such as letters and notes also play a vital role during these puzzles, and don't purely feel optional to read as they often contain useful hints and combinations.
I'm not usually a fan of episodic games, but I actually think that this structure is to the game's benefit for several different reasons. Each episode here features its own creepy locale with the first episode being set in an abandoned old mansion and the second taking place in an antique shop. There is a great sense of environmental variety and you're left never feeling familiar with your surroundings as you are just moving from one spooky set piece to the next. I also liked how there were new characters to play as within each chapter and these would change depending on your previous success or failures.
Whilst I do have a lot of praise to give for Song of Horror, it doesn't mean that it isn't short of frustrating mechanics. First of all, the game has tank control just like the classic Resident Evil games and your character walks at such a lethargic pace even in the face of danger. The fixed camera angle that accompanies this clunky movement I also found bothersome, as often I couldn't see that there was a door in the corner of my view without going to a map. My next gripe stems from the permadeath mechanic. When you die your inventory is dropped allowing for the next character you play as to easily obtain it. This is often left where you last died, but occasionally, I found my items spawned in random hard to reach areas.
Song of Horror feels awfully refreshing at a time where many horrors feel like walking simulators or rely on cheap tactics like jump scares. The sense of stress and tension it creates feels authentic, as permadeath is enabled and there is a constant threat of danger. I also liked how varied each chapter feels in terms of their settings and that the point-and-click gameplay requires you to think and examine your surroundings carefully. That said, the tank controls are cumbersome and I found some of its button mashing sections to be tedious.