Wouldn’t it be great if Song of Horror’s fifth and final episode ended with a colossal boss fight, a musically-themed set-to, ending with you beating your oozing arch-nemesis to death with a tuba?
No, it’d be a terrible idea. The Presence, Song of Horror’s looming, er, presence, is horrifying enough without making it a hundred feet tall. And while a lot of survival horror games end with a colossal supernatural punch-up, I’m not entirely convinced of their value. But Song of Horror still deserves a more powerful send off than its current conclusion, which feels like an afterthought.
It’s not that Song of Horror short-changes you; before you reach the final section, you’ve got the entirety of Episode 5 to explore. This final episode takes place in abandoned mental asylum (what could possibly go wrong there?) with the Presence snapping at your heels as you search for a way to dispel the evil.
“Song of Horror deserves a more powerful send off than its current conclusion, which feels like an afterthought”
One welcome bonus, which has been retroactively applied to other Song of Horror episodes, is that you can now adjust the game’s difficulty. You can tackle it with permadeath, without permadeath or, should you so desire, with permadeath but with a less aggressive antagonist. I delved into all three difficulty levels; the hardest difficulty offers a more authentic experience, but I had begun to tire of permadeath a little bit, so I welcomed the option to reverse my characters’ horrific fates.
You don’t play as Daniel Noyer, the character who’s being pursued by the presence. Instead, in Episode 5, you’re one of the mugs he’s roped in to help him. Previous episodes gave you the option of being other characters but mostly let you play as Noyer. I appreciate that being someone’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor is a big deal, but would you really step into an obviously haunted building for them, knowing there’s an eldritch horror itching to drag you away? Noyer’s predicament is the driving force behind Song of Horror so making him take a back seat is an odd move, one that undermines the series’ momentum.
Still, Episode 5 definitely has its moments. You discover that, rather than dismissing it as a delusion, the institute’s doctors took an unhealthy interest in The Presence, leading to some disturbing revelations. A neat touch is how, after having listened at doors for signs of the Presence, you encounter an obstacle that blocks sound, robbing you of the one crutch you had. True, this episode doesn’t really do anything new with the Presence, but having to slam a door on a mess of slimy, grasping hands is still a harrowing experience.
Letting you experience history through the eyes of another new character is another smart addition, a preferable option to poring over document upon document. Though this is made less terrifying by some rough edges; apart from her words being out of sync, the character in question has some very, very strange teeth. Song of Horror wasn’t created with close-ups in mind, and it shows. A less cosmetic issue is the way that puzzles lean towards the cryptic, sometimes frustratingly so. One is so convoluted that the game’s designers have promised to patch in a more obvious solution, and there’s another (in the finale) that quizzes you on events from previous episodes.
“As a whole, Song of Horror is an engaging survival horror outing with enough unsettling lore to keep you awake at night”
As terrifying as The Presence is, it doesn’t quite mask that Song of Horror Episode 5 railroads you into a linear, object-gathering sequence of events. But, still, it’s is an entertaining enough helping of survival horror. What it doesn’t do is raise the stakes for the finale: there’s no real sense of escalation here, so when you complete the episode you half expect to see “Episode 6 coming soon” emblazoned across the screen.
Instead, you’re shunted into a short twenty minute finale. It’s not just just that the lead-up is a little underwhelming; the finale is oddly anti-climactic. Since the Presence takes a back seat, it lacks a sense of urgency and, having spent the past hour and three quarters playing as someone else, it’s hard to reconnect with Daniel’s plight. And then there’s the ending itself which requires you to overlook common sense; not horror movie convention, but actual, honest common sense. Knowing what Daniel knows, the sensible course of action is clear – but for the sake of a cheap scare, Song of Horror refuses to let you follow that path.
As a whole, Song of Horror is an engaging survival horror outing with enough procedurally generated terror and unsettling lore to keep you awake at night. But while it delivers a satisfactory heaping of scares, Episode 5 is an unremarkable end for a series that deserves to go out on a high note.