If you like horror games that fill you with dread, you need to play Song of Horror.
Released on PC in an episodic manner between October 2019 and May 2020, Song of Horror is now also available on PS4 and Xbox One in the form of a Complete Edition. It’s a horror game that feels old-fashioned in ways; it has fixed camera angles and a huge emphasis on players scouring environments to find items and solve puzzles that will allow them to progress. But it also has some more modern and unique ideas that make it feel fresh.
A music box lies at the heart of the story of Song of Horror; the tune it plays gets stuck in the minds of those who have been unfortunate enough to listen to it, and tragedy soon follows. Song of Horror‘s main protagonist, a man called Daniel Noyer, is unlucky enough to fall victim to it in the game’s playable prelude. Heading to the house of famed writer Sebastian P. Husher, he hopes to find clues that may explain his disappearance. Instead he gets drawn in the by the sound of a music box, and discovers an inexplicable door. Entering it is a decision he’ll regret.
Despite Daniel being the main protagonist of Song of Horror, you could play the majority of the game in a whole range of supporting characters’ shoes. You see, each episode of Song of Horror finds you in a new location with a small selection of characters to take control of. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and maybe even a personal item that will help them in some way. And thanks to permadeath, you’ll have to choose who you play as in each episode wisely.
The Presence is your main foe in Song of Horror, an evil force that’s unpredictable and persistent. You can’t fight it, which makes it ever more horrifying. When it becomes aggressive, all you can do is run and hide or prevent it from entering the room you’re currently in. More evil entities are introduced as you make your way through later episodes, too. Eventually there’s a whole cacophony of malevolent forces to watch out for, each with their own minigame to succeed at if you wish to survive.
Sometimes you’ll need to rush to prevent The Presence from opening a door, for example. You’ll need to mash a face button to drum up energy before pressing the right trigger to forcefully push the door to, repeating it time and time again until the door is fully closed. It helps if your character is physically strong. When another grotesque creature known as The Silence makes their presence known, however, you’re glued to the spot and need to apply the correct pressure to both triggers in order to remain calm and not make a noise. Fail in any of these minigames and it’s game over. Or at least for the character you’re currently playing as.
When a character dies, you get to take control of another – though you must recover their valuable items by returning to where they died. If all characters in an episode die than it truly is game over; you’ll have to start the episode from the beginning. With Daniel being the main protagonist, the episode also comes to a premature end if he meets his demise. It’s wise, then, to leave Daniel until last if he’s available in any given episode.
This permadeath mechanic simply adds to the abundance of tension that Song of Horror delivers. It’s terrifying enough making your way through dark, eerie locations all on your own while dark forces play with you. But knowing that by just failing a random event your character can permanently dies can really tip you over the edge. Even curiosity can often lead to your demise; it’s wise to think twice before sticking your arm into a bathtub full of murky water, for example, and you should always put your ear up to a door before entering a room – what you hear on the other side may not only put you off entering, but also save your life.
Thankfully you can make Song of Horror a little more easy-going if you wish – difficulty options are available, with the most lenient setting disabling permadeath altogether. Even then, Song of Horror is still frightening. Exploring typically mundane environments such as houses, storage rooms and shops becomes stressful when you’re never quite sure when your next encounter with some dark force might occur. And hearing noises such as footsteps or experiencing strange occurrences such as birds flying through windows will keep you on the edge of your seat.
There’s also the fact that you have to solve puzzles under these conditions – the types of puzzles you’d find in a Silent Hill game. In fact, Song of Horror is perhaps the closest thing to a Silent Hill there’s been in years. It’s clear that the seminal horror series has made a major impact on Protocol Games, the developer behind Song of Horror, with many nods to references to be found throughout.
There are some aspects of Song of Horror that are less than stellar, however. Its voice acting is all over the place, its controls can be clunky at times, and its story doesn’t quite gel with its multi-protagonist format. There’s also the fact that its visuals aren’t particularly impressive, with poor lip syncing and some strange graphical glitches here and there. Still, the good far outweighs the bad. If you’re after a genuinely unsettling horror game, consider Song of Horror a must-play.
Song of Horror is available on now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.