Monthly Archives: March 2014

Block Rockin’ Beeps – Forbidden Siren: Hanuda Elementary School

Track Name: Hanuda Elementary School
Track Composer: Hitomi Shimizu, Gary Ashiya
Game: Forbidden Siren
Platform: Playstation 2
Sound Chip/System: SP1+SP2

Forbidden Siren (simply know as Siren in the US) is game with brilliant ideas, inventive gameplay concepts and one of the most stunningly unnerving atmospheres you can find in horror gaming. You play ten separate characters, across a 3-day period, with stages being presented in non-linear “loops” allowing information to be learned in an intriguing manner. The game begins with the town of Hanuda suddenly being surrounded by a red sea that most of the inhabitants submerse themselves in compulsively, emerging as strange zombie-like creatures known as Shibito. These creatures cannot be killed, only temporarily stunned, and they’re versatile; being able to wield melee weapons and even sniper rifles. The focus of the game is horror-stealth, avoiding confrontation using a brilliant mechanic known as Sight-Jacking, which allows you to “tune in” to the view through the eyes of other people in the stage (zombies and survivors alike). It’s a unique, fantastic and tense idea.

Sadly Forbidden Siren is also a hugely frustrating game, on so many levels. It hampers its potential with awkward controls, annoyingly persistent enemies, ludicrous puzzles and an obtuse structure that confuses what could have been interesting. The expectation on the player to understand the designer’s intentions is immense and unfathomable. On some levels if you wander off the path you’re intended to follow you’ll be shot instantly by a sniper, get shot again and you’ll die. Some levels have escorts who seem to be allergic to taking cover. Puzzles are often done via connections between stages; your actions in a stage that takes place early in the 3-days will unlock an objective necessary to progress for another character that enters the same area later. These are often bizarre actions that make no sense for the character performing them to do, and they’re not told to the player, you have to find them for yourself.

The most memorable, for me, was a puzzle that required the player to make their way past a Shibito in a café that was armed with a pistol. If you enter the only unlocked door you will be unavoidably shot and killed so you have to distract the creature. This requires you to climb to the top floor of a house in the level, get a scarf from a washing line, bring to the café kitchen, soak it in water and put it in the freezer, then leave the level. The next character you play as in the area needs to get past the Shibito, so they have to find a piggy-bank in the level, take out the now-frozen towel, place it across a gap in the kitchen counter, place the piggy bank on the towel, leave the building and wait for it to melt so the bank crashes to the ground, making a sound that brings out the shibito so you can hit them on the back of the head and take them out for a short while.

Intuitive!

Still the game has some stunning work and ends up frustrating mostly because it’s a waste of brilliant potential. Listen to this track:

The music is a mix of terrifying ambient sounds and otherworldly instrumentation. While often compared to Silent Hill it has it’s own style of terror, one that I feel comes from a sense of confusion and foreboding mixed together. This track, as the name suggests, plays during stages set in the village’s Elementary school and fits the claustrophobic unknown feel of the level. The gameplay in Forbidden Siren is tense and slow, much more than a Resident Evil or Silent Hill, because you are much more vulnerable and enemies literally cannot die. As such the music takes a slow, methodical feel, creating a sense of place that fires upon the imagination and fills in the gaps in the purposefully dark visuals. Many stages in the game take place outside use the layering of natural sounds and rain to add to the sense of a soundscape combined with musical elements. It’s a soundtrack to a new, unearthly place, and it doesn’t feel as stereotypical as people would expect.

Akira Yamaoka’s work is rightfully praised incredibly highly for his inventive music and sound work on the Silent Hill series, giving it an identity that stretches far beyond the games themselves. I find it sad that thanks to the spotty quality of Forbidden Siren, it’s sequel and the reimagining on PS3 (Blood Curse), the work that Hitomi Shimizu and Gary Ashiya have down on the soundtracks is often forgotten. Its quality is on par with Yamaoka’s best works and the music actually went a long way to pushing me past some of the games glaring flaws. It supported the great artwork and the excellent ideas that, unfortunately, weren’t cohesive or polished enough to make the game a classic.

A wonderful horror masterpiece to itself, the soundtrack is worth listening to for anyone with an interest in dark ambient music and soundscapes. If you liked the Silent Hill music or the work Trent Reznor did for the original Quake, you’ll like this.

Terrible Geek Priorities

Over on Eurogamer they have a technical analysis of the LEGO Movie game, these analyses are OK usually, but they do contribute to this weird culture of obsessing over games specs and finding minor, minor issues to be an enormous issue.

Demonstrating that quite hilariously was one particular comment that read:

“No 60fps, no sale mr game manufacturer. Yep, kids may not know better, but mum & dad still do the buying. Second hand bin purchase it is.”

Can you imagine being that person’s kid?

“I’m sorry Jenny but you didn’t get the LEGO Movie game for your birthday because it only ran at 30fps, in this family we only play 60fps 1080p, that’s our way. I will NOT let our standards slide just because YOU don’t know better!”

If this is truly where your priorities lie then you have some serious problems.