Whatever Happened to Siren?

S4

The Siren series is known for three things: being unsettling, having insanely sadistic plot-lines, and not being relatively all that popular. Developed by Project Siren (SCE Japan’s Studio), the original game released on the PS2. It had a sequel titled Forbidden Siren 2 (the European name for the series is Forbidden Siren), but it did not release in North America and I’ve never had the chance to play it. In 2008, the same team developed a westernized remake of the original game titled Siren: Blood Curse (Siren: New Translation in Asia and Europe) for the PS3, which did release in NA, but only as a digital download. Let’s take a look at the series and I will explain why I believe Siren 4 is an important game that the Survival Horror genre needs.

The Enemies and World are Disturbingly Unique

The plot of Siren revolves around a not-so-friendly religion that requires sacrifices, and if those sacrifices aren’t carried out, then the village of Hanuda (the setting for the original and Blood Curse) goes ape shit and dead people rise as Shibito. At first glance, they  look like zombies, but you soon realize Shibito are a whole different game from the undead of Romero’s world. Like their once human carcasses, the enemies in these games continue about the daily activities of their past lives, including cooking, construction work, and gardening, so long as there aren’t any humans around that need to be murdered, partially eaten, and turned to their cause.

Siren: Blood Curse

On top of the whole undead and trying to murder you part of their lives, these husks of evil interact with one another as if nothing is wrong. There is a level in Blood Curse where you begin hiding in a cupboard and watch as a family of four Shibito consume the cooked flesh of their victims at the dining table and carry on a normal conversation. The worst aspect about them is they cannot die. No matter how many bullets or stab wounds they receive, a Shibito will rise again to find you. Only a few of them can be immobilized permanently, and that’s if you hit them the right way while they’re standing in the right spot.

Apart from the enemies, the locations in which these games take place are alive. Land masses shift, mountains are flooded in oceans of blood, it rains from the sky, and time distortion are common in Hanuda. To top it all off, the ten player characters you control, as the story progresses, are not at all who they seem to be.

Sight-jacking

Perhaps the most unique trait of the Siren series is sight-jacking; the ability to see and hear from other enemies and NPC’s around you. A portion of my time playing these games was spent finding a corner to hide in and scanning the other humans and Shibito across the levels with the character’s telepathic powers. I’m not sure this mechanic is ever explained in detail, but I could care less, as it’s so crucial to the gameplay and adds an unbelievable amount of tension.

On multiple occasions I would be looking through the eyes of enemies and watch them turn a corner, only to see my own character on screen in a trance. Then it all goes red and I hear their sickly screams and cries for help. The immediate tension of being caught is equivalent to the exclamation sound from the Metal Gear series, but worse.

Haunting Music

Without a doubt, music is one of the key focuses of any game, but especially so in horrific circumstances. Silent Hill has always been known for Akira Yamaoka’s off the wall music. I’m paraphrasing here, but he described it in an interview with something along the lines of, “my music is like walking down the street to work, like you do every day, but today, someone is hit by a car. It startles you, it grips you, and you didn’t expect it”. I love this description and I feel it can be applied to music of Siren as well. Take a listen to this track from Blood Curse.

This piece plays somewhere around the climax/end of the game and perfectly orchestrates the feelings of horror each character you’ve brought to this point is experiencing. It’s hauntingly beautiful and I can’t get enough of it. The singer actually feels scared, especially when her voice breaks just past the one minute mark. But my favorite part of this is that I can’t think of another horror game with music that sounds anything like this. I also can’t leave out an amazing ambiance sample.

Right at the start of the original Siren, you’re chased by a Shibito cop before you even know what’s going on or why your current character is here, but you immediately know that everything is wrong. With the dark atmosphere and mad officer shooting at you, your first instinct is to hide, and this feeling is carried throughout the entire game.

The Gameplay is Exactly What a Horror Game Should Be

Personally, I’m tired of the insane number of defenseless FPS horror games that are releasing. Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast were great, but I haven’t found any others that really do it for me. Without a doubt I love third-person horror the most, and Blood Curse has such excellent balance involving stealth and combat. The original Siren had painstakingly slow and extremely punishing progression. When crouched, your character would waddle mere inches as you moved, and if you didn’t time the scripted walking patterns of the Shibito to the second, you were basically boned, as combat is almost never a good option. In Blood Curse, the faults of the first game were almost entirely solved: you could move quickly while crouched, hand to hand combat was possible, you could move while simultaneously sight-jacking, and levels had multiple methods of progression.

PS2S

I feel that a great horror games needs a balance of making the player feel weak but giving them the options of struggling through. If you have no defense but hiding alone, the game grows thin after running to that same damn closet the bad guys never seem to look in. If you’re given too much health or too many bullets, then eliminating all the enemies removes all fear. In Siren, you can’t kill any of the Shibito permanently. You have no health bar so you always have to gauge how much more damage you can take. Weapons are scarce and guns are rare. If you’re lucky enough to have found one, you won’t have many bullets . The best part about the game is solving your way through the tense scenarios by being stealthy, yelling, setting traps, or using environmental hazards to incapacitate foes.

What Can Siren 4 Do For The Horror Genre?

Breath new life into it. With the unique elements of the Siren games, Siren 4 can re-establish a different kind of horror game. Most of them today are first-person hide ‘n seek or third person action focused. Siren is neither one of these. It provides you with such a challenge you’re forced to think your way out with very little combat while simultaneously providing you the tools and abilities to stealth your way past enemies or incapacitate them temporarily. Due to the nature of the world, you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and moving forward. Since the enemies patrol levels, there are few places that are completely safe.

Create genuine tension through non-scripted scenarios. Horror games today give too much breathing room and become predictable. The Dead Space games are easy once you know how to shoot and manage your ammo, because the enemies stop coming. In Amnesia and Outlast, there are certain places the enemies just wouldn’t go or explore, and it felt like I was getting off the hook too easily. If you find a hiding place high up, any Shibito with a gun will make quick work of you. If you constantly re-use a good hiding place in an alley or small building, you will be found. It takes away your comfort zones one by one, forcing the player to move on and to continuously out-think the game.

Tell a macabre story for the horror enthusiast. On another level of satisfaction that few horror games have been delivering lately, Siren boasts the perfect type of lore for an insane plot. The director of all three games is the man behind the original Silent Hill, Keiichiro Toyama, which should enlighten you on what you’re in for if you slip a Siren disc into your console. Centering around strange religions, isolated civilizations, and dark rituals all held together by interesting, to say the least, individuals, these games dish up hard to follow but fun to piece together plots, like any good supernatural horror title.

The Evil Within

Ween us off today’s “typical” horror. As I mentioned before I am quickly losing interest in the large number of first person horror games with a focus on leaving you completely vulnerable. It’s had its time and I feel a break from that style is best. On the flip side, I’m also sick of asking people if they play horror games and their answer is always, “You mean Dead Space?” The Dead Space games are great (the first two, anyway), but what they boil down to are shooters where you level up through money. Once you’ve got that power, they aren’t scary anymore. Shinji Mikami, the father of Resident Evil, is directing The Evil Within, which I am probably looking forward to more than any other game this year, but I have this feeling that it could be another Resident Evil 4 underneath a different skin. If that’s the case, it will just be another horror-themed third person shooter.

I think why I love Siren so much, aside from the obvious reasons, is that it breaks the mold. It strikes a balance. It reminds me of older horror games where combat wasn’t your first option but you could rely on it if necessary, when puzzles were more than putting blocks into holes and figuring out how to deal with threats while keeping your character alive and your supplies stocked. The last game I actually remember experiencing this in was The Last of Us, which is only partially a horror game. Also, it doesn’t shove your character to the left side of the screen. Why does every fucking game do that now?

Siren began its life at the tail end of old-school survival horror in 2003 with a frustrating but somewhat innovative and genuinely scary title. It was re-born in 2008 with Blood Curse, which improved the controls and scaled down on the mundane while keeping the tension and scares. But since then, it’s completely disappeared. I mainly feel the next Siren is necessary to demonstrate to developers and gamers that horror is capable of so much more than third-person shooting and hide ‘n seek games that constantly re-use tropes. I wish to experience new tension brought on by stalking my way through dilapidated Japanese villages (or hell, anywhere around the world, the games aren’t limited to Hanuda) polluted by mumbling corpse people while trying to figure out what exotic god or ill-proceeded ritual damned the place into the underworld this time.

Have any of you experienced the Siren games? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let’s talk in the comments below!

               
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COMMENTS

  • Snow

    I played the original Siren for the PS2. I remember it as a game with amazing atmosphere and interesting plot. But it remains one of the few games I never finished because of the insanely difficult gameplay. Too bad because I thought it was the most intriguing horror experience after Silent Hill I encountered.

  • RichWalk24

    The Siren series will always be my favourite survival horror series. What appealed to me was the unique stealth gameplay mechanics, the difficult yet satisfying level designs, the memorable enemy designs and behaviour, the fact that any playable character can die and come back to life to hunt down the living playable characters, and so on.
    However, as much as I would want to see another game I doubt that it will happen anytime soon, if ever. Too many times there has been false news of a sequel, and every time we get our hopes up it turns out to be just a rumour.
    I’ve already accept the fact that the series is dead, just as the Silent Hill series is.

  • EvilResident

    Blood Curse was incredible until the bizarre change of tone in the very last section. It didn’t kill the entire series for me, but it left me going “WTF” in a very bad way.

    • Taylor Dean

      I do agree with you there. I love Blood Curse up until those moments. Then I just like it. I’m working my way through the original now and I’m curious to see if it’s anything like that.

      • Matthew Lawson

        It’s like that for a reason. If you think about it, everything is getting slowly less realistic and more and more grotesque. At the same time from a Shibito perspective everything looks euphoric and beautiful. The last boss has two main themes, it’s disgusting insect appearance, and it’s hyponotic manipulative euphoric images which it undoubtedly displays in all the shibito under his(/her idk the gender)’s command. It shows everything about the shibito and it makes Miyako destroy his diguises in order to truly reveal him – and the rest of the shibito – for what they have become. Many of the shibito after the boss look in pain or tormented and so it is very much possible that in his death the shibito regained actual conscience.

  • ariessiren

    You can import the Asia version , its fully uncensored and in full English. Blood curse was heavily censored. Great game, really was the last true survival horror game. These current games like outlast, I’m sorry but they just suck. Its hide n seek. Siren is pure survival horror.

    • Taylor Dean

      How uncensored is the Asian version?

      And Outlast SUCKED!? No way, man! I know I criticize the hide ‘n seek gameplay of a lot of titles, but Outlast is like, one of two of those games that really scared the pants off me AND I loved the story, despite it’s cliche’s.

  • Liam Mountain

    even now the ps3 version still has great graphics and atmosphere.

  • Henrikm

    waited for a Siren 4 since ages…

    I have been lucky enough to gotten a chance too play through all 3 games and I loved it…

    Yes its insanley hard at some part I had to resort to a guide.

    But loved the whole setting and atmosphere.

    As someone mentioned here it felt somewhat like Silent Hill in the atmosphere and horror,

    I dont know what happened to the team that making the game beside what I heard its going to become what was it a comic or movie now????

    But I hope that comic/Movie is a sort of prequel thinge for a future game….

    • Taylor Dean

      There are two mangas based off the lore of the games and a movie that came out in 2006 called Forbidden Siren, but it’s really bad. It’s not even worth watching, if you ask me. Has nothing to do with the games.

  • Cameron Rogers

    I loved Siren Blood Curse. I couldn’t get into Siren 1, and never played Forbidden Siren.

    • Taylor Dean

      The original is definitely a hard egg to crack. I’ve only ever made it a few hours in until my most recent play-through. Now that I’m in the thick of it, I’m digging it a lot more.

      If you can, I would recommend giving it another go!

  • Brodequin

    Superb, unique, The only true survival horror game series…

    • Taylor Dean

      Yeah man! For the longest time I thought Silent Hill was a series I was never going to be able to play at night, but Siren is the one that still scares the shit out of me, even when I’m with friends. It can just managed to make you jump.

  • David Lees

    I thought the first Siren was going to be one of the best horror games ever based on the first few hours of gameplay but it became so difficult I had to give up on it. Not just in terms of the gameplay, some of “puzzles” you had to solve were so ridiculously obtuse it defied belief. IIRC on one level your stated goal was just to get to the other side of a village, but to open up one of the later levels while you were there you had to pick up a towel, take it to a dripping tap, get it wet then leave it in a freezer so later on another character would find it an use it as a stick.

    I mean, WHAT!?

    Forbidden Siren 2 on the other hand really was superb. They sorted out a lot of the issues from the first one and I managed to play it all the way through without a guide. There was more balance to it, on a handful of missions you got to play as a soldier who had access to guns and was able to survive pretty well, which provided the occasional bit of cathartic release before you went back to being helpless and hunted. There are some parts of that game that will stay with me for a very long time. And the setting is based on Hashima Island, which is really cool too.

    • Cameron Rogers

      I couldn’t complete Siren because of its insane difficulty. Siren 2 I never played since Sony thought it was a wonderful idea not to bring it the US, and I played and loved Siren Blood Curse.

    • Taylor Dean

      Yeah, some of the puzzles in the original are ridiculous. Why is it a thing in old horror games that you have to pass parts of the game through tedious and wacko mechanics that no normal person would ever think of?

      In that part with the towel, I just played, I didn’t use it, and instead got the Shibito to fire at me, then beat his ass when he reloaded.

  • MattS71

    Loved the original Siren; sadly, Siren 2 never hit the U.S.; sure I can play it via PC, but never got around to it. Played the updated version of Siren and liked it. Would play a Siren 4 for sure; great article!!

    • Taylor Dean

      Thank you, sir! 😀

  • Xander

    Well stated, man. The original Siren was definitely too hard, but Blood Curse is the best, hands down. I would love to see any new game in this series, or really any real survival horror game, for that matter.

    • Taylor Dean

      The newest previews I’ve been reading for The Evil Within make it sound much more promising than before…

      • João Machado

        I don’t know if you will read this, dude. But I wanted to know your opinion on the evil within. I found it to fall short on my expectations. I disliked the constant unoriginal “winks” at resident evil, being it 1 or 4. It’s not as I expected it to be and I loved blood curse. It’s like it is not as well balanced as siren is in the stealth and combat department. Then, you have the assignment dlc where it is really scary but it’s only about hide and seek in repetitive and scripted tropes. It does not deliver what siren blood curse did, even if I found the dlc to be better than the main evil within game. Man, I really want another siren…

  • Henrikm

    Forgot to add to my previous post was that I loved the character gallery there was none that was really the main protaganist,all of them where and all of their stories was connected in the end.

    Also as Siren player nows dont get too attached too the cast 😀

    I loved how one played through diffrent scenarios with diffrent characters and how some was forced to use stealth,other had weapons they could use and so on.

  • Jane Kleshcheva

    I can’t say that I’ve found Siren games flawless, but there’s one thing Siren 2 I believe does perfectly right. Remember how games often prepare you for a new enemy by showing videos of it before the actual fight? This way you have time to examine it relatively closely, get ready and when you finally fight it, you are not as scared as you could be, if scared at all. Siren 2 on the other hand just says “Kill japanese chick” (I have immensely hard time remembering Japanese names), and you’re like “Ok, I’ve killed her several times already, what could go wrong”. So you wander across the ship looking for her and suddenly get attacked by something way too weird. It’s so unexpected that your first intention is save your life and run without looking back. Not because it was a jump scare, but because you didn’t have enough time to identify the monster. Later you’ll understand it’s a creepy/hilarious chicken demon with a human face and get plenty of time looking at it, but that first time, that feeling of “what IS this” terror is priceless.

    • Taylor Dean

      I miss that in games. Introductory cut-scenes are cool with the unknown isn’t one of the enemies strong-points.

  • Steven O

    Siren is one of my all time favorites. The first and second games are the best in the series. I liked Blood Curse but they made it far too easy and far too short. It felt dumbed down compared to the past games. I also like the fact it was one of the first series that actually killed off most of it’s cast. Sure my favorites characters died, Risa…it still hurts. I found that to be very unique in a horror series to be honest. I hope Siren 4 is made. It just looks slim….which sucks. Need a new story, a new location and some really good female characters again

  • Brodequin

    Director Keiichiro Toyama and scenario writer Naoko Sato are serously iinvolved in the creation of the “Siren: The Call of the Red Sea” manga episodic adaptation.
    Sony has stated that they were given full controll on this production.
    So i hope there is still chance that we will play someday a new unique and twisted Siren story…

  • Vladimir Salguero

    I discovered this serie on this year, a life changer in my favs survival horror, great game with a complex plot, hope to see more titles of this serie!

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