Whatever Happened to Siren?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!