It’s a shame more people aren’t aware of the Forbidden Siren game series. It is among the best I’ve played in survival horror, and a real treat to those that enjoy classic J-Horror. Still, Forbidden Siren (also known as Project Siren, or simply Siren), was popular enough to develop a small following (often intertwining with the Silent Hill fan base), a sequel (sadly not available in the United States), a film, and a decent re-imagining (similar to its American sister, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories). For those that are unaware, allow me to introduce the series, explain why it’s memorable, and explore the pros and cons of the remake/”re-imagining”.
Forbidden Siren (PS2)
Released in the States in 2004, the first installment of the franchise was notable and unique in both presentation and game play. To create a truly disturbing feel, the “images of real human faces were captured from eight different angles and superimposed onto the character [facial] models, an effect similar to projecting film onto the blank face of a mannequin.” The story was played in non-chronological stages and featuring the viewpoints of many different characters, as typical in among Japanese horror films. Combat is virtually a non-factor, as the game greatly encourages stealth against near invincible foes to provide an overwhelming sense of helplessness for the player. Players are encouraged to hide, sneak, and limit their use of the flashlight. The game also makes use of “Sight-jacking” a system in which the player can view the environment through the eyes of allies or enemies in order to learn their migratory patterns and their locations as well as the locations of useful items (the player cannot however move during “Sight-jacking”). The “Butterfly Effect” is also used, as any small action a player might make can either hinder or help another character at a later stage.
The primary enemies of this game (and later sequels) are the Shibito. Though on first glance the term “zombie” may spring to mind, the player quickly learns that the Shibito are far, far worse. Though technically reanimated corpses, Shibito are actually much faster than zombies of popular media and posses a small level of intelligence and retain some memory and hints of their former personalities. Shibito are often spotted engaged in “normal” activities of their former life (such as gardening or worship) or patrolling areas of importance. They will attack a player character (and companion) on sight and though they can be subdued they will reanimated in a matter of seconds and immidiantly begin searching for the player. They will often try to choke the victim or use melee weapons or firearms (with disturbing accuracy). As the game progresses, the Shibito began to transform, and some will grow wings and are able to chase the player through flight.
Plot (from Wikipedia): “Siren is set in a Japanese village named Hanuda (Hanyuda in the Japanese version). With strong religious beliefs important in the area, the locals like to keep to themselves and have sought to keep Hanuda isolated from the outside world. Following the interruption of a ritual near Hanuda, and a subsequent earthquake, the village teeters between time and space, with an infinite sea of red water replacing the mountainous territory. The crux of the story focuses on the efforts of Hisako Yao, the leader of the local religion, to resurrect or re-awaken a god through a ceremony. The ‘Siren’ of the title is the god’s call, summoning Hanuda’s residents to immerse themselves in the red water, thus creating an army of subordinates called shibito (屍人 shibito?, lit. “corpse people”). The shibito then go about building a nest to house the god’s corporeal form once it is summoned, as well as killing and converting any remaining humans left in Hanuda. The story is told through the perspectives of ten survivors, some of whom are natives of Hanuda, and is presented out of chronological order over the three days in which the plot takes place.”
Reception (via Wikipedia)
Siren received generally positive scores, with a score of 71.24% on GameRankings based on 65 reviews, and 72% on Metacritic, based on 48 reviews. Features of the game which were especially praised were the graphics, particularly the facial animation, and the complex and deep storyline. Much criticism, however, was aimed at the high difficulty, the unforgiving nature of the game, the relatively useless map feature which didn’t show the player’s position in the game field, the obscure nature of some of the puzzles and a general tendency for players to have to utilize trial-and-error methods to progress through the game.
GameSpot awarded the game a score of 6.7 out of 10, with a rating of “Fair.” Reviewer Bethany Massimilla concluded that although the game had a great story, and interesting characters, it was “ultimately marred by tedious trial-and-error-based design that makes it best suited to survival horror fans with a good store of patience […] While the need to know what happened in the village of Hanuda can sustain you, it’s a hard ride through all the tedious trial and error you have to engage in simply to pass a level and move on. Fans of the genre interested in something new may be game for Siren if they’re possessed with lots of patience–but they’re the only ones this game is truly suited for.”
IGN scored the game 7.7 out of 10. Reviewer Jeremy Dunham praised the originality of the concept, the use of Sightjacking, the graphics and the storyline, but criticized the difficulty level and the trial and error nature of the gameplay; “At the end of the day, Siren is one of those rare kinds of games that overcomes gameplay shortcomings with its concept, style, and storyline. For those of us that allow ourselves to be immersed by it, it’s undeniable to say that the game isn’t among one of the scariest experiences on the market; and we’re not just talking about the how ugly the monster faces are either. We’re referring to its terrific combination of atmosphere, pacing, and storyline twists as well. And let us not forget that the Sight-Jacking system serves as a great way to breathe new life into a genre that has otherwise seen little innovation since its inception 12 years ago. Yet despite that fact, Siren definitely isn’t for everyone. As there will unquestionably be a great crowd of gamers that find the trial and error gameplay overly frustrating as they attempt to solve obscure puzzles and slip by the incredibly belligerent Shibito. The clunky menu system and sometimes awkward viewpoint controls will likely grow tiresome for less patient players too, and the armpit voice acting takes away from what could have been the spookiest audio in the history of the PlayStation 2. The good news is that the positive in Siren outweighs the negative, and for players willing to give the storyline and weaker gameplay elements a chance there’s one hell of a ride in store for them.”
GameSpy scored the game 4 out of 5, with Bryan Stratton following other reviewers in praising the storyline and atmosphere, but criticizing the nature of the gameplay; “For all of the things thatSiren does well, there are a number of things that keep it from being a truly A-list survival-horror game. Siren‘s biggest problem is that it can get very frustrating very early on. If you’re not a fan of unforgiving stealth-based gameplay, you’re going to die often and repeat missions to the point where it becomes more tedious than scary. Some of the missions are extremely frustrating, such as the ones in which you have to lead a helpless character past several Shibito, or any mission with a Shibito sniper. […] Siren‘s controls and camera are also on the sloppy side, which seems to be a genre-wide curse. One of the worst aspects of the control scheme is the way your character is momentarily stunned whenever you accidentally run into a solid object. God help you if you’ve got a sniper’s crosshairs trained on you while you’re trying to run through an open doorway, because there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll clip the doorframe, stumble backwards, and get shot. These wouldn’t be such major issues if Siren had scalable difficulty options that allowed less skilled or less patient gamers to avoid getting stuck on one mission, but Siren is intended to be played in one way and one way only, and its inflexibility is going to turn many gamers off. Still, for each thing that Siren doesn’t do well, there are two innovative ideas that make it worthy of high praise. It is definitely not a game that will appeal to every survival-horror fan. Those who enjoy it will rank it among their favorite games of all time. Those who don’t should hope that some of Siren‘s good ideas are stolen by developers who can implement them in a less frustrating game.”
Similarities to Silent Hill:
– Both games take place in a cursed town in a remote setting.
– Both games feature a disturbing ritual involving a young girl
– Both games employ the use of thick fog, grim atmospheric “music,” and a nightmarish/dream like landscape.
– Both involve a priestess that carries a dark secret
– Both make use of an eerie siren that “calls”
– Both feature creepy nurses and a twisted doctor under distress.
– Both make use of notes to reveal backstory
Forbidden Siren 2 (PS2)
Despite the popularity and acclaim of the first game, the 2006 sequel never quite made it to the states. I myself never had the chance to play this game, though thankfully many excellent walk-through are available on Youtube to watch. Gameplay has much improved in this sequel, making it easier for less seasoned gamers to navigate the game. Improvements have been made to “sight-jacking,” and player characters now have additional unique abilities to aid the player. Hints are now available for the first time. Difficulty levels are also adjustable and there are more weapons handy.
Along with all these improvements comes the addition of the Yamibito, a more formidable foe than the Shibito. Weakened only by light, they are smarter, stronger, and more resilient, making them a great addition to a game shrouded in darkness.
The sequel got good reviews but still managed to disappoint the critics, mainly due to a less intriguing story line.
Reception (via Wikipedia)
Eurogamer awarded the game a score of 7 out of 10 with reviewer Kristan Reed feeling that the game improved on many of the problems of the sequel (especially the difficulty level and trial-and-error nature of the gameplay), but simultaneously fell somewhat short of the original; “Forbidden Siren 2 is not the stunning sequel we were hoping for. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly where it goes wrong, when so many of the flaws of the original have been eradicated. For a start, the game does a much better job of spelling out what you’re supposed to do throughout each scenario, and does so alongside a generally excellent in-game hint system that eradicates most of the petty frustrations of the past. Not only that, the game has the decency to checkpoint-save key events, meaning that you can play with a much greater degree of confidence in the knowledge that you haven’t got to repeat 30 minutes of painstaking, stealthy play just to explore an otherwise useless building to grab an artefact that opens up a new mission later on […] Where the game ultimately falls down is how routine most of the missions feel, how short most of them are, how disappointingly basic almost all of the puzzles are and how hard it remains to get a proper handle on the fractured storyline.”
VideoGamer.com awarded the game a score of 6 out of 10 with reviewer Chris Pickering (a big fan of Siren) also feeling that the game removed many of the problems inherent to the original, but at the same time, also fell somewhat short in many respects; “Though the atmosphere helps make for a title that can certainly be enjoyed, its many flaws make me crave for the title that might have been. Had the solid base of the first game been built upon we could have been looking at an essential title for horror fans. What we’re left with, however, is one that fails to make the necessary leap forward into greatness. It remains a recommended game, but one that I can’t help but be ever so slightly downbeat about.”
Forbidden Siren (film)
To coincide with the release of Forbidden Siren 2, a film adaption was released. Featuring an original story it still kept many core elements featured in the games, such as the “Shibito” and an enigmatic siren. Much like the first and second Silent Hill films, the films’ story is very loosely based on the sequel game. It’s a hard film to find in the U.S.A., however I have been able to view a bootlegged version via a friend and I found it a worthy addition to the franchise. It some small ways it reminds me of Carpenter’s classic, The Fog, a film I greatly enjoyed, however this film is straight up J-Horror. If you have the chance to view it I would strongly recommend it.
Forbidden Siren: Blood Curse (PS3)
Just as the first classic Silent Hill game got a re-imagining, so too did Forbidden Siren. And just like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Forbidden Siren: Blood Curse has been thoroughly “Americanized”. However, while I normally loathe this type of change, I found myself extremely happy with the result. While Shattered Memories was a good stand-alone game, it only works by separating it from the rest of the franchise. It stands as a great game based on its own merits. However it never felt like a “Silent Hill” game. Blood Curse did though, even with Westernized characters ret-conned into the original story. The enhanced graphics actually improved the realism of the environment and the overall creep factor. The original eerie atmospheric score is still present, slightly tweaked (much like Jeff Danna’s interpretations of Akira Yamaoka for the film). The story is virtually the same as the first, though there are a few surprises for fans of the original and some classic characters are merged into a single new character. The story is completely linear now, and the game play is much easier than in the original. As stealth is a major component in horror-survival, I was so pleased to see it is still very much utilized in this game, as some players cannot use weapons, making for a more frightening game play experience. I was however disappointed to see that the creepy facial projections are gone. The voice acting though has been much improved. I also enjoyed that each Shibito is an individual character, instead of the same four models being used over and over, adding to the realism. There is also more gore, which depending on the player is either good or bad, and better use of lighting and shadows. However, “easter egg” story lines presented in the original are missing in favor of a straight-forward story, and there are a few plot holes in the remake.
The remake (again mirroring Shattered Memories) received great reviews.
Reception (via Wikipedia)
Siren: Blood Curse received generally favorable reviews. On aggregate websites, it averaged 77% on GameRankings based on 39 reviews, and 78% on Metacritic based on 42 reviews. IGN gave the game a score of 8.4/10.GameSpot‘s Carolyn Petit gave Blood Curse a 7 out of 10, praising the sight jacking mechanic, while noting repetition in locations and controls.
Forbidden Siren is an understated game franchise. It is true horror and never strays from its core appeal. It provides the scares and a challenging game. It has its flaws, but I found it worth every second of my time. It has held up well over time and it’s a real shame that more titles haven’t been developed. I strongly recommend this title, particularly to fans of titles such as Lone Survivor and classic Silent Hill.