Songbringer (PlayStation 4) Review

By Renan Fontes 04.09.2017 6

Review for Songbringer on PlayStation 4

It's hard enough developing a game that's deeply rooted in homage, and it's even harder when the gameplay revolves around a randomised overworld and dungeons. Songbringer is Wizard Fu Games' attempt at injecting roguelike elements into the original Legend of Zelda. What made the first Zelda such a classic was that blend of non-linear exploration and action. Throwing in procedurally generated worlds seems like a sure-fire way to innovate on an old classic. The main issue here is that Nintendo designed Hyrule with a specific world in mind. Without that deliberation, the secrets would not have been as noteworthy, the dungeons would lack their now iconic layouts, and enemy placements would be a total free-for-all. Songbringer's goal is as ambitious as it is dangerous. The question is whether or not the risk was worth it.

In styling itself after The Legend of Zelda with a randomised flair, Songbringer has two major challenges to overcome: establishing an identity of its own and making sure the procedural generation always yields interesting results.

In regards to the former, Wizard Fu Games has certainly put in the effort to ensure the action RPG roguelike isn't derivative of Nintendo's classic. Tonally, the two are worlds apart. The inspiration is a high fantasy adventure while the inspired is a sci-fi quest. One has a traditionally "epic" soundtrack, and the other focuses on creating mood through a strange, yet still pleasing note structure. TLoZ uses sparse dialogue to point out secrets, and Songbringer never shuts up.

A good script knows when to be quiet. This is a universal truth for all mediums. Silence is deafening and can establish a world or character just as well as dialogue. In an attempt to explain the world and give the protagonist, Roq, personality, the script is filled with Roq's intrusive quips.

Screenshot for Songbringer on PlayStation 4

Humour is a good way to get an audience to like a character, but it can also come off very cheap. Roq's interruptions are surface level observational comments that boil down to generic excitement over using a bomb. Like many protagonists before him, his main personality trait is "a little bit funny" and he's not better off for it.

The sad part is Roq is accompanied by a floating robot, Jib, whose interruptions tend to make sense in context. He occasionally mentions the possibility of Roq having brain damage and could theoretically push him towards the right direction. Learning about Roq through Jib could have been an interesting way of exploring a silent protagonist, but, as it stands, Roq's character falls flat, serving more as a nuisance than anything else.

Despite the script problems, it cannot be denied that Songbringer has an identity of its own. It has a hostile atmosphere that perfectly matches its aesthetics, and the science fiction elements are integrated rather nicely. When it comes to paying homage to The Legend of Zelda, it's the gameplay where most of the inspiration went into.

Screenshot for Songbringer on PlayStation 4

Row starts swordless in a directionless overworld, and it's up to him to decide what to do next. Just like Zelda, there's an immediate freedom and a drive to explore. While investigating the landscape and taking in the scenery maintains its lustre for most of the experience, the same cannot be said for the action.

From a technical standpoint, the combat is severely lacking polish. Zelda's action was simple, but it was at least refined. Roq's swing arc is visually misleading, giving the impression that his range is larger than it actually is. Most enemies are knocked back when hit, making it incredibly difficult to kill them fast with the sword.

Roq can get access to different weapons throughout his journey, like a hat that serves as a boomerang and bombs, but they tend to be weaker than the sword. Weapon usage ends up being a toss-up between using a strong weapon with knockback and a bad hit box, or a significantly weaker weapon that at least feels good to use.

Screenshot for Songbringer on PlayStation 4

The biggest problem with the combat stems from the procedural generation. It's entirely possible to move down a screen and take damage from an enemy that was placed right at the entrance. Songbringer takes a concept as simple as traversing the world and turns it into a random chance to take damage. This isn't an issue that occurs often, but it does occur - and that's a problem.

In its defence, the procedural generation is at least creative in execution. Seeds are created through six letter names and each name is the same across all versions of the game. It's entirely possible that a perfect overworld with perfect dungeons exists, but it isn't due to any deliberate design choices.

Songbringer is in a very strange position where it has legitimately good ideas, but they're held back through awkward design choices or a simple lack of design. Permadeath is a nice little add-on, the aesthetic is great, and casually exploring can be fun, yet the combat, randomisation, and poor writing all work together to bring that fun to a halt. Worst of all, that Legend of Zelda touch simply isn't there because the world isn't crafted by hand. Songbringer may not be bad overall, but it isn't good, either.

Screenshot for Songbringer on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

In theory, Songbringer should be excellent. As a procedurally generated take on the original Legend of Zelda, there's plenty of room to innovate with old and new ideas alike. Unfortunately, the old ideas feel derivative of better games and the new ideas are hardly revolutionary. The overall aesthetic and sound design do a great job at creating atmosphere, which makes it all the more disappointing when the level design falls victim to the typical procedurally generated pitfalls. Without attention specifically given to enemy placement, how areas connect, and dungeon design, Songbringer never sustains a consistent level of difficulty or quality. Procedural generation is a handy tool, but not when it's used as a substitute for actual level design.

Developer

Wizard Fu Games

Publisher

Wizard Fu Games

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

whenever i see anything thats procedurally generated, it sends up red flags.

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What he said

A lot of quotes in the Internet are attributed to the wrong person
                                -Georgios Karaiskakis

Was actually just discussing that point with another reviewer yesterday.  He's reviewing this and I had made mention that so called "procedural" generation is getting really irritating.

its a way for lazy developers who cant come up with good level design.

its become a crutch and they frequently try to use it as a selling point by saying "no two play sessions are the same!" when really, a really well throught out level design is fun to replay. people been replaying super metroid for like over 15 years now and nobody got bored of it.

designing good levels is work and takes time, i get it... but your game will ultimately become forgotten and nobody will give a fuck about it if it dosent stay in their memory. getting familar with a game's world is a big part why people like games and to make it so the world is some throwaway amalgam of assets.

it cheapens the game.

 

Insanoflex said:

its become a crutch and they frequently try to use it as a selling point by saying "no two play sessions are the same!" when really, a really well throught out level design is fun to replay. people been replaying super metroid for like over 15 years now and nobody got bored of it.


 


Exactly.  The most frustrating part is how not procedural it all really is, or at least feels. Spelunky, which, along with Minecraft, is arguably to blame for a lot of the procedural generation fad, was one of the few to actually do it properly. There needs to be a procedure involved, something that sets rules for the way level are laid out.  I'm not saying that that never happens anymore, but the procedures seem to be largely misguided if it does happen. Even if, does every game have to be this?

I do miss levels being designed by hand, so to speak. Having a level I can become familar with makes the whole experience both more immersive and more cohesive. I haven't played Songbringer, so I can't speak to it, but I'm really tired of being told I'll just get used to the mechanics, and that's what's good. It can't always work that way.  It really feels like procedural generation has become to games what found footage was to horror a few years ago.

they'll tell you it has "infinite levels!" when really, it means just one. they always reuse the same hallways and arenas.

its never interesting and the game's mechanics are never good enough on their own to sustain the game's action.

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