Siren: Blood Curse – Returning To Hanuda Village
Just a few minutes ago, I was finally able to close out the final episode of Siren: Blood Curse and I’ll be writing a series of features to rely my immediate thoughts and impressions on the game as well as touch on some of the genre’s qualities.
So, being a horror gaming junkie ever since the Super Nintendo won me over with Clock Tower (which has since remained just as scary given that bastard Scissorman’s penchant for jumping me at random places), I naturally had to find something to put on all the consoles available to me to get my regular scare fix. However as I tried in vain to find something for my PS3, it seems as if game developers this generation have only recently been refocusing their attention on truly scaring the living daylights out of gamers. Sure, gamers can claim that we’ve had titles like Dead Rising and the Condemned series for some time now, but are they really worthy of being labeled survival-horror?
Let’s start with Capcom’s Dead Rising; the basic premise driving the game is that you’re stuck in a mall infested by a zombie horde. By virtue of the plot, Frank West (you) has to stay alive for at least three days. However, over the course of those three days the player tends to gradually shake off the scares the zombie population initially presented thanks to the ready availability of weaponry and other survivors. Add to that the ability of the player to put up more than a decent fight against the undead and well, you come off as a bit of a badass. And that’s the problem here, there’s no sense of vulnerability when you can easily drive a lawnmower over a crowd of zombies one second and charge at them with a parasol the next, most, if not all, of the time. What you’re left with here are cheap scares that can easily be rectified by introducing your fist/gun/bat to your harasser’s jawline. This very same mechanic (alarm-bang-laugh-proceed) is present in virtually all of the current-generation titles that advertise themselves as survival-horror; try as you might to think otherwise, there are really only a handful of viable franchises left that can grant you a true scare and keep you a jumpy mess.
One such series is Sony’s own Forbidden Siren, simply known in the Western world as Siren. The original Siren was released for Japan in 2003 with the West being able to play it the following year. What they ended up with was a supremely trying experience that simultaneously frustrated some with its unforgiving difficulty and engrossed others with its perplexing and haunted narrative. Stranded in the cursed village of Hanuda deep within the mountains of rural Japan, Siren had players control various survivors in the area as they strive to make sense of the phenomenon that’s turned the locals into cackling, bloody-eyed murder machines called Shibito. Every character you guide is a run-of-the-mill everyman that possesses no elite military training or overwhelming machismo and is up against a whole village filled with what basically amount to be invincible enemies. So there you have it, the three key components of making a rich survival-horror experience:
- Unfamiliar territory, which makes for a great disorientation effect.
- Vulnerability, which facilitates the onset of panic and meshes well with key #1.
- Formidable enemies that can easily hand you a game over screen if toyed with.
However the original’s trial-and-error level design undermined its creepy atmosphere by forcing players to die and retry repeatedly, hence conditioning them to no longer fear what was just around the corner. As a result, the press could never really get behind recommending the title to anyone but the most hardcore fans, seriously hurting the possibility for wider appeal. Bottom lines in corporate offices failed to reach expectations and the title ultimate tanked at retail so hard that the development team’s considerably improved 2006 sequel skipped North America from Japan on its eventual trip to Europe.
However with the two other “true” survival-horror franchises either disappointing with watered-down mediocre efforts (Silent Hill: Origins, 2007) or having yet received a green light for an Western release (Fatal Frame IV: The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, 2008), Sony decided to gamble on Siren for America once more. But how would things work out this time?
Did Japan Studio learn from their mistakes? Could they push out a quality product to a gaming niche so far starved of their favorite games? How exactly did they fare in answering the call of the Siren?
The answer lies somewhere in a return to good old Hanuda Village…