Reviews September 23, 2017

Songbringer

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: Xbox One (Also on PS4, PC)
Genre: Action RPG
Rated: T
Players: 1
Cost: $19.99
Release Date: 08/31/2017
Publisher: Wizard Fu Games
Developer: Wizard Fu Games

Nostalgia has a weird way of tricking fans into liking something. You see, many of us really just want more of the same when it comes to our video games. Sequels, prequels, remakes and such. Every so often we’ll venture out to find something newish – an attribute usually offered by indie titles. In my experience though, even the most unique indie games are usually innovations on old concepts, therefore feeding our need to be entertained by the familiar.

Take Wizard Fu Games’ Songbringer, for example. It features a sword wielding protagonist named Roq, who’s stuck on a strange planet. Surviving random encounters with unruly monsters is his main priority. Finding a way back to his ship is a close second. To do this, he or rather the player, will need to explore the large maze-like environments for any means of escape. This is easier said than done given how the hostile terrain closes off sections of the world. The key to moving past the obstacles lying dormant in dark dungeons, guarded by tricky puzzles and tough bosses; emerging victorious grants Roq with more health points and a new artifact (weapons or gear) needed to venture on. His adventure is captured from an overhead view with scrolling landscapes – new areas slide into view anytime Roq touches edge of the screen.

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Saying that Songbringer is basically The Legend of Zelda would be both a true statement and a misnomer. Wiz Fu’s sole developer, Nathanael Weiss, clearly wears his inspiration on his sleeve. At the same time, Songbringer offers something a little different. For one, the entire world is procedurally generated. Thanks to a cool naming system, players will seed their world at the start of a session; your six-letter word will determine how the planet looks, which enemies are seen, when and where dungeons or secrets are placed. Entering the same word always generates the same world (allowing friends to share their “creations” with others). It’s a neat trick that provides a sense of newness with each playthrough.

The reason I say trick is because you don’t get an entirely different planet. I mean, the landscape changes (i.e. from being rainy to desert-like) and the placement of items and enemies change. But for the most part it’s the same experience, story beats and all. This isn’t a bad thing mind you. Being able to go through an entertaining game with a different layout certainly extends the replay value. It’s like having multiple Dark Worlds in A Link to the Past, without encountering stronger enemies.

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Exploring each world is wildly entertaining. This is due to the clever placement of secrets and how the game hints at their whereabouts; an intangible wall that looks slightly off during certain instances can be an exciting find. With just a few melee and ranged attacks, the combat isn’t as complex as it could be. Though things get better when new items, like bombs, are acquired. And while I didn’t care too much for the overworld enemies, the dungeon encounters were often thrilling. Usually the dungeon monsters were more menacing, grouped in larger numbers, and had alternate modes of attack. The bosses were even better. With tough patterns to spot and large life bars (I assume given how many times I had to whack them before they died), they proved to be the highlights of the game.  

The plot isn’t very compelling, so the challenging gameplay is what kept me going. The game can lean too hard toward being difficult though. Songbringer will show its teeth sooner or later depending on where you go early on. This is because even though it isn’t meant to be a linear game, the dungeons do go in order. If you find say, the fifth dungeon before you find the first one, you’ll have a hard time completing it. Many dungeons have puzzles that seemed to require specific artifacts, to begin with at least. Certain combinations of weapons and abilities help to balance the scales. Combining my dash with an ice item allowed me to freeze enemies when I ran by them. This also made it possible to freeze water, giving me a way to circumvent certain obstacles.

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It’s also possible to run into tougher enemies sooner than later. My first world populated in such a way that I didn’t come across certain monsters until I had gained more hit points. That wasn’t the case on my second one. Within moments of obtaining my sword, I ran into a horned warrior that usually resided in dungeons. The main reason I created a new world was because of the last boss. This powerful enemy had multiple forms, hard hitting abilities, and a crazy amount of life. Even after finding a weakness – taking a certain item when he goes intangible eliminates an entire segment of the battle – he still proved to be too much. I don’t know if I missed something along the way, an item or ability that would have helped, or if my techniques were flawed.

So, I started a new world and set out to see if I could do better. Maybe locate a more powerful weapon. The rougher start washed away that notion, leaving me with few options. Go back and try to complete a frustratingly tough fight, try again at creating an “easier” world, or stop playing. I chose to stop playing…for now. I’m sure I’ll come back and slay the fowl beast later. It’s just that, hitting a brick wall at the very end just sucked all of the life out of the experience for me. And with a nonexistent plot, the only incentive for me to finish the game would have been an achievement.

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Songbringer is entertaining. I believe the main reason I enjoyed (most) of my time in-game was due to how it reminded me of Zelda though. And while the game seemed balanced up until I hit the final boss, I don’t feel compelled to keep playing despite how the procedural aspects encourage multiple playthroughs. Again, that’s not to say that it’s just a Zelda clone. Wizard Fu Games should be proud of what they created, regardless of why their game was well received.  

Gameplay: 7
Songbringer is provides an engaging experience, but it falters with balancing difficulty ranges, thanks to the procedural aspects.

Graphics: 9
The retro inspired graphics are quite charming to say the least.

Sound: 8
I dig the music.

Replay Value: 7
The procedural element helps in this regard. Most of the important stuff is the same though; you won’t see new enemies or special bosses when creating different worlds. It really comes down to how much you enjoyed the base gameplay.

Final Score:

7.8