Many games in the past can be considered Zelda clones or have paid homage to illustrious series in some way or another. Perhaps you played Golden Axe Warrior back in the day, or maybe more recently 3D Dot Game Heroes, Darksiders, or Okami. You can see the influence Zelda has provided to these games and they all try and add their spin on what the action RPG is. Developed by Wizard Fu Games and published by Double Eleven, Songbringer’s inspiration can be found in the old school, but with its own modern twists.
The accidental protagonists, Roq Epimetheos and Jib normally spend their time making music and partying aboard the spaceship Songbringer. While cruising the galaxy with their compatriots as they normally do, they skirt by the planet Ekzera. Lightning strikes Roq’s hover-bike and tumbles down to the planet’s surface. You awaken a few moments later with Jib and a crashed hover-bike. Wanting to return to Songbringer and living it up you decide to look around. Inside a nearby cave lies a cursed blade, the Nanosword, which inadvertently awakes a great evil. You pick up the sword (or don’t) and go along your merry way. Roq and Jib are far from the silent heroes from their predecessors but instead indulge in a back and forth of off kilter comedy that leaves you wanting more.
The overworld is divided into squares that pan from one to another as you reach the edge reminiscent of the 2d Zelda games. You battle your way through enemies, dungeons, bosses with the Nanosword, matter bombs, lighter, etc. You have heart containers (Courage) which act as your hit points and can be upgraded after defeating bosses as well as fining hidden containers around the world. You find diamonds hidden in cubes and on enemy corpses which is used as currency to buy upgrades and consumables. Heck you even get a top hat which acts as a boomerang. All of this should sound familiar because it is, but this is where the familiarity stops.
When you start your game you are asked to enter 6 letters, this dictates the seed of your game. From that seed the game world is procedurally generated, so any two people can play completely different maps or on the flip side can choose the same 6 letters and have the exact same map. This opens up the gate for speed running, leader boards, and the like. For those who don’t quite understand what procedurally generated is, think of randomizing placement of shops, items, dungeons, and NPCs on the world map. There is also the option for ‘permadeath’ which gives the game an almost rogue-like feel, and also adds to the leader board feature.
Another interesting key difference is in the ability to combine items. I wouldn’t quite call this crafting as there aren’t a huge amount of possibilities but there are enough to give some essence of choice to how your character plays. For example you’re given ‘ice’ which can be combined with bombs which allow you to freeze enemies and the environment when using them, or you could just as easily combine it with your sword allowing ice to be shot from it. The ability to complete parts of the game is unchanged but the way you complete it changes. These combinations are permanent to that run and cannot be undone so if you wanted to experiment you’d have to start a new game.
All of this is rendered in a beautiful pixel art style which has become common place among indie games. There is plenty of diversity on Ekzera with the rocky outcroppings of the desert regions, the trees and bushes of the grasslands, and rainy marshes of the swamps. Even though pixelated there is so much detail and care put into how things look with reflective surfaces, rain drops on the water, the animations for fire and lightning. I think my only complaint is that there is so much detail some smaller enemies (which are a lot of them) can get lost in the background, and ambiance.
Sound and music design is a tough one for me with this game. I loved the intro with its 80s sci-fi synth feel, however after that it felt as if the music just sort of dropped off. Not to say it was bad, just… hollow, lacking. Sound effects on the other hand I felt were done very well, especially the Nanosword, which gives a satisfying hum as you swing it around.
If you couldn’t tell I very much enjoyed Songbringer however, I do find it difficult to recommend to everyone. There are so many quality of life aspects of modern gaming that people enjoy, a certain level of hand-holding if you will. Like more old school games it plops you down and says here you figure it out and some may find that off-putting. For those of you who like that style of game you’ll be met with a beautifully designed, rich world with an interesting story and great solid game play at a budget price.