What is loneliness? Through a quick internet search we discover the most common definition for the word is, “sadness because one has no friends or company.” Second most common definition being, “the quality of being unfrequented and remote, or isolation.” Now depending on who you are and how your life is this word tends to take on different definitions. You could be lonely, but surrounded by a plethora of human faces. People who walk by you each day with a smile on their face, but none of which want to be around you or can understand what you are going through. For many loneliness is not good, but under certain circumstances loneliness can actually be good. Maybe you get tired of life and you need to get away for a bit. So you book a vacation and drive out into the woods. Hike a couple of miles and eventually set up camp along a cliff overlooking the forest. Take in that fresh air and know that you are the only one out there. A speck amongst a field of green, and it feels so refreshing. Some of my favorite video games give off that perfect sense of loneliness. When it’s nothing but yourself left to explore a vast world. Dark Souls is a great example as while there are occasionally travelers to come across during your adventure you are ultimately by yourself. Each victory conquered feels like an achievement as you slowly work your way towards your goal. Hollow Knight captures this feeling even better as you explore the aftermath of a kingdom torn to pieces. Trying to figure out what happened to the place as well as your mysterious origins. Then there’s open world titles like Outer Wilds, Ghost of Tsushima, and the new Zelda games. Loneliness is great if handled e right, and thankfully a lot of games utilize loneliness to the best of its ability.
One indie game I finished recently that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of loneliness is the 2D metroidvania Ghost Song. Developed by a small studio Old Moon and has been in development since 2013. The game started off as a Kickstarter campaign and met its fundraising goals within a few days. The devs took heavy inspiration from Metroid and Dark Souls, and wanted to create a love letter to their two inspirations. They wanted the characters and environments hand drawn, so work on Ghost Song ended up lasting for a while. The game had three different versions during development. The first ran on Flash, but we all know Flash has its limitations and that Adobe had stopped supporting the program in 2021. The second version ran on Stencyl until the team ran into a couple more problems. They eventually settled on using Unity which the final version runs on. It was the most stable engine and most capable of running the animations and environments the team were creating. Ghost Song came out in 2022 which is almost a decade since work on the game started. Between 2013 and 2022, a plethora of indie metroidvanias have come out and set high standards for the genre. Hollow Knight, Ender Lilies, Ori, Guacamelee, and many more. The game had a lot of contenders to live up against, but for the most part Old Moon stuck the landing and created what is one of the more unique entries in the genre. One of the reasons why I was interested in this game was because a lot of metroidvania players compared some of its design choices to Hollow Knight. Upon playing the game I kind of understand where this opinion came from, but I do think the comparisons are unfair since Ghost Song Kickstarter technically existed before Hollow Knight.
Here we are now. A fellow metroidvania enjoyer finally trying out Ghost Song one year later and seeing if it’s any good. Personally I wasn’t planning on playing Ghost Song, because honestly the game looked alright. The art style looked cool, but there wasn’t much really grabbing me. That and there were a plethora of other indie titles from 2022 that I missed out and was more excited checking out. I played this game somewhat out of curiosity and in some ways the game managed to surprise me. It’s not excellent as there are a decent number of problems holding it back, but I do think this is a great game worth checking out. There are a lot of redeeming factors, interesting ideas, and in some cases the game managed to be beautiful in a solemn way. Today we’re going to be talking about why I quite liked Ghost Song and why it deserves your attention.
The game takes place on a desolate moon named Lorian. “Mankind has discovered space travel,” and you know what this should just be a recurring meme on this website now. Lorian is a place teeming with dangerous alien life and passersby are given warnings of what lies deep beneath the surface. However, something happened recently for a dozen nearby ships to crashland and end up stranded on the moon. You awaken to find yourself sleeping outside your ruined shuttle. You are Dead Set, a robot manufactured for scouting and battle. You have no recollection of who you are and why you are here, but one thing is for certain. Get the hell out of there as soon as possible for everything wants to kill you. The Deadsuit begins venturing further and quickly ends up traversing the caverns of Lorian. Fighting alien life and uncovering a strange fungal substance spreading throughout. Infecting the wildlife and transforming them into mindless husks of their former shelves. Thankfully it’s not dangerous to her for she is a robot, but it is dangerous to those who are human. The Deadsuit eventually runs into a human survivor, Roper, whose entire crew crash landed nearby. The crew have enough food and supplies to fend off for a few days, but once they burn through it all they are destined to die. They could scavenge for parts to repair their ship, but most of those parts are hidden below and they can’t go down there for breathing in those toxic spores will kill them and of course the foreign life. This is where the Deadsuit comes into use. The Deadsuit can go search for those parts and in return the crew will offer her a form of escape off Lorain. Repair the ship, figure out what caused the crash, stop it, and fly to safety. Deadsuit may even learn more about herself and her true origins.
If you’ve played any other metroidvania then you should know what to expect from Ghost Song. Explore the world, uncover secrets, fight any enemy that stands in your way, obtain upgrades that will open up new paths in the world, and try to make it towards your goal. Once you meet the human survivors and uncover their vessel your main goal becomes to find five parts throughout the world to repair the ship. Those five parts are quite far from where you are and it’ll take a bit of dinking around to figure out how to get to these points. Maybe you’ll have to find upgrades as I just mentioned like a double jump, wall jump, or missiles to break open certain barriers. You will encounter a variety of alien life and more than eighty-five percent of it will try to kill you. To defend yourself you have a trusty arm cannon. The projectiles it shoots are small, but will fire rapidly and aim it well enough and you can cut down the enemy quicker. There is a catch though. Your arm cannon can overheat and when it overheats the rate at which your projectiles fire will decrease. You still do the same amount of damage per shot, but you may not want to do that as you put yourself at risk of being attacked easily. You could just move out of the way and wait for the arm cannon to cool down while attacking. One of the earliest upgrades you obtain is a dash like dodge, and it can be used both midair and allow you to grow through hazards. Another catch is that running and dodging uses stamina and when the stamina meter is out you have to wait for it to recharge. Your blaster isn’t the only weapon you have available though. You also have alt fire which are more powerful attacks, but consume a bit of special weapon energy. These alt fires include missiles, burst projectiles, jellies to help you, and much more. If your health is low then you use healing cores. One use items that refill at checkpoints.
Checkpoints come in the form of flowers in the shape of glowing leaves, and whenever you die you will respawn at these flowers. By now you can see the Dark Souls influence, and another big influence is the leveling system. Whenever you kill an enemy, use specific items, or destroy the many green glowing corpses in the game you get Nanogel. This can be used to buy items from a merchant, but it can also be used to level up at special giant robot statues in the world. Your three categories are vigor, resolve, and gun power. One increases a group of stats evenly, another will increase health by a lot, and another will increase attack damage. I’d say level each stat as evenly as you can, so you aren’t lacking a specific area and suffer in the late game. Nanogel can be lost if you die, but you can backtrack to the area you died to recover it. Another mechanical twist is that every time you die your maximum health is decreased. It’s like hollowing from Dark Souls 2, but it doesn’t suck. Your maximum health slowly decreases with each death, but you can recover it by spending a small amount of nanogel at statues. It doesn’t cost much, but backtracking to these statues can take a while as there’s only so many of them located in the world compared to the checkpoints. Moving on we have the module system which is similar to that of the charms from Hollow Knight. Equipping special modules will grant you different perks as well as those alt fires I mentioned earlier. You can only do this at checkpoints or when you are resting. Turns out you can rest in the world to equip different modules, but it leaves you open for attack. You can only equip so many different modules as you have module energy and each module takes a certain amount of energy to run. So you’ll explore the world and eventually find one of the five parts. Once you pick up the part you have to take it back to Roper. Fast travel is disabled so you have to make a long perilous journey. You must plan your route through the world, and this kinda rewards players who grew familiar with their surroundings. Besides that there isn’t much else I can say besides my main thoughts. Let’s hope you can survive and escape to freedom.
Ghost Song is a pretty great metroidvania with a lot of cool tricks hidden up its sleeve. It did take me a bit to fully warm up to Ghost Song though. The game is fairly linear at first, and while there are two paths you can go down in the opening, going left will result in getting killed by a tough enemy easily. So you have to go right, explore the first area, beat the first boss, and move further until you find Roper and his crew. Then you are assigned to find the five ship parts and the game does its best to make sure you go for the green marker on the map first. The other four parts are not accessible until you have either the double jump or wall jump, but once done then the game truly opens up. You are offered quite a bit of freedom of what you want to do next, and if there is something troubling you then you can just come back when you are better equipped. When you have better gear and when your stat level is higher. Combat is not particularly a highlight for this game. Early on the overheat mechanic is annoying, and most encounters focus on position rather than reaction time and finding windows of opportunity. You do have melee weapons, but most of them are cruddy besides the wheel which dishes out a ton of damage if you can throw it just right as it has the movement of a boomerang. Combat is not great, but I didn’t say it was bad. Not all combat has to be balls to the wall, and what Ghost Song does instead is make encounters focus around survival rather than thrills. Is this an encounter you can handle? Should you venture down this path or collect that shiny, but risk running into a tough foe or getting ambushed? There were a lot of fights where I got out with just a sliver of health and the skin of my teeth, but it felt great because I knew I had just survived. I was skilled enough to outsmart my foe and stand tall.
Leveling up felt rewarding as I grew stronger and difficult fights became manageable. There’s a good handful of discoveries to be made, and the level design is superb as with all metroidvanias. Pathways and shortcuts that loop back into earlier parts of an area, or the satisfaction of finding creative ways to traverse the world with newfound powers. The environments are varied and one thing I really love is the art direction. It’s all hand drawn and beautifully colored. With wonderful shades of blue, purple, and green flowing throughout the world. Moments of peace are found in the halls littered with blue flowers, and you take a rest as their light flows gently through the air. What I don’t like as much is the animation for the characters. It does that thing Ender Lilies and The Artful Escape does where instead of having smooth animation they most likely designed the individual parts to a character and rotated them bit by bit to create some movement. I also don’t like a lot of creatures and enemy designs in this game. Deadsuit and some of the NPCs are really cool, but enemy variety is just lacking. Here’s an infected husk, but a different color and different powers. Here’s a small version of the robotic skull. Here’s a slime and just a slime. Here’s a little parasite which is just a floating ball. Most of the art direction went towards the environments and again the world is stunning to venture through. It’s just for a sci-fi setting you’d expect things to be cooler. Yet again, I love Prey and its monsters are basically muddy cloud creatures.
Now one design choice I think some people will be mixed with is venturing back to the damaged vessel after finding one of the five parts. Depending on where you are it can be a long trek. There are not a lot of games where backtracking is fun, but I’m fine with it here in Ghost Song because of two reasons. The first reason is that it builds familiarity with the world. There will eventually come a point where you stop looking at the map and you automatically know where to go. The second point is that it rewards you for knowing the layout of the world and planning each route. Some new dangers will appear when you find a part like robot skulls laying on the ground will now activate, home in on you, and explode dealing tons of damage. When this first happened I was almost ready to get angry, but then I stayed calm and carefully made my way back. When I finally got there it felt rewarding and I knew I would have to come prepared when it came to the next four parts. It’s fun and I like it. The music is good and even though the story is absent for the most part it’s interesting. Deadsuit is an interesting character and there’s this mystery of who she is and where we are. There’s ruins lying throughout the world and you wonder to yourself how to access them. You see ghosts of what are past figures, and I feel like I was supposed to do more of the side content to uncover what they are. There’s a true ending you can work towards, so I expect most metroidvania players to have found everything the game has to offer. My final complaint is that the bosses are bad. It’s not that they are frustrating, harder than they should be, or that their mechanics suck. No, it’s more like compared to a lot of metroidvania titles I have played which have epic boss fights, Ghost Song has underwhelming and forgettable fights. That aside I do think this game is great. It has interesting ideas and it doesn’t overstay its welcome as it only took me eight hours to beat. I recommend it well enough. In the end I am going to give Ghost Song an 8.5/10 for being pretty good.
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