Beauty, Horror, and Insects

High The unique and entrancing tone

Low Superfluous RPG elements

WTF Kamizake killer robots. I can still hear the clattering noises in my nightmares……

I was fairly unsurprised when I discovered after finishing that Ghost Song was first announced on Kickstarter in 2013. It has the hallmarks of a typical Kickstarter of that era — a more innocent time in crowdfunding history. It’s a 2D, retro-inspired metroidvania, it has an immediately striking art style and overall aesthetic, and it clearly takes a great deal of influence from Dark Souls, whose earthshaking influence on the gaming landscape was only just beginning to be felt nine years ago.

All this stuff immediately made sense to me because Ghost Song was just so eager to please. It was stuffed with story and gameplay ideas that would likely entice someone browsing a crowdfunding page, but might not actually gel together in a practical sense. Let’s start with what works, though.

In terms of general gameplay rhythm, Ghost Song is quite content to exist as the most orthodox Metroidvania in the universe–the player explores segmented rooms, defeats grunts and bosses, and grabs powerups or shoot walls to gain access to new areas of the map. However, the moment-to-moment combat, specifically the relationship between ranged and melee attacks, contains a tiny gem of an idea that’s novel enough to raise anyone’s eyebrows.

In Ghost Song, the player is asked to inhabit the Deadsuit, a mysterious robotic humanoid of unknown origin who abruptly wakes up from a long slumber on the desolated moon of Lorian. Out of curiosity (and the kindness of her metallic heart) the Deadsuit chooses to help the crew of a crashed ship she encounters and find the components they require to repair their ship.

As a mysterious and malleable robotic being, the Deadsuit is able to wield a large variety of weaponry, all of which feed into the core combat loop that I find so deliciously successful — using the basic ranged weapon causes it to heat up, eventually losing effectiveness if it’s continuously fired it without a break. However, the hotter the gun gets, the more damage the melee weapon does!

The melee weapons, meanwhile, cost stamina to use. This means that to be most effective in combat, players will constantly switch between melee and ranged attacks, strategically building and reducing the gun’s heat value as needed. At its best, the combat becomes a fluid and strategic dance, and pummelling dudes into submission with a fully boosted metal fist becomes an addictive high.

Unfortunately, to appreciate these moments requires ignoring the pesky RPG elements that keep trying to rain on this parade!

Besides some standard Metroidvania upgrades that provide different bonuses and effects, Ghost Song contains an RPG level-up system. In true soulsborne fashion, the character levels up by spending “nano-gel” at a save point, a material which can usually be found by defeating enemies, and can be recovered from the site of their corpse after a death. Bizarrely, there are only three stats to level up — gun damage, melee damage/max health, and a general stat called ‘Resolve’ that increases life, energy, and stamina gauges, among other bonuses. Given this limited choice of stats and the core rhythm of play, I can’t think of a reason why these RPG elements exist in Ghost Song at all!

One could argue that they promote specialization and replayability — a player could focus on either melee or ranged weapons, a philosophy I dabbled in when I dumped most of my points into the Gun stat during the mid-game. However, as the core combat loop makes clear, switching up attack types is the key to a quick victory. Players will want to dump a suitable amount of levels into both gun and melee, especially towards the end of the campaign. Those who neglect to level up equally might find themselves running into opposition that’s tougher than it should be.

No, the real, valuable progression in Ghost Song comes in the form of the weapons and powerups themselves. I was frustrated with a minor boss, only to come back with an alternate weapon that shot out little slime buddies to attack the boss from range, chewing away its health bar while I cowered behind a ledge, cackling with glee.

In terms of narrative, It helps that on the page, the Deadsuit’s quest is full of grace and heart despite being so minimalist. I loved her inquisitiveness and friendliness, and her simple desire to do right by the crew of the ship. By the same token, I adored how helpful and trusting all the crewmates were, treating her like a new family member instead of a traditional videogame errand lady.

These supporting characters all have their own cute little stories, a few of which parallel the Deadsuit’s desire for change and renewal. They all scanned as archetypes for me when I first met them, but they contained just enough individuality that I was quite won over by the end, and especially invested in the side story of bumbling wannabe-inventor Molly.

In Ghost Song, the Deadsuit don’t accumulate power for its own sake — everything it does is for the sake of the ragtag crew, and kindness is its own reward in a way that feels genuine and heartfelt, rather than cloyingly sentimental. Ghost Song is filled with genuine human beings who fight fiercely for each other’s happiness, and it’s a tonal balance I almost always find lovely. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t seem to realize that decent action alone would have been a sufficient accompaniment to it.

Regardless of the superfluous RPG trappings, Ghost Song offers beautiful sights to be found within its mysterious halls.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

— Breton Campbell

Disclaimers: This game is developed by Old Moon and published by Humble Games. It is currently available on PS4, PS5, PC, XB0, XBS/X, Switch. Approximately 19 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

ESRB Rating: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Violence, and Partial Mudity. Though there are violent scenes involving humanoid characters, the vast majority of violence is highly stylized encounters with insects, monsters, etc. The partial nudity, from what I can tell, is chiefly related to an android character.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard at Hearing  Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered or resized. The majority of the game could be completed without sound, given that there are subtitles for all dialogue, and most of the player and enemy actions have an accompanying visual cue. However, attacks can come at the player from offscreen (especially during one of the final boss fights) making it more difficult to dodge these attacks without the appropriate sound cue.

Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not remappable.

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