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Ghost Song Review


There has been a recurring theme in video games, if something languishes in an unsteady development for too long it tends to result in a poor final product. Ghost Song first emerged as a Kickstarter all the way back in 2013, with an estimated delivery date of May 2014. Promising to create a striking 2D “metroidvania” that would appeal to fans of Metroid and Dark Souls. An overly optimistic target considering the game finally made its way to release a whole 8 and a half years later in November 2022 after undergoing a full rebuild on a new engine in 2018. Mostly created by one developer who did all the gameplay design and art, Ghost Song is certainly a testament to determination. Thankfully I am happy to report that, bucking the trend of most titles that get stuck in this form of “development hell”, this one is actually pretty good.

New Beginnings

You play as “Deadsuit”, a robotic looking protagonist who wakes up on the surface of an alien moon called Lorian with no memories of who they are or why they are here. No immediate story presents itself, instead you must explore this strange and intimidating rock to find ways of progressing forward. On your journey you will meet characters who will either add to your understanding of the world or attempt to kill you on sight. As well as one specific group who needs your help and will be your driving force to continue onwards and explore the subterranean tunnels beneath you. At this point the Dark Souls influence begins to show itself rather clearly as this is not a game that is here to tell you a direct story. Instead it just seeks to constantly whisper in your ear and pique your interest in the world around you, keeping questions in your mind as to what happened, it’s remarkably effective. Just don’t go in expecting answers, Ghost Song seems fairly content to let the audience try and piece together for themselves what is going on without ever giving the full story.

Time to Delve

As far as the gameplay goes it’s mostly a standard metroidvania affair, light platforming with plenty of combat while searching for abilities that allow you to progress further to as yet unexplored areas. Initially I found the platforming and movement a little clunky however this is greatly improved as you unlock additional movement options and pretty soon I was navigating around the levels with ease. This turned out to be a blessing because the game really does like to make you run around an almost unnecessary amount. While there are multiple fast travel points dotted around the map they feel a little too few in number, as well as being slightly too far from points of interest. Any time you end up dying to a boss (and you will be dying to the bosses) will result in a tedious trek back to face them a second time. Dying will also take a small chunk off your health bar until you repair it by spending resources so you are doubly punished for losing to a boss repeatedly as you need to take time out to get some xp and repair yourself. You will also be repeatedly forced into sections where you are unable to use the fast travel system. At first glance this felt like an interesting gimmick to re-traverse explored routes with my updated knowledge and powers, but by the 5th time it felt like padding and a lack of respect for the players’ time. These repeat journeys are made a bit fresher by adding some new enemies and challenges but the backtracking combined with a slightly abrupt ending gives the game a rather rushed feel, ironic for its extreme development time. It’s not a dealbreaker but given the exploration is great, I couldn’t help but feel covering the same ground repeatedly was taking me away from the strengths of the game.

Ghost Souls

Out of the platforming and the combat, the latter sees a lot more focus. While I referred to Dark Souls in the heading, it’s clear a lot of inspiration was also taken from Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight which was released during this game's development. Ghost Song actively encourages you to play a more aggressive high risk play style with its combat mechanics. If you use the blaster too much it will overheat and slow down to a mere sputter, however that heat is then built into your melee attacks to deal extra damage. Encouraging you to whittle foes down from a distance before dealing some damage up close. Thankfully Deadsuit can find a wide variety of different melee and special ranged options so you can find a combination that works for you. There is also a large variety of modules you can use to further enhance yourself with passive bonuses, very much akin to Hollow Knight’s charms. Although the amount you can equip is based on your level and you certainly don’t have room for all so you will have to make some agonizing choices on what you equip, and what stays behind.

The rest of the combat feels straight up Dark Souls. Enemy design is fantastic ranging from intimidating to grotesque. Run of the mill enemies are mainly a threat early on but are capable of chipping away at your health bar throughout if you aren’t careful. The bosses are an area where the game shines and are all varied in appearance/moves while mixing up attack patterns as their health is depleted. Each one initially gave me that feeling of being in over my head that souls-like players will be immediately familiar with. Their damage is high, their windows to get the perfect dodge are fairly slim and they will be sending you back to save points repeatedly until you “git gud” and learn their patterns. A number of these are also completely optional and guard new weapons/unlocks for those masochistic enough to seek them out. If you do fall in combat you will need to head back to that point and retrieve your body to avoid losing all the experience you had… very Dark Souls. The enemies can feel rather spongy but I can’t deny that I enjoyed littering the underground with robotic and alien remains and the feeling of triumph from beating a particularly hard boss.

A Lonely Planet

So why do I recommend you play this game? Honestly it’s hard to put a finger on the exact
reason why I came out of this game so charmed. The best I can explain is that it just has so much atmosphere to it. As you travel through this rather desolate and hostile feeling environment, the game just constantly hits you with such an overwhelmingly melancholic mood. I never felt like I was on edge, despite the tough enemies, rather filled with a slight sadness as to what has become of this place and the few remaining souls stuck on it with me. This is all reflected in Deadsuits’ voice and character. Displaying a rather childlike sense of curiosity but without any of the excitement. Everytime an objective is completed there is no celebration, just tiredness and a desire to rest. None of the character’s dialogue shows any high levels of emotion, it feels that everyone is just resigned to their situation and doing what they can to get through. It might not sound like it from the description but it makes all the characters feel rather endearing because you can relate to their mood through the tone the game is setting.

The soundtrack provides the perfect level of ambient tone to bring out the emotion of the wonderful background art that is a joy to look at in every new area. In fact the sound design on the whole is stellar. It induced a rather visceral reaction in me when I was trudging through a fleshy, pulsating alien tunnel and found myself charged by some sort of humanoid that had been taken over by the bugs. The creatures’ screams muffled by the giant alien clamped tight around its head sucked me into and immersed me in this strange location.

Ultimately Ghost Song created a world I just wanted to spend more time searching in. After each quest out I was eager to return to the characters I had met to get some new snippets of dialogue and lore and I was always happy to meet a new face while out searching new areas. The game as a whole does a great job of rewarding you for exploring, whether that be with an interesting locale, a new boss to fight or an interesting upgrade for your suit. By the time I finished the game after around 10 hours I had only discovered about half of the possible modules for Deadsuit and after writing this review I will likely go back and hunt for more!

Final Thoughts

If someone was to go into Ghost Song expecting it to be the next Hollow Knight, then I can imagine them leaving disappointed. However if you want to explore an interesting world, if you want to experience a passion project truly come to life. Then you should give Ghost Song a try, it might not be the best metroidvania you have ever played on a mechanical level, but I think it will be one of the most memorable overall. I really hope developer Old Moon uses this experience to come back and create a truly great followup because they are undeniably an artist when it comes to games.