Songbringer is described as a sci-fi action RPG with swords, secrets, dungeons, bosses and “stuff”, in which you take on the role of Roq Epimetheos, the protagonist. Roq belongs to a starship known as the titular Songbringer, and following the discovery of the seemingly deserted planet Ekzerra, Roq’s crash lands to the surface of the planet. Before long Roq locates a mysterious cave that houses the Nanosword, and like most people would, he decides to pick it up and keep it for himself. However this sets off a chain of events that sparks the premise of the adventure ahead, you see by picking up the sword, Roq has awoken an army of evil that’s now descending onto the planet. You caused this shit, you can bet your bottom dollar that you’re fixing it. It’s now up to Roq and his trusty skybot Jib to explore the planet and find out what needs to be done to remedy the dire situation at hand.
Let me come out and say it, Songbringer is as tough a game as they come. This is hardly surprising seeing as it’s been frequently compared to the original Zelda game back on the NES, so if you’re up to the challenge, this is for you. Outside of the opening cutscene, there really isn’t much to digest as far as the story is concerned. Don’t get me wrong it is present but it merely lingers in the things that you do, right up until the endgame, in which you’re given a cutscene that doesn’t really do the adventure any justice. I couldn’t tell whether it’s been left open for a sequel or whether it was intentionally leaving so many story threads bare and unanswered, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I was less than satisfied. Especially after all the game had put be through with the harsh difficulty. On the other hand, the gameplay and the mechanics are the stars of the show, not the plot.
Songbringer gives you plenty of room to breathe thanks to the complete freedom that you have from the get-go. You’re free to explore till your heart’s content, and although there are some dead-ends that you cant bypass until you have met certain requirements, Songbringer is a very open experience. It’s also a game that holds a great deal of replay value thanks to the procedurally generated functionality. Each time you begin a new game, you get to create a new seed world based on a code you punch in. This will create an entirely new world for you to travel through, and despite the fact that the story remains the same, it’s a feature I’ve always been fond of and it works just as well here as it does elsewhere.
New worlds also come with new challenges, be it through solving some brain twisting puzzles, or via taking on hordes of enemies that you never faced on your prior run. It’s an exceptionally detailed system that works wonders with the core experience. What I like most about this feature is that you can share your world with your friends. Many devs that implement procedurally generated content do not go to these lengths, or even give you the ability to cherry pick what code you enter to create said world. It’s going to be interesting playing around with new seeds and then sharing them with my nearest and dearest, and vice-versa them to me. Find a world through a seed that’s much better than the last world? Save that bad boy and take to the world wide web to allow others to try it out. So long as you give them the exact same code, they’ll get the exact same world.
The aim of the game is to explore the world and its eight procedurally generated dungeons in whatever order you like. You’ll fight enemies, unlock new abilities, find new equipment, and so on and so forth. Songbringer is rife with secrets, many of which have been cleverly tucked away in plain sight, so it certainly pays off to observe your surroundings and search every nook and cranny if you want to enjoy the benefits of your curiosity. Drawing back to the Zelda comparison, there are several nods to that notion throughout the entirety of play. For instance, each screen will represent a block on the map, shops can be found in caves, you can blow up cracks in the walls to locate new areas, and you get where I’m going with this. The comparison has been well earned but it’s not a cheap mimic, it works brilliantly.
It has to be said that Songbringer is a gorgeous game that treats you to some magical environments regardless of your chosen seed. There’s a lot of diverse locations too, ranging from forests, swamps, huge monuments and structures, and then there’s the multi-tiered dungeons, and much much more. The same can be said about the enemy variants, all of which differ from one another to a great extent. That being said, combat is a little bit hit and miss. No, that’s putting it too kindly. Combat is infuriating in specific scenarios. The Nanosword you pick up from the start of the game is decent enough to lay your foes to waste, but it can be tricky to use when you’re faced with a band of enemies due to the lack of emphasis when it comes to the hit-box.
I couldn’t tell (at times) if I was hitting an enemy or just swooshing the sword shy of their ugly mugs, which in-turn leads to taking damage thanks to inadequate self-defense. It’s not a massive complaint, but I would have preferred more polish in this department so that I know exactly where the hit detection sits. Mercifully you do have other weapons that you can rely in which will get you out of a tight situation. You’ve got the previously alluded to bombs, which will hurt anything that stands too close to the blast, a boomerang that will dish out hit points to whatever it comes into contact with, and other neat weaponry to utilise. Boss battles are arguably the hardest encounters in the game, all of which come with unique attack patterns. These can seriously test your patience, but they’re thoroughly rewarding to overcome. just be prepared to use up your warranty on your controller in the process.
Songbringer is a love letter to those that enjoy the retro classics such as the original Zelda. The story is somewhat lacking and the combat is a bit hit and miss, but in the face of everything else that Songbringer gets right, these are minor complaints. The ability to manipulate the procedurally generated content through seeding adds a great deal of replay value and enables fans to share specific worlds with each other. Regardless to what world you find yourselves in, Songbringer remains stunning throughout thanks to the excellent pixel-art detail and design. Group this with the diverse locations and countless enemy variants, and you’ve got few reasons to overlook this well crafted action adventure RPG.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.