|An American TV crew goes to Japan|
Looking for weird stuff
...It doesn't end well for them
Right off the bat Siren distinguishes itself in a big way by use of the second person perspective. Unlike most video games, which limit your line of sight to what the player controlled character's can see, Siren uses a default over the shoulder third person view that can (and must be) shifted to nearby ally or enemy view points via "Sightjacking." It's an important gameplay mechanic for figuring out where your foes are, and in some cases, such as when you control a blind character, is essential to navigating the environment.
A total of three games were made. The first two were both PS2 titles. In order to get the most out of the hardware of the time the development team made use of facial texture mapping in which a variety of expressions were taken from real actor's faces. The images were then pasted onto polygonal models creating a uniquely bizarre effect to say the least. It also gives a subtly disturbing impression that everyone is wearing a mask.
|Dr. Miyata has some strong parallels to|
Dr. Kaufman from Silent Hill
The story of the second Siren game is a bit of an aside, taking place in an alternate reality in which Showa Era Japan did not end. For that reason it feels like a separate story meant to promote a movie tie-in. So for that reason, I'd like to focus on the first and third games which are based more heavily on ancient Japanese folklore. In Asuka period Japan, the remote mountain village of "Hanuda" is experiencing a terrible famine. By chance the body of a inanimate alien creature is discovered lying in a patch of barren farmland. It is brought to the town proper on a crude wood plank stretcher (an object which later becomes a holy symbol). Driven recklessly desperate with sever hunger, some of the starving simple minded villagers decide to eat this unknown entity. Not yet completely dead the alien lets out a final cry as it is being consumed which sounds much like an air raid siren. From that day forward those who ate the flesh, and any of their future offspring (called "Kajiro"), are cursed - they become Shibito.
|Are those wings? Sensing organs?|
Limbs for interacting with 5-D objects?
For all outward intents and purposes Shibito appear to be ordinary people living humble lives atypical for rural Japan. The cult of "Amana" springs up though for those who carry the curse. Unsurprisingly, Amana's religious dogma is centered around a self-sacrificing deity called "Kaiko" who will lead its chosen few to paradise. Holy relics called "Uryen" are actually small objects that were found near the Datatsushi. I don't want to give away everything, but lets just say things don't stay static forever. After all death is only permanent so long as time, in relation to space, follows a single continuous path.
It is this break in human perceived reality that makes Siren difficult to comprehend. Events in the games take place non-linearly over period of three days. The large cast of characters is difficult to keep track of too due to the jumbled chronology. Once things really start happening the Shibito also change physically and mentally, taking on traits similar to the Datatsushi. Their notion of paradise turns out to be a horrifying form of mutation and insanity, at least from an outside perspective. I guess they are happy after a fashion though.
|70 year old Akira Shimura|
is about as tough as they
come in Siren
So, Why would anyone want to play Siren? Well, the reason I was drawn to the series had to do with the way horror elements are presented. Much like Resident Evil or Dead Space, body horror and creepy atmosphere play a big part, but what gives Siren a deeper sense of substance is the other ways it gets to you. Just check out this commercial to get a small taste of what I mean:
The lines between friend and foe are sometimes blurred in other ways too. A doctor who dissects the Shibito in order to understand their physiology better comes across as both no nonsense hero and ruthlessly pragmatic villain. Characters are often undone by their own failings as much as any external threat. More than once I found myself feeling sorry for the Shibito since not all of them are willing participants in the transformation which they undergo. Players are given control over Shibito as well, allowing a glimpse of what they experience and raising them above the level of mindless monsters. All this is a far cry from Dead Space 3's cheap jump scares and heavy handed message of "Unitology and Markers bad...m'kay?" One of my favorite bits from the Resident Evil series comes from the end credits of the fourth mainline installment. It's incredibly disturbing to see still hand drawn images showing the slow and cruel corruption of a small community of Spaniards by the Las Plagas parasites. It also did an excellent job of putting into context how these people ended up a bunch of brainwashed militant pagans.
digressions aside, Siren is one of those games that asks a lot of the player, but also rewards effort. Perhaps if it had been a bit more forgiving, had a stronger central game mechanic, or simply been told through a different form of media the degree of commercial success would have been greater. Regardless, I have to hand it to the development team. They made the game they wanted to make. A rare thing in this day and age where everyone feels the need to adhere to overused formulaic templates copy and pasted from passed hits. In Europe Siren is called Forbidden Siren. A apt title considering the direction the development team chose to go in.