Songbringer is oldschool rpg goodness combined with modern procedurally generating tech. It’s designed to be played over and over again, with a new experience each time you play; If only it could inspire me to play more than once.
Songbringer opens with a text box and asks you to input six letters, then, through some procedural wizardry, it uses this to seed your game world and generate an adventure just for you. The story remains the same, it just shuffles the pieces around on the board and generates new biomes to roam around in.
The procedural generation works quite well; After starting with a few different seeds the worlds were varied enough to elicit a different feel, and I didn’t encounter anything particularly broken or confusing in my play through, it almost felt somewhat designed rather than generated, which is all you can ask from a good procedural system.
You play as Roq Epimetheos, described only as one who ‘has a propensity for partying and making music’, and you travel the cosmos with your ‘skybot’ friend, Jib. While out and about you land on a planet called Ekzera and pick up a sword that Jib says you should probably leave where it is and woops you’ve awakened an ancient evil.
The game revolves around defeating this mysterious ancient evil entity, however it doesn’t play as large a role as you’d expect. The game is very action heavy with the story taking a bit of a sideline, the dungeon crawling is the main attraction here. The map is populated with 9 dungeons that you can find and complete, however not all of them are story based and they can be completed in any order. The game makes large points about being non-linear and that you are free to explore the world how you want, as it says on the website, ‘You aren’t even required to pick up the sword.’
This would make it unreasonably hard however, considering the game is already fairly brutal. I died continuously. The combat, while occasionally satisfying, is fairly clunky, and I often found myself dying or losing large amounts of health due to difficulties with the controls. This is a game which requires patience and practice, and knowing when to strike. If you slip up the game punishes you with some seriously hard hits. I occasionally found myself hiding in corners and abusing the fairly simple and predictable AI to finish fights without it costing me too heavily. There is also a perma-death mode which is simply unreasonable to even contemplate playing.
When you die the game returns you to the last door you passed through, which when exploring the large game world can lead to a lot of walking back to where you died, only to die again. Maybe I’m just bad at the game, but I found myself walking a lot, and as pretty as the game is, it got tiresome.
Speaking of pretty, Songbringer is all about the aesthetic and it goes all in. I wouldn’t call it jaw dropping, and some areas were a bit too textured which could make them quite confusing to navigate. Overall the 8-bit style worked well, it felt vibrant and alive, it just could’ve been a bit cleaner. The game was set to a backdrop of minimalist synth-heavy background music, which was very atmospheric and great in terms of setting the tone but sometimes felt a bit too repetitive.
And that leads to what seems to be the main problem with most procedurally generated games, they’re designed to be played over and over, promising new experiences each time, but not enough factors are generated randomly to allow for an experience varied enough to warrant more play throughs. Songbringer hasn’t fallen into the trap as much as many other games, the seeded worlds are all distinct enough to warrant a new enough experience, but the gameplay and combat let it down to the point that I just wasn’t inspired to play it repeatedly.
Songbringer is a great example of the potential of procedurally generated dungeons, if only the rest of the game was at the same level.
3/5 stars – Good fun, but wait for a sale.
Songbringer is available on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.