The new PS Plus is here and it has an absolute gem of a horror game waiting for you.
PS Plus now offers three subscription tiers: Essential, Extra and Premium. The latter comes with all the perks you could ask for and is the most expensive of the bunch. One such benefit is cloud streaming access to a whole horde of OG PlayStation, PS2, PS3, PS4 and PSP games.
Nestled among the PS2 titles is Siren. Or Forbidden Siren, depending on which region you are in. Released in 2003, some of you have certainly slept on this one. Because you were dozing in a crib somewhere, or lining up at the sperm start line. But now’s your chance to catch up with the rest of us, for less than $20 a month.
What is mermaid about?
You know things are going to get weird when Silent Hill creator Keiichiro Toyama is involved. Toyama was in charge of Siren as director, as well as co-writing the game alongside fellow Silent Hill co-star Naoko Sato.
Exploring themes of isolation and discomfort, Siren rocked the story and its oppressive atmosphere. But it wasn’t just the setting, the game mechanics make for an incredibly stressful horror game.
When Siren opens, you find yourself in a village located deep in a Japanese mountain range. Already isolated, the village was further isolated by a strange ditch of blood-red water. Stuck on the wrong side of the water, you’re stuck in town with residents who have responded to these difficult times by becoming incredibly hostile to anyone other than ‘one of us!’. If strange blood water wasn’t enough, villagers have been infected by a mysterious plague that has the added effect of making them look and sound eerily AF. You’re better off sneaking into the game rather than facing the townspeople head-on.
Similar to Until Dawn’s extensive cast of characters, Siren is filled with a roster of familiar faces you’ll meet throughout the game, many of whom won’t make it to the end credits. One mechanic that set Siren apart from other games at the time was its “butterfly effect” system, where your actions in one section of the game could trigger actions and objectives in different parts of the village.
On the other hand, get ready for a lot of escort missions. I remember dragging much of NPCs around, which is basically a horror in its own right, no matter what genre it appears in.
Sight jacking is another mechanic that seems to have split fans arguably not offering enough to warrant its presence. It allows you to hijack the viewpoint of surrounding villagers so you can find a safe path. Get ready for a lot of panting and panting as you slip behind the bloody eyes of the locals.
Silent Hill Creators on What Makes Siren So Scary
Both Keiichiro Toyama and Naoko Sato spoke about Siren, as well as delving into how its development was influenced by their work on Silent Hill.
In an interview with Siren Maniacs (via FFTranslations (opens in new tab)), Sato tells how, during his work on Silent Hill, he was already thinking about his next horror venture that would be set a little closer to home. The Silent Hill setting was a cause for doubt; Sato says he was often plagued by nagging thoughts of how accurate the setting was, being a native of Japan.
The prospect of transitioning to Japan opened up the chance to explore the country’s horror mythology and attitudes around it, as well as making the mundane and everyday aspects much more realistic.
Sato and I (and probably many of you out there) are on the same page when it comes to the horror genre; Japanese horror is getting its pants dirty in a way its western counterpart definitely isn’t.
“I… wanted to base [Siren] in the country’s darkness, which most Japanese people physically feel, with its humid climate, a kind of malaise that is difficult to explain”, says Nato.
“I’ve always strongly believed that the real horror is in Japanese horror. For example, the nurse monsters in Silent Hill were designed by me, but what I imagined while creating things like her movements was Sadako from the movie ‘The Ring’.”
On the topic of the different ways in which cultures approach horror, Nato says, “This may come from a difference in mindset, but abroad, particularly in America, there seems to be a lot more fear of physical injury. how the Japanese idea of horror is mostly the kind that goes after you mentally, that kind of helpless desperation.”
If you’ve been interested in the terrifying array of horror films in Japanese cinema, you’ll be very familiar with what NATO is talking about. Think about how in Ring, where viewers of a cursed videotape have only seven days to live after watching, it’s not the violent death at the end of the seven days that’s the real horror, but the in-between time the victim is tormented by how helplessly they must escape their fate.
The ‘reimagined’ Siren: Blood Curse on PS3 (also on PS Plus Premium) introduced a bunch of new features that were based on the original PS2 game, which Toyama elaborates on in an interesting interview on the site. PlayStation blog (opens in new tab) .
The addition of the western characters, for example, was a new development designed to heighten “feelings of isolation and terror”. Toyama adds that it also gives western players characters that are “easier to relate to”. Not to mention the “inevitable communication problems” that amplify “the frustration the various characters feel towards their situation”.
The revamp also saw a new episodic structure that was a big deal at the time. In addition to making it easier to follow, with its TV-like structure, Toyama explains that it required more detail in the story department, which bolstered the quality of the final product.
Vision jacking has received a split-screen makeover, with players still being able to move around while roaming the heads of undead villagers. A very useful move that alleviated some of OG Siren’s frustrations. The difficulty was certainly a bone of contention with Siren, so think of Blood Curse as the twist that eliminates most of those imperfections.
Selling you on Siren
Of course, being a PS2/PS3 era game, Siren is going to look pretty damned. And the voice acting isn’t stellar, as evidenced by the short gameplay video above. But its selling point is much more its J-horror roots. This has been something seriously scary in the past, and while it might seem dated, it’s still worth a try if this is your jam.
Toyama gets into this when talking about what Siren offers that Silent Hill and Resident Evil don’t.
“Two things Siren Blood Curse offers that these titles don’t is a sense of horror made possible in a Japanese setting, and the human drama created from the interactions of the different characters…
“The interest in J-Horror spurred by the success of Hollywood remakes like ‘The Ring’ and ‘The Grudge’ helped lower the barrier to getting to the West with horror games like Siren, which are based on a Japanese setting.”
As long as you know you’re on an eye attack, plunging a generation or so, Siren is well worth your time. It broke new ground in terms of mechanics and gameplay, with some of those features like the branches of your choice impacting characters’ fates, carrying over to titles like Until Dawn and Alan Wake.
I’d probably jump right into Blood Curse, which was the first next-gen horror game at the time, if you want a more refined experience. But Siren is a historic slice of J-horror at its best, and you really shouldn’t deny yourself a taste.