Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Game Translation: Forbidden Siren

Yes, I know this isn't Borderlands 2.  I own it but regrettably all my time at the computer has caused my neck muscles to tighten around the nerves that run down my arms and this causes strange sensations in my arms.  Itchiness, sensations or air bubbles brushing across the skin, and other weirdness that I'd prefer not to have to experience.  The best way to deal with it involves stretching, massages, and getting off my bottom.   The worst way to deal with it is to sit for hours at a computer (which I already do at work) and the desk at home is a lot higher than the chair so computer use there is even worse.  Videogame playing is worse again than most because, naturally, your body tenses up in the adrenaline-fuelled kill-fests.  Lifestyle change is better than just doing little touch ups here and there.

Also, Dishonoured will be released soon and I want to be in a good condition to commit hours to it ... erm, I'm really not good at this whole lifestyle change thing, am I?

Therefore, I've had to make the big decision to avoid videogame playing and too much computer use at least for the next couple weeks and focus on moving more so that my muscles can stop clamping on my nerves.  This doesn't mean I'll stop doing this blog as with my typing speed it doesn't take long to make them and I have a lunch break for a reason, right?  (Probably should be outside but, hey, lifestyle changes are tricky).  So instead I'll do Game Translations on games that I've already played rather than scheduling in ones I plan to play or have only started playing.

So without further ado, Forbidden Siren.

Man, I have a love / hate relationship with that game.  Its a beautiful series of painful little missions where you play one of a number of different characters and try to complete listed objectives.  These characters are generally entirely unarmed or, at the very least, are quite weak.  They're also being tainted by a mysterious red rain that has started in the mountain village of Hanuda in the first game an an island in the second game.  Unfortunately there are enemies called Shibito who can't be killed (knock them down and they get back up again).

This game is truly a survival horror.  The locations are somewhat familiar in an exotic sort of way (at least to my Australian senses) but with a reddish sheen and blood-like puddles.  The protagonists are regular humans who can't take much damage (although they can heal over time due to the effects of the rain that seeps into their wounds).  The enemies are essentially unkillable and will get up again after their own wounds heal.  And its hard.  Devilishly hard.

You have a sightjack ability where you can telepathically see through the eyes and hear through the ears of Shibito about the level within a certain range (it gets grainier the further away they are) but while you can get a sense of the direction of the Shibitio (as you must turn the analog stick to cycle through the mind static to seek out Shibito) you can't detect their location.  In truth, you have to hope they're looking at a landmark so you can judge where they are.  If they're close enough, you can see a little coloured cross that lets you know just where they are but not where they're looking.  This is essential because if the Shibito spot you, you'll be shot down or run down more than likely.  This causes the game to function as a hard-core stealth game where you have to rely on distance or avoiding walking within view of the enemy.

And hard-core it is.  You will die.  Several times.  Often per level.

To make matters worse, you have to re-do the same level with the same character and the enemies in the same places but with a different objective so that you can unlock new stages by following an alternate timeline.

The cutscenes and back history is very interesting and labrynthine as certain elements and reactions only exist in certain timelines and since you play multiple characters few of the protagonists know what is going on so you really kind of have to piece together all of the implications to work out the plot.

So, how would you run this?

Firstly, pick a system where you can have a teensy bit of health compared to the damage you might take.  1st level Pathfinder characters would work.  Just give them Fast Healing 1 to represent the fact that their bodies repair over time.  If you're using something like new World of Darkness than cap the health levels at 7 rather than allowing additional Stamina to increase it as its hard to deal a life threatening amount of damage unless you make the bad guys stupidly powerful.

Sometimes its not always a good idea to help an
old lady cross a darkened street.
Sightjack is a tricky thing to implement.  Its a relatively automatic thing in the game so you could simply have them be able to do it just as they can walk forward or swallow without making a dice roll.  Just have them make a roll to interpret what they see so they can figure out where the enemy is and how best to get around them.  Perhaps a successful roll to understand Sightjack then leads to a bonus to further rolls to avoid the enemy's notice.

The unkillable monsters really add a certain something to Forbidden Siren.  You can knock them down for a time so combat is occasionally worthwhile but they will get back up again.  However, since you can't prevent from simply pulling up any old tree branch rather than waiting for you to give them a weapon, you need to keep it from becoming a game of whack-a-mole by giving the monsters variable regeneration rates (from a round to 10 minutes) or by making the monsters more robust and generally more difficult to reliably bring down.  This is all the more important outside of solo games as several characters automatically have more attacks per round than any single creature.  It might be worth giving the enemy more health rather than a greater damage output as you don't want your player characters constantly dying.

Also give a thought to what you'll do when the players start thinking tactically and try to, say, drop an engine block on an enemy's head so that they can't regenerate around the mulched skull.  You could have it that such a tactic works, that it delays the inevitable, or that it doesn't work at all and the body just twitches out of the way before regrowing the head.  Its up to you and how tactical you choose to make the game.  Since such tactics do sometimes appear in the game (though with generally less permanent effects) it might be worth rewarding their creativity sometimes but finding excuses for it to fail if they do it too often.  For example, a downed Shibito could be rescued by other Shibito who pull the mangled corpse away from the block.

Not sure what to do about the anachronic order and multiple characters.  I suppose you could build, say, ten or so different one-shot adventures for the players to go through and then generate different sets of characters for them to play.  Randomise which adventures they play through but leave the first and last adventures to their respective places so that it starts and ends sensibly enough.  You could pre-generate the characters or, if the players are keen, you could leave it to them to make several.  At the start of each session you could then sit down with them and tell them who they'll be playing as well as where and when they are.  If you do this, you can certainly increase that sense of eerie confusion that really characterises the paranormal where the players don't quite know precisely what's going on but have the feeling that they're close to the answers.

Of course, some players might just find such confusion annoying.

A campaign based around Forbidden Siren, or including elements of it, should appeal to Explorers because the not only does the place mix exotic elements with familiar places (schools, etc.) it also slowly warps them over time (with exotic constructions and other horror elements).  Investigators will either love or hate the complex and rather difficult and obscure plot lines that they would need to unravel to figure out what's going on.  You should have an idea by now whether your players are interested in games that don't have neat solutions.

Tacticians may get into it if you let them plan out their methods of accomplishing objectives without incident but may find it frustrating when their best-laid plans still don't always turn out well.  Action Heroes will find the nearly constant levels of stealth to be frustrating unless they're the sort of player that finds themselves on the edge of their seats in high-risk stealth games.  Most will want to shake up the pacing a bit with some great combat or other action sequences.  Communicators won't find anyone to really talk to about what they're facing other than the other player characters and they'll all probably be too busy to have a lot of time for exploring character growth and the subtle nuances of a character's mind.

You can find the trailer for the game over here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Forbidden Siren used, you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Half Life 2, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Dragon Age 2, Castlevania 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, In Cold Blood, and pretty much any survival horror or horror game. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Dragon Age 2.  As you can see, more of the choices are retro games as I'm going with what I've already played.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.


  1. This is not quite the same thing you do - it's more just a fun way to review console games - but feel free to take a look at my thoughts on Borderlands 2.

    Looking forward to the Dishonoured translation. it's a game I really can't justify buying at the moment, so will have to play it vicariously through others.

    1. We're currently debating getting it on X-Box since it won't run on PC. Me? I'm debating whether our wedding couldn't get a little cheaper and my computer a little flashier....

      Yes, I am odd bride.

      Will definitely take a look at your review later on when I have time. More than happy to have relevant links posted in the comments section.

    2. Turns out we ended up buying it on X-Box.