Long ago in the two dimensional past lived a legendary princess and a valiant warrior tasked with the quest to save her from evil forces that threatened her kingdom. It is a story as old as… 1986. Fast forward to the present and Wizard Fu games have captured the pixelated perplexity of the original Legend of Zelda series while adding a few modern enhancements into the mix.
In Songbringer you guide your reckless Star-Sailor hero Roq, who has crash landed on Ekzera, through the wilderness, dungeons, and a mysterious dark tower, while discovering a compelling narrative accentuated by dangerous Goat-headed Demons and a war involving Snake-People. Roq isn’t alone in his quest as he is accompanied by a former human-turned-Skybot named Jib and aided by a host of other interesting characters such as the illustrious captain of the Songbringer, a futuristic warrior, and an indifferent Smith-Bot.
The similarities between The Legend of Zelda and Songbringer aren’t subtle in the slightest. Armed with his trusty Nanosword that can be upgraded with a “Ghost Sword” attachment, Roq can fire off a projectile attack similar to the original NES Master Sword. Roq also receives an upgraded Top Hat, which is essentially a boomerang, as well as bombs, a lighter, and Demon’s Teeth (heart pieces), that easily round out the nostalgic accouterments from the game which Songbringer derives its influence. Even the chime you hear when you find a secret defies coincidence.
With similarities abound, what Songbringer does differently is really where you’ll find lasting enjoyment here. The world of Ekzera is procedurally generated based on the text name you input when you begin the game. When you start your first game you are asked to input a name for the game which will then seed the game world. If you choose the same name across all three games, the world will be generated exactly the same, but changing anything in the name will seed a completely different game world.
From what I’ve experienced, divergent seeds may include or leave out areas and secrets you didn’t encounter in your first play through which will add increased replayability for those looking to find all the secrets Ekzera has to offer. Running the same seeds will also benefit the gamer that is interested in speed clearing as every time you finish the game it will post completion statistics including the time, map completion percentage and the items found percentage. For an additional challenge, you can also play in PermaDeath mode, which will remove your save game upon death requiring you to start all over.
For the first play through, new players may find that the learning curve is fairly steep. Songbringer allows for nonlinear gameplay from the moment you start, not necessarily pointing a new player towards a particular area, but after some modest exploration, some method to the madness will begin to take shape. The biggest benefit to my first foray into the dungeons of Ekzera was finding a high-level dungeon with a pair of gloves that let me attack at twice the speed. While I couldn’t finish that dungeon at that time, that single power up was probably the most beneficial upgrade I could have found.
At the high end of the spectrum, after having passed a few dungeons, gameplay becomes mostly trivial as enemies become less of a threat and you begin to steamroll all but the bosses you encounter. The ability to craft new weapons using the Smith-Both on your ship also aids in increasing your capabilities in battle. As Songbringer doesn’t have a plethora of diverse enemies, the action gameplay may eventually wear out it’s welcome after several turns of the procedural wheel. The puzzles and secrets that you encounter are really where I spent most of my time as very seldom do they divulge a means to solve them without trying every trick in your bag. Many times I left a puzzle unsolved to return to it later when I was better equipped, only to fail to solve it again.
The underlying story that Wizard Fu creates divulges itself piece by piece, but you will find long stretches where, after opening up a piece of the story, nothing else gets revealed in much detail. Without spoiling any parts of the story, I found areas of the game that should have been meaningful lack impact simply because the characters weren’t fleshed out enough for any substantial reaction. Luckily there are some dialog points along the way that shows Songbringer doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I even found myself chuckling at a few parts.
Neo-retro games have had a great resurgence in recent years with the increased prevalence of Indie developers, and I believe what Songbringer accomplishes is nothing less than a fond wistfulness of those days of cartridges and arcades. While Songbringer plays heavily on the nostalgia of games long past, I believe new players with a little determination can still find a lot to like in this updated take on an old-fashioned game. For a game priced around the same as a movie and popcorn, this is an expeditious journey worth taking. Board the Songbringer sailor. Ekzera awaits.
Songbringer Final Score 6.5
- A pixelated Zelda-esque nostalgia feel
- Procedurally generated worlds and leaderboards for replayability
- Light story content that lacks direction at times
- No real tutorial or explanation for players unfamiliar with retro games