Ghost Song review

written 2023-09-19

Ghost Song is a metroidvania I played in 2023/09 because a Hollow Knight youtuber praised it.

Unfourtunately Ghost Song was pretty disappointing and I quit after about 5 hours of play.

Punishment for death

So the first thing you see when you start a new game is "select difficulty: original or explorer". Original sounds like it has Dark Souls 2 style punishment, where your max health decreases with every death and you have to pay (in this case a grindable resource) to repair it, *and* you lose your money/exp and have to go back to where you died to collect it. Explorer mode makes it so your max health doesn't decrease and you only lose a portion of your money/exp. It also says explorer mode "adjusts a few other things" but doesn't say what.

Frankly, the fact that they even implemented Dark Souls 2 style punishment and presented it as the default option by naming it "original", put me in a bad mood from the start. I went with explorer, obviously. But let's not forget that explorer mode's Dark Souls 1-style punishment is also bad design, because the non-linear, unguided nature of these games assumes that if you if you walk into something you're unprepared for, you can give up and try a different path, but needing to go back to collect your experience damages that. And also that grindable experience in general sucks.

While I'm at it: let me clarify that like Dark Souls and unlike Hollow Knight, when you die in a locked boss arena you cannot collect your exp without triggering the boss again.

Bad combat balance

You have both a gun and melee attacks, so you'd think you use the gun when at long range and melee when at close range, right? Not so fast. The gun deals more damage the closer you are, and in melee range, I'm pretty sure it just does more damage than melee. There's a mechanic where your gun overheats from firing too much, lowering its fire rate, while melee damage scales up with gun heat, so in theory there's a place for melee, but the upgrade system throws a wrench in any hope for melee being viable! Gun and melee damage are separate stats, so since you use the gun much more often, you obviously want to spend your upgrade points on that, making melee even further behind. Not to mention that melee attacks without knockback in a game where enemies deal contact damage is a questionable proposition.

The only actual use melee seems to have is hitting a few flying enemies that are hard to hit with the gun due to their small hitbox.

Also, early game enemies have *way* too much health. I spent like 15 upgrade points on gun damage before 1 on any other stat, and I don't regret it. When I tried upgrading a stat that boosts health and special meter instead of damage, and saw how tiny a difference it made (132->134 health), I regretted it even less.

Bad movement mechanics

So, there's a lot of things I dislike about the movement.

Bad metroidvanianess

Unlike other metroidvanias with upgrade point systems (FIST: Forged in Shadow Torch, Ori and the Blind Forest), you can't spend upgrade points at just any rest spot. You have to spend them at separate upgrade stations, which are incredibly rare. In the first 4 hours of gameplay, I had found only 1 (meaning the fringes of the map were maybe 2-3 minutes away from it). And the fast travel system only works between these super rare upgrade stations.

There's a map loop with a really cruel trick: early on I saw a ledge too high to jump up to with an item on it, then way later I entered that room from a ledge above the one I was looking at, but it's so much higher I couldn't see what was below me. So I just jumped, and I fell to ground level, missing the item and to get back up there, I had to circle *all the way around the map*, a journey of several minutes.

Bad dialogue

The dialogue moves *really* slowly, with slow speech and long pauses between each line. Also, it's weird that *some* lines are voice acted (and their text appears on a faint letterbox, with no character portrait), while other lines are not voice acted, and appear in a more dialogue-box-looky thing with a character portrait. Conversations mix both types of lines and it's jarring.

The final straw

I was actually feeling the game was about 4/10 - worse than "decent", but safely clear of the zone where I'd drop it. Then I got to a boss that took me 3:20 (I counted) to run back to from the spawn point. Jesus. Even Dark Souls bosses rarely took longer than 2 minutes. I quit at that boss.

Which was a shame because the boss herself actually seemed interesting. The combat was starting to feel deep, with the recent acquisition of double jump meaning I now had most of the abilities of mid-late-game Hollow Knight combat. And the boss was hard (I tried 3 times and never got her to half health), which would've been super exciting to me if it didn't mean I would have to keep redoing that 3:20 run.

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