Forbidden Siren 2 is a survival-horror game developed by Sony Japan Studio and published by Sony in 2006 on the PS2. The plot follows a new set of characters who have either been drawn to or decided to investigate the cursed island of Yamijima, which suffered a mysterious mass disappearance 29 years ago. Surprising no one familiar with the first game, the island is now populated with the old inhabitants, now reanimanted as Shibito. What follows is a scattershot narrative where each character tries to fulfill their personal goal on the island or simply attempt to escape alive.
Despite the similar setup, Siren 2 has next to nothing to do the first game, making it a standalone experience exploring similar themes. What is different though is the existance of both the Japanese dub and an improved English dub in the western release. Instead of a ludicrously British dub that pulls you out of the experience, everyone has appropriate Japanese accents in the English dub. I still wouldn't call it a good dub, since everyone is really awkward and seem to have recorded their lines while half-asleep, but it is better at least.
What isn't better (or at least just as bad, I can't remember the specifics) is the actual translation, which is incredibly stilted, especially in the game's writing and tooltips. I assume the translation is accurate to a fault, leading to some highly formal and awkward sentences justabout everywhere. And if that wasn't enough, the subtitles don't match the English dialogue every other cutscene!
All that makes it harder than it needs to be to engage with the narrative, which is obtuse enough on its own thanks to the returning non-linear format. You jump back and forth in the timeline of the Link Navigator, slowly mapping out the journeys of the various playable characters. It's fun to untangle the mystery, but you have to accept the bread crumb approach of the storytelling.
The start and end of a mission usually gives you a little tidbit of story (with fewer missions feeling pointless this time around), but it takes quite a while to make sense of anything. I appreciate the story's willingness to show its hand earlier, as you aren't stuck dodging Shibito while characters are introduced for as long compared to the first game. But even with the appearance of the new elements of the setting (like the Yamirei and Yamibito) and some twists, the story struggles to stay interesting for its staggering 14-16 hour runtime.
That's not entirely the story's fault (more on this later), but I find it less interesting than the first game's. Now, that might be the work of some incredibly powerful Stockholm Syndrome, as completing the first game is a herculean achievement, making the resolution of the story feel very rewarding.
The sequel maintains the lovecraftian horror theming with a distinct Japanese angle, this time going for some Shadow Over Innsmouth stuff. You've got paranoid fishermen, half-fish things and our main characters caught up in a struggle between powers none of them fully understand. That's all good, but by the end I didn't find it as cool as the first game.
I'm having difficulty pinning down exactly why I feel this way, as Siren 2 very much touches on the same sort of tragic and horrific material as the first game does. One thing I do think is decidedly worse here is the endgame, which may be the reason why I didn't end the game with as many strong feelings.
The first game backloads its best stuff, but when it arrives, it changes the tone to something much more alien, dark and claustrophobic than what came before, ending in a pair of really clever boss fights capped off with a strong ending. The sequel has a better first half, but fails to escalate as well as its predecessor. The final level is not as scary nor as inventive and the final bosses are not as good.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy myself, especially when digging through this game's incarnation of the series tradition of having a detailed set of archive items filled with lore to find. They've even included audio and video files this time around, which are just delightful.
I suppose it comes down to taste and some choices on the director's part making me like this story less, but I still found it engaging to try to parse the story together on my own and with the help of some tertiary material spread across the internet.
They added an Easy Mode. Imma say it again. They added an Easy Mode. One more time: They added an Easy Mode.
I could just end things there and point you to my review of the first game and let you fill in the blanks, but that'd be unprofessional, so let's dig into this tidal wave of improvements.
Even playing on normal (or god forbid, on hard), it is clear as day that the devs took almost every criticism to heart and made Siren 2 feel like it actually went through a single round of playtesting. It's like the first game represented version 0.8 of the gameplay which got put to print before it was done, and 2 is the now semi-competent version 1.0.
There are multiple tutorials embedded in the initial missions making sure you come to grips with the complex interactions the game expects out of you. But beyond that the map shows your damn location now, most contextual actions are done by just examining with the X button instead of having to use the list menu, crouch walking is much faster, female characters are not as pathetic, gunplay is better, combat encounters are more forgiving, weapons can be looted from enemies and you're presented with clear hints on how to progress in every mission. The end result isn't perfect, but it's much less frustrating and that is to be commended.
I still don't like the gameplay though, as it remains riddled in jank and requires a fair deal of trial and error to progress. I think that's partially because I'm unwilling to engage with the game completely on the level it expects. Even with a carefree approach where I bumbled around stages quickly using a combination of previous knowledge and a peek at a guide here and there, I still took 14 damn hours to complete the game, which is unheard of in the genre outside of Resident Evil 4.
Had I played as intended and taken it slow by using Sightjacking more to map out the patrol patterns of the enemies in order to sneak around I feel like my playthrough would have taken 17 hours, which is just unresonable for a game as unevenly paced as this.
It brings to mind the question whether Sightjacking exists to make it possible to navigate through each mission, or if each mission is as strict as it is in order to maintain challenge while you have access to the eyes of every major enemy on the map.
On the topic of Sightjacking, a few of the characters have access to special variants of it, letting you do more than simply steal a look at whatever a Shibito is up to. Sometimes you can look into the past for hints to puzzles, control enemies or navigate in 2nd-person. They're neat additions, but due to the extra effort involved in designing missions to suit these powers they aren't used much.
Beyond the mechanical improvements and the new Sightjacking variants, it's the same sort of deal as before. You start a mission, get a goal, try to figure out the steps required to finish and dodge enemies all the while, only fighting when you feel the odds are in your favour. Since the game isn't as hard this time around but still so long, you just get tired of it all after a while.They throw some curveballs at you from time to time, but it'd be much better as a shorter and more polished experience like other survival-horror games of the era.
As soon as you begin the game, you have access to the Link Navigator immediately, giving you a little bit of freedom to choose your path through the game. Each mission you finish leads to a new one in the current "path" until you find yourself locked out the next mission.
That's where the returning side objectives come in, which are nowhere near as frustrating as before (though still as nonsensical). Not only are they less complicated, but the game gives you clear directions as to where they are and what you need to do to complete them once they are required.
And since the fucking checkpoints don't betray you by deleting your completed side objective and whatever archive items you've collected, clearing missions again isn't as much of a hassle. Hell, you can even save and quit mid-mission as soon as you have cleared a side objective or picked up an archive item, which is something the first game desperately needed.
Once you've cleared the appropriate side objective, mission 2 of a level will be unlocked. And unlike the first game, this time around they actually change the level in noticeable ways instead of just applying harsh restrictions on you to be evil.
Like before, all this is really cool and showcases some talented usage of each level as it subtly changes to introduce new obstacles, puzzle items or enemy configurations. But if you take a step back and think about how this horror game is set up, you realize that even with all this polish it sabotages itself.
As I've said, this game is long. Not only that, it is hard, features a small set of enemies and locations and even when played optimally with zero backtracking still asks you to replay almost every single mission. That's not inherently a problem, but this is a horror game. And let me tell you, nothing kneecaps a horror experience quite like repetition.
If you spend half an hour on the same level dying to the same set of enemies that are barely different to what you did in your last one and then immediately play mission 2, you are not going to treat them with any level of respect nor feel any fear.
That degrades the horror on its own, but when you account for the heavily scripted nature of each mission, it completely falls apart. Since there are so few areas and the game wants to make sure you are aware of what's different in each mission, you're presented with multiple hints before starting, followed by constantly updating sub-objectives that tell you what you should be doing once you've picked something up, killed a important enemy or rounded a particular corner.
I understand the design goals here, keep the scope in check by making few but dense areas and also provide a cinematic experience. But unlike modern cinematic games with simpler mechanics and more linear levels, it feels like you're an actor in a movie with the director barking orders at you from an earpiece.
You know what, that's it, this game is actually like Stuntman, only instead of leaning into the ridiculous and throwing crazy shit at you in an arcadey fashion and challenging you to keep up, the game maintains this pretense of being this tense and perfectly directed horror movie when it absolutely isn't.
I really like the vibe of the whole series and the clear love of horror movies the devs have. But as far as I'm concerned, the Link Navigator and the mission structure is a failure in design. I can only imagine what this game would be like with a more ordinary structure where you have more unique content per character and don't have to redo content with minor differences. Silent Hill did it better frankly and that was less through writing and talent and more by not forgetting the core goal of a horror game: Engage the player and scare them.
But what I can imagine is not what I have in front of me, so all that's left is to judge this game for what it is and move on.