Title: Ghost Song
Developer: Old Moon
Publisher: Humble Bundle, Humble Games
Release Date: June 02, 2022
Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Steam, Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Price: Free with Game Pass, $19.99 (USD)
The Metroidvania genre has been around for years, inspiring AAA- and indie-developers alike. While the niche genre has carved out a loyal fan base, games within the genre aren’t published as frequently as many would prefer. However, when a good Metroidvania is released, there’s nothing quite like the joy that comes with diving in. And Ghost Song absolutely delivers an unforgettable experience.
Ghost Song was developed by Old Moon (Old Moon Games), a studio created by Matt White in 2013 when he crowdfunded the game via a Kickstarter campaign. It is the only game produced by the developer, taking nine years to complete. From addicting gameplay cycles to a beautifully written narrative that explores profound themes of life, death, and friendship, Ghost Song is an emotional journey that will satisfy a wide range of players.
Players control the protagonist Deadsuit, or “Little Blue” as she is called at times; she is a combat robot suffering from memory loss, who is in search of her identity. As the game begins, Deadsuit wakes up on Lorian V, sleeping beneath a crashed spaceship. Players may notice that she is categorized as a “lost soul” on the in-game menu, a hint at the unfolding story ahead.
Players are immediately thrown into combat, as strange monsters and terrifying beasts inhabit the post-apocalyptic world. At its core, the game requires players to push forward in exploration and combat in order to discover the secrets of the tragedy that has befallen Lorian V and to allow Deadsuit to rediscover her true identity.
Along the way, Deadsuit meets a space crew that has survived a horrific crash created by the static field surrounding Lorian V. She befriends them and agrees to gather supplies from the many downed crafts to help the crew repair their ship, Gambler.
Analysis of the Story
This section contains major spoilers. To avoid, skip ahead to the section marked “Gameplay,” but be sure to return here after finishing the game.
At its core, Ghost Song is a retelling of a classic tale: humanity discovers the ability to cheat death, angers the gods, and faces judgement. But the tapestry of this re-imagining is as creative as it is beautiful. Jezicoe, a brilliant scientist, discovers that upon end of life, the souls of the dead ascend to the stars, where they are swallowed by the worm gods (Gornah) and digested for eternity. Jezicoe builds a device (the Cut Machine) that allows him to become split into three beings, isolating his soul from his body and intellect. By activating a static field around the planet, he is able to keep his body and intellect on Lorian V while his soul ascends to the Gornah. Unable to fully consume his soul, the Gornah is horribly wounded, but the damage is not fatal; the result is a stalemate.
Angered at his attempts to kill the Gornah, the beings of Willful Ascension send waves of monsters to destroy Lorian V. Most of the population is destroyed, but Saymund and the Construct (the other parts of Jezicoe) remain perpetually at work, killing the monsters and plotting the death of the Gornah. It is here in this perpetual stalemate that countless ships encounter the static field and crash to ruin. Periodically, the Willful Ascension send bounty hunters to kill Saymund and the Construct, and these warriors roam the surfaces of Lorian V.
Jezicoe is a regular Sisyphus, angering the gods and becoming cursed to “push his boulder” up the treacherous hill. But it is in this monotony, that true meaning is discovered. Much like the experience of Sisyphus, if nothing has meaning then everything becomes meaningful. In a world where it’s too late to save civilization, and the monsters are relentless and unending, small acts of kindness take on immense value and purpose. It is precisely in these acts of kindness that Deadsuit finds the measure of self.
The game has two possible endings; the selection of which depends upon the side quests and battles the player completes. In either resolution of the story, love and kindness are centered.
In the true ending, players discover that Charley, Pasha’s sister who died in the crash, has had her soul trapped by the static field. Charley’s soul inhabits an old bounty hunter robot (Deadsuit), but no longer remembers her identity. As she helps the crew of the Gambler to repair the ship, she slowly begins to understand who she is. But it isn’t until she lowers the static field that her soul is freed from Lorian V and she remembers her identity. In a painful, yet cathartic moment, Charley is able to say goodbye to Pasha, a second chance after dying suddenly in the crash. Her final words speak to what is most important in life: our connection to those we love.
In the “unfinished” ending, it is Roper, not Pasha that accompanies Deadsuit in her final moments. Roper expresses gratitude to Deadsuit for helping the crew escape the planet and for saving their lives. His final words: “You were kind. That means something.”
Ghost Song is a beautiful retelling of the human experience. We are all bound by the “static field” of mortal life, forced to carry out monotonous tasks, stuck in perpetual survival. It is in each other that we find our meaning and in our acts of kindness that we discover our true nature.
The gameplay in Ghost Song is pretty standard fare for games in the Metroidvania genre. Players explore a 2-D map, with virtually no instruction or guidance from the game. A good deal of the explorable world is below the surface; players are encouraged to shoot everything to discover false barriers and upgrades to their suit.
While the world is full of difficult enemies and harsh terrain, it doesn’t feel as unforgiving as the typical Metroidvania experience. Whenever I play a game from the Metroid franchise (which I love), there is inevitably a moment when I feel lost and frustrated, unable to figure out where to go next. Ghost Song is less brutal in this sense, and I never felt completely lost when playing the game. This allowed me to enjoy the gameplay while devoting greater attention to the unfolding story.
An added wrinkle to the traditional Metroidvania formula is that players accrue experience points (nanogel) as they defeat enemies, which can be redeemed for character upgrades in one of three categories: Vigor, GunPower, and Resolve. Drawing inspiration from Soulsbourne games, players lose all held XP upon death, but may regain the experience points by returning to the place of their demise without dying again.
Players also get a great deal of customization options, being able to swap out secondary offensive weapons and physical melee attacks. The suit’s upgrade level (which depends on players cashing in XP) limits the total amount of customization players can do, thus requiring prioritization of upgrades that align with an individual’s play style.
The post-game content allows players to begin a New Game+ that offers more difficult enemies and additional challenges that can only be completed in this mode. The rich story and engaging gameplay will likely convince players a second run-through of the game is worth the time.
Music and Sound
The music in Ghost Song helps create a sense of isolation and loneliness, matching the visual impact of the game’s art design. As players guide Deadsuit deeper beneath the planet’s surface, the music transforms with the changing biomes; yet at every level a deep emotional gravity proves a throughline. Often more ambiance than symphonic, the atmospheric music is complemented by the brilliant sound effects and lighting in the game.
The sound integration is perhaps most notable in the various Roslock Drifts, sections of Lorian V that have been infested by the extraterrestrial creatures. The walls are lined with crustacean-like lifeforms that give off noise one might hear while scuba diving. Taken together, these effects create a deep immersion within the world of Lorian V.
Beyond the music and effects, the voice acting in Ghost Song is top-notch. The performances of the voice cast deliver authentic and raw emotion that serves as pillars upholding the weight of the story. Su Ling Chan gives a phenomenal performance as Deadsuit, particularly with her use of pause and hesitation as she delivers lines dealing with regret and loss. Other standouts include Glen Michael Cooper as Roper, Madeline Dorrah as Pasha, and Ryan Cooper as Saymund.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to Ghost Song is that while writing this review, I felt like I was bidding farewell to cherished friends or closing a beloved book for the last time. Spending time with these characters, reflecting upon the beauty of the music, writing, and art of this game made me dread letting go.
Ghost Song is the best example of what makes video games art, rather than simply a medium to house art. Yes the game contains great music, visual arts, writing, and acting; each of these things are present individually, but it is the synergy of these things, the coming together of these disparate elements that creates a work of art unto itself. Perhaps it is fitting that the game was produced by a small indie studio and not a AAA company. It is not a mass production; Ghost Song is a work of art. One need only to take time to enjoy it.
The Boss Rush Network staff is proud to score Ghost Song a full five stars.
David Lasby is the Editor-in-Chief for Boss Rush Network. His favorite video games franchises are The Legend of Zelda, Halo, and the Aliens franchise. You can find him on Twitter to talk all things Nintendo, sci-fi / fantasy, and creative writing.
Images: Courtesy of Humble Bundle