Three years after the release of Siren, Sony Japan and the Siren team released Forbidden Siren 2. Unlike the original Siren, Forbidden Siren 2 never reached the U.S.: it was released in Japan and Europe only. Wisely, in the localized version, they’ve given you the option to choose between English (still with British accents) or the original Japanese.
The story of Forbidden Siren 2 is similar enough to the first game to be familiar and comfortable for series veterans, while being fresh enough to interest new players. A blood-red tsunami capsizes a ferry, and the survivors find themselves on the island Yamijima. The survivors soon discover that the entire population of Yamijima disappeared twenty-nine years ago after a similar tsunami crashed into the island. Uncovering the reason why is closely tied to their own survival. The Siren calls, the Shibito wake, and creatures even more dangerous now walk the island…
The “hero” character of Forbidden Siren 2, Mamoru is a journalist for the tabloid Atlantis He finds Yuri Kishida early in the game, and soon discovers that something is very wrong with her.
A marine biologist with strange psychic powers. Ikuko can control the people she sight-jacks through some kind of possession, and is the twin sister of Ryuko Tagawa. She comes to the island unwillingly, drawn by instinct.
A private in the Japanese Self Defense Force, Yorito arrives with Takeaki Misawa and Hiroshi Okita by crash landing in a helicopter just before all Hell breaks loose. This kind of luck is emblematic of the experiences Yorito has during his stay on Yamijima. Yorito is young and unsure of himself, and struggles to keep his mind together in the wake of the red wave.
A major in the Japanese Self Defense Force, and the field commander of Yorito Nagai and Hiroshi Okita. Major Misawa is haunted by a mysterious tie to the first game, and quickly begins to lose his sanity when the Shibito rise on the island.
A psychic who accompanies Soji Abe to the island in order to prove his innocence in the death of Ryuko Tagawa. She is strangely familiar with the island, and is able to read the past while sight-jacking.
Soji is wanted for the murder of his roommate Ryuko Tagawa, and kidnaps the psychic Akiko Kiyota, hoping that she will help clear his name. Akiko leads him to Yamijima Island, where he tries to reconcile the connection between the murder of Ryuko and the rise of the Shibito.
A police officer that was born and raised on the cursed island, and returns to investigate reports of strange sightings on the supposedly deserted island.
A terrified and confused young lady who is more deeply involved in the events on Yamijima Island than she realizes. Shigeru Fujita rescues her from the Shibito early in the game, but things immediately take a darker turn.
A famous and blind novelist, accompanied by his seeing eye dog Tsukasa. Shu was born on Yamijima Island, and harbors dark and terrible secrets tied to the cursed place. He is, of course, an amnesiac, and can control things he sight-jacks. You need to sight-jack his trusty puppy Tsukasa and view the word from his eyes in order to move. While Tsukasa follows his master faithfully, you still can’t completely control him, making for some tense moments.
A childhood playmate of Shu Mikami, and presumed dead for many years. She is somehow responsible for the tidal wave that destroyed the village long ago.
Additionally, Kyoya Suda, the protagonist of the original Siren, returns as some sort of holy warrior, who wields the holy sword Homuranagi. There’s also a secret character named Nitaka Ichifuji, only playable once the game is beaten on the hardest difficulty, who’s a Shibito and former soldier.
Forbidden Siren 2 plays similarly to the original game, but adds a number of small and important tweaks to the mix. First, and probably of the most interest for many players, is the selectable difficulty: you now have the choice of easy, normal, and hard. Combat is a viable option in Forbidden Siren 2, introducing unarmed attacks and a three hit combo system. NPCs you’ve guiding will defend themselves with weapons now, which is handy: escort missions are universally reviled, and for good reason. You can now stop Shibito from regenerating by dispersing an unfriendly spirit with your flashlight or a weapon hit, which makes traversing the island much easier. Speaking of flashlights, there are now enemies that are weakened by direct light, which makes the flashlight more than just a “kill me!” button. It should be noted, however, that attempting to “brute force” your way through the game is still unadvisable. Hiding and sneaking are still the best options: characters are better able to defend themselves, but aren’t invincible or capable of protracted struggles.
The Shibito are still a serious problem for anyone playing the game, but a new enemy makes its first appearance in Forbidden Siren 2: the Yamibito (“Darkness people”). They function similarly to Shibito, but are smarter, tougher, and generally less pleasant. They have a natural weakness to light, though: players should always have their fingers on the flashlight button if they think a Yamibito is in the area. Just like a Shibito, a defeated Yamibito can have its regeneration halted by dispersing the spirit that attempts to inhabit the defeated creature. (Protip: use your flashlight.) The Shibito and Yamibito will also fight each other, leading to cool situations where you can sight-jack an enemy and have them do your dirty work. There are also no more irritating flying Shibito, which is definitely a pro.
In levels where only one type enemy is present, it’s simple enough to change your tactics to suit, but when both Shibito and Yamibito are present, the game becomes even more interesting. The two creatures absolutely hate each other, and will fight to the pseudo-death when in contact – to the point of ignoring the player entirely. This creates a more believable universe, one where three vastly difference forces oppose each other, as opposed to everything simply gunning for the player.
The biggest shift in Siren 2, and one of its most interesting elements, is the dichotomy between light and dark – which is also touted heavily on the back of the box. The Shibito are attracted to light and can only see the player when you are illuminated, so you must shroud yourself in darkness to survive; the Yamibito meanwhile will chase you down in the dark but are vulnerable to the light. It’s a very clever system, solidly implemented, and without the infuriating difficulty of the first game. Overall, the game is also quite a bit brighter than the original, so you spend less time stumbling around the darkness. The graphics have also improved immensely, and while it still uses digitized faces, it looks far more natural than its predecessor.
Siren 2 does an excellent job of creating believable AI which reacts to light sources, despite running on hardware far older than the PCs which have games claiming similar feats. One memorable level involves Major Takeaki Misawa, where the goal is simply to escape. The level is filled with snipers and machinegun-toting Shibito though, and despite having a machinegun of your own their greater numbers often lead to a fast death. Which is extremely frustrating, until you realise that you can shoot out the street lamps (much like in the original Chronicles of Riddick) and pass through completely unnoticed. Suddenly a level once frustrating is now extremely easy. Some levels featuring the Yamibito have electric fuseboxes where you can return power and lighting to certain areas, rendering them extremely vulnerable. Or, if it’s during the day, you can simply wait for them to wander out through a doorway and burn up.
One particularly exciting level has you playing as Ikuko Kifune and requires a number of stone blocks to be destroyed. The long method is to find a weapon and do this yourself – the easy way is to sightjack the various gun-wielding Shibito throughout and destroy the blocks via remote control. Except with the Yamibito wandering around, your highjacked gunner is likely to end up knocked out for a time if you don’t work tactfully and play the two groups of creatures against each other. There is also the problem that you have to sightjack while standing under light so as to avoid Yamibito attacks, but doing so could alert nearby Shibito. It’s a lot easier to finish than it sounds, but this is a standout moment in Siren 2‘s extremely precise and unique gameplay. It’s interesting to note that the demo for the remake of Chronicles of Riddick, Assault on Dark Athena, features sections involving the destroying of lights and the controlling of drones.
Characters can now crouch walk, making less noise and staying lower to the ground. There is an alert system that will warn the player if there are enemies nearby (your Dualshock will vibrate), and the handling of firearms is much improved over the first game. It seems the developers of Siren listened to the complaints about the original game’s difficulty: Forbidden Siren 2 is much more approachable and far easier to complete, while still offering a challenge.
The game is still broken up into chapters that focus on one character at a time which overlap chronologically and are non-linear in structure, but adds a few variables. There are now multiple paths and objectives for some chapters and characters, which alter the story and change a few key events far more than in the original game. More importantly, several characters now have special abilities they can use while sight-jacking. For example, one character can control anything they’re currently sight-jacking, and another character reveals psychic impressions when sight-jacking in certain areas.
The narrative, due primarily to the branching storyline, is even more obtuse and confusing than the first game, which is unfortunate. A player can easily finish the game and have only a vague idea of what actually happened. Since the story is a primary reason to play the game to begin with, it makes finishing the game less than satisfying, requiring more than one play through to uncover enough of the plot elements to make sense of the overall story. That shouldn’t dissuade fans of horror games from playing Forbidden Siren 2. While something of a departure from the first game, Forbidden Siren 2 has enough atmosphere and deep game-play to stand proudly on its own.
There is a tremendous amount of depth in Siren 2, and while disparate elements can been found in other games, no other game has ever combined all of the above so elegantly. In conjunction with the first game, it is title which has done more to push the boundaries of the survival-horror genre than any game which has followed – including Siren: Blood Curse, which dropped nearly all the unique features in Siren 2.
If a criticism has to be raised, it is how obtuse some of the goals are. When a mission involves “Examine control room”, it’s not instantly obvious that you need to examine a table in said control room to find a key which is in no way illuminated for the player’s attention, so as to unlock a door later on. Sub-goals for unlocking future missions are thankfully listed on the map screen most of the time.
Just like the “Occult Land” forum and “Folklore Society” websites for the first game, Forbidden Siren 2 has a couple viral sites that offer glimpses into the personalities and history of the characters in the game. Shu Mikami has his own site, www.Shu-Mikami.com, which is far more in-depth than the websites related to the first game. Check out the “BBS” link and read all the posts: if you’ve played through Forbidden Siren 2, it’s a little macabre.
The second site, www.yumemi-salon.com, is the homepage and business site of Akiko Kiyota, under the pseudonym Mademoiselle Yumemi. It’s fairly standard homepage stuff, and lacks any real story hooks, but I encourage the reader to click on the “tarot card reading” link. It’s all in good taste, I assure you.
Although the European version of Forbidden Siren 2 has English, it’s extremely hard to play on a non-European PS2, mostly because it’s a DVD9 (the Japanese version, on the other hand, is a DVD5.) One solution is to rip the DVD to a computer, hack out extraneous sound files, and burn a new DVD. Otherwise, you’ll need a mod chip in your console. You’ll also need the ability to play PAL games, either through a TV tuner capture card, or through component cables on any HDTV.
No discussion of Siren 2 would be complete without an examination of Kunitoris, the full, retro-themed puzzle game which can be unlocked. (The name is an amalgamation of the Japanese word “kuni”, which means “country”, and, obviously, Tetris.) In Mamoru Itsuki’s 15:00 level, onboard Bright Win, you will find the game by inspecting the TV in the third-class cabin. After which it will be available to play from the top menu. It plays like an extreme evolution of the famed Russian puzzler crossed with a little bit of Qix and a themed setting which wouldn’t be out of place in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Moving a cursor around the screen you can capture Tetris-shaped clouds, ready to plunge onto the required, flashing geographical state on the map. Once it’s full (or captured and under your rule), you move on to the next state, with the aim of unifying the land. Blocks can be rotated like in Tetris, or mirror flipped, and several blocks can be group together while moving through the sky, so that when you drop them you take out larger pieces of land. There is a time limit, which goes down faster with each block drop, so you need to be quick. You can also get a bonus for capturing an entire state in one go. And that’t about it.
The fuzzy graphics and awful sound are Famicom-era, and there’s even an authentic-looking title screen. Regarding the gameplay, it’s fun but you’re unlikely to play it more than a few times. This though is unimportant. Kunitoris shows just how much effort and creativity went into every aspect of Siren 2 which makes it even more of a pity that so few have played it. Strangely, the Japanese text was not translated for the Euro release.