All good stuff, but while the learning curve is no longer so steep, Forbidden Siren 2 still isn’t a game that you immediately warm to – and the reasons remain primarily structural. Load a game, and you’ll see the game’s twisting, interlocking multiple plots have been broken down into a range of shortish missions arranged on a grid by protagonist and by time. Completing a mission may open up a video sequence that furthers the story, a new mission for another character or a new mission for the same character further on down the timeline. With me so far? Well, now things get complicated. First, the missions and clips aren’t always presented in sequential order, which frequently makes it difficult to make head or tail of why character a and character b are in location x trying to find object y and escape to area z. Secondly, just completing missions in order will eventually lead you to a dead end where one protagonist meets an untimely demise and everything grinds to a halt. Ouch.
The Siren’s secret is that many of the blocks on the mission grid also contain a secondary mission; essentially a reworking of the first but with different objectives, the completion of which will open up new secondary missions, new missions, or even new protagonists. Completing these secondary missions isn’t – as would be the case in any other game – an option, but a necessity. Finding an item, taking a different exit or even opening a door can set in place a whole chain of events that prevent, for instance, Mamoru Itsuki from facing his original cruel fate.
There are a lot of things to like about this non-linear approach. First it turns the game into the equivalent of a vast, narrative jigsaw puzzle where you accumulate the pieces through completing the missions, then try to put the thing together in your head. To this end, the game even throws in plentiful archive material that you can use to fill in the gaps between pieces. Secondly, the use of multiple protagonists encourages a variety of approaches to the missions – you’re a defenceless schoolgirl one minute, a nervous military recruit the next, a careworn cop the one after. You may be skilled and equipped with weapons, or you may be easy meat for the local zombie population, and you always need to adjust your methods accordingly. Certain characters even have their own unique powers. A young clairvoyant can sightjack in the past to gain flashbacks that reveal the locations of key items, while a partially-sighted novelist has to sightjack into the mind of his guide dog then control himself from that viewpoint. All neat stuff.