On the surface, Song of the Myrne: What Lies Beneath is the neat, 8-bit packaging of various elements borrowed from many big-name games, including the likes of Skyrim. However, take a look indeed at what lies underneath, and the title soon manages to establish itself in its own right, with the uniqueness of its top-down, real-time gameplay trumping many of our RPG overlords.
The game carries the rough edges of a handmade title, and, in a resourceful way, its strengths lie not only in what it gives, but more significantly, in what it neglects. This is apparent both in its gameplay and, more vividly, in its atmosphere.
The curtains are drawn in basic fashion: no cutscene; no explicit tutorial. You’ll be getting to grips with the point-and-click controls as you inevitably wander to your nearby humble abode. The visuals are blocky and basic, but from houses to castles and dungeons, each are vivid.
Upon entering your home, dribs and drabs of red are speckled across the wooden floor, indicating that something is afoot. Upon clicking on them, the word ‘blood’ lingers briefly on the screen. Upstairs, entering a room, the protagonist lets out a text-based ‘Nooooooo’. There’s a small, white body on the floor. You click on it. The following text pops up:
‘*The bruised and lifeless body of your wife is lying on the ground*’
‘*…yes…it’s a rabbit*’
So, with a well-placed curse, our adventurer is off to accomplish his quest: to save his murdered wife, who just so happens to be a rabbit named Flufinette. It’s a ridiculous yet passionate task, which sets up the humour for the entirety of the game. Animals make bizarre noises, villagers can be spoken back to with selections of snarky comments, and letters can be picked up that carry some of the funniest extracts from the game. It breaks the fourth wall frequently, mocking both the fantasy genre, and video games in general. Suitably, it’s all in silent text, which allows the strong, varying music to really add to the environment. However, in some other areas the music shrinks into the background, perhaps due to how modern it sounds: an apparent rejection of the basic 8-bit atmosphere.
In this mad world you’re given only what you need to get by. A lot of time early on is spent struggling and tinkering with different aspects of your character and their environment. As you explore and talk to characters, you acquire side quests that, while usually quite basic, are complemented by the game’s smart-mouthed humour. In the quest log, tasks are differentiated by difficulty, and battles can quickly turn sour if you’re not prepared. In the wilderness, you may come across a boss without as much as a friendly hello. Marked by their enormity in size and a plentiful health bar, they can be quite taxing. Furthermore, if you die, they gain experience points, making the prospect of facing them again seem all the more daunting.
Slowly, or quickly for those more diligent, the customizable controls and the combat systems become understood. Your attacks can be aimed in any direction, and buttons can be applied for chosen moves. There are a few branches that can be delved into. For example, they could be split into three types: melee, distant (e.g. bow), and magic.
By leveling up and completing quests, you can unlock and learn different abilities. You can also focus your energy on raising a wide range of stats, deciding to increase aspects such as mana and endurance. It all balances out, with certain stats allowing for more potent magic, while others may increase your ability with a bow or sword. It’s quite a deep system, and reflects some of the surprising density in the title.
Continuing this depth, there’s also a diverse crafting structure that allows you to acquire many of the game’s coveted items. In order to take advantage of it, you’ll need to venture out and gather different types of stone, pluck herbs for medicine, and pillage dungeons and homes for food. Like everything else, the system is intuitive, and – once you get the hang of it – fairly straightforward.
It even manages to work in some of its humour with many materials having off-topic descriptions. Why would there be a glove designed for just one finger in a bedside locker? However, it’s one of the game’s few weaknesses that although it’s stuffed full with hilarious quips, broad attack options, and an involving crafting system, it fails to implement these to their full ability.
It doesn’t take nearly long enough to find out what lies beneath. The game falters upon pacing and length. The learning curve seems quite steep at the start, however if you manage to get the hang of crafting and magic, it’s quite easy to run into that common RPG problem: being a dragon with a monstrous cave of gold. In my own humble beginnings, I suffered many agonising defeats. However, upon realising the full extent of crafting, I quickly put together some gold armour, the best sword, shield, and the most potent magic.
At this point, I was able to run around vanquishing foes with impunity, and skated through the rest of the game with relative ease. Near the end, I was given even more magical abilities, and had a whole range of attacks I still wanted to unlock and experiment with, but there was no reason to; the game had gotten too easy, and I had no side quests left to conquer.
It’s definitely not the worst complaint for a game to receive, but I had been waiting eagerly for another village, looking forward to uncovering some further nuggets of hilarious writing. I craved some sort of cape flowing from my character as I strolled around with a top hat on. What I got was a game that was over in roughly four hours. There was no reason to return.
Nevertheless, the game’s brevity shouldn’t get you down, as it also carries a good ol’ split screen multiplayer mode. Two to four players can pick from five unique characters battling it out in two modes: Save the Cube (think football/soccer), and Deathmatch. There are several stages for each of these; each one has a detailed environment, and some of them have the finest music in the game.
Song of the Myrne is a robust title, bursting at the seams with character customizations. However, the writing and humour are what really elevate the game. It’s also relatively cheap, and you’ll get your money’s worth when you find yourself talking to every character and reading every scrap of paper, just for the joy of hearing what they have to say. This isn’t to say the gameplay is terrible, but while length and pace spoils some aspects, this doesn’t ruin the comical mishaps as our brave adventurer goes down the rabbit hole to save his dear Flufinette.