In the vastness of space, in the loneliness of adventure, finding someone you lost can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. That sense of melancholy and despair is wonderfully captured in the OPUS series’ latest installment, not just because of its themes and art direction – but because of how it portrays hope.
The Taiwanese developers Sigono have developed a sprawling world in a chaotic and mysterious Thousand Peaks solar system. Following the success of The Day We Found Earth (2016) and Rocket of Whispers (2017), Echo of Starsong is their most ambitious project yet, spurred by the studio’s desire to “create unique, heartfelt experiences that bring people joy.”
OPUS: Echo of Starsong is available on Steam for PC and Mac, for your regional pricing.
Story – Deep Space Drama
Even if this is your first venture into the world of OPUS, worry not – each individual episode stands on its own. You mainly play from the perspective of Jun, an exiled noble who arrived in a new solar system in order to redeem his family’s honor. In his quest for undiscovered caves of lumen – this universe’s ultimate resource of fuel and power – he comes across Eda, captain of the ship Red Chamber. Jun’s quest for glory entangles with Eda’s desire to discover an ancient and dangerous starsong.
The solar systems of East Ocean and Thousand Peaks have an intertwining history that will immerse all players. The game’s writing is its greatest strength. I found myself wanting to look back on some of the lapsed conversations, but unfortunately there is no way to look back on the game’s log. Despite the complexity of the lore, the story presents all the story beats in a rhythmic manner, allowing players to digest the past, present and future events without the information overload. It’s this rich lore that would surprise most players, and gives a glimpse of how much love and attention to detail was given to this world. The concept of starsongs – songs that produce the necessary sound waves and patterns to unlock mechanisms left by the ancient gods – straddles the line between scientific and magical, suspending disbelief in whimsical and unique manner.
The central characters are brought together by their personal struggles of not fitting in with society. Each is extremely motivated by their goals and will stop at nothing to get their way, provided there is a calculated method to get them all out alive. They are all strong characters that have their strengths and weaknesses, making each individual have a touch of realism. Even characters that were only present for two or three scenes left a mark in the story. By the end of the story, you may find yourself touched by the deep bonds the characters have developed with each other. I know I did – the tears were rolling alongside the credits at the end of the game.
I did feel like the repeating flashbacks became a crutch. Several scenes and dialogues are drilled into the player for the purpose of driving certain themes home. However, I found its use a bit heavy-handed, especially at the end of the story, where the motivations of the main characters have become clear. I became more interested in their current train of thought, rather than being haunted by their ghosts for the majority of the playthrough.
The most impressive part of Echo of Starsong‘s narrative is that it doesn’t rely on the dialogue or Jun’s narrating to tell the story. Every single part of the game – from the puzzles to the message logs, from the space cartography to the ship upgrades, fleshes out the story effortlessly. The game has taken advantage of its medium as a whole. It balances relatability and fantasy, a melancholic look into the strangest coincidences of life without being overly dramatic.
Gameplay – Engaging Puzzles
Narrative-driven stories can sometime fall into the habit of shoe-horning interactive sections in order to feel worthy of being called a “game”. Thankfully, Echo of Starsong escapes that trap by implementing puzzles that are relevant to the game’s story and give players a sense of progression.
Tuning starsongs – featured as the main puzzle loop in the adventure – starts off as a fairly easy and middling chore, to a genuinely fascinating audio puzzle. Soon they become motifs to the world as a whole, and can even provide a chance for players to think outside of the box. Jun’s cave runner sections require you to consider what you’ve learnt about the rules of the game’s world, and reward the exploratory senses of sharp-eyed players. The player characters that you control move at a good pace, and exploring the straightforward scenes is never boring given the urgent mystery and immersive ambiance.
As you hop from each space station and lumen cave, you’ll have your hands full with resource management and encounters in space. You need to stock up on fuel, defense, and exploration kits for your ship if you want to survive. Thankfully, you can upgrades some parts of your carrier if you want the space commute to be easier on your inventory. I felt that this added a level of depth to the gameplay, and provided a well-calculated narrative pace for all players. Travel is also more involved. You can try your luck uncovering resources, plot points and collectibles if you go out of your way to explore optional caves and stations. Sometimes you are greeted with visitors – ruthless space pirates, hostile military stations, or helpless refugees – and it’s up to you how you will respond.
The other challenge within the game is a collect-a-thon of different paraphernalia on your journey. It’s fun to see if you can get everything, especially since some of these items only come up when you make the right choice or depend on your RNG luck. There are a lot of these “memories” to collect, and they are satisfying to add to your collection, because each piece presents a fun little morsel of worldbuilding and even more of Jun’s inner thoughts.
The accessible puzzles still provided a challenge for experienced gamers, making Echo of Starsong a wonderfully balanced experience that has something delightful for every kind of player.
Audio and Graphics – Heavenly Sighs
OPUS: Echo of Starsong features simple but gorgeous audio and graphics, wrapping up a strong story into an incredibly immersive experience. The cold blues, blacks and greys of the cities and spaceships are foreboding, but the warmth of the starry galaxies and bioluminescent plants are comforting. The game accomplishes this balance throughout the main quests’ 10 to 12 hours.
With a central theme of song, it should really be no wonder that the game leans into music for its story and gameplay. Eda’s navigational songs are beautiful and distinct. Their haunting nature of each sound bite adds a mystical element to the highly scientific and calculating nature of space travel. The accompanying flavor texts for each song also capture the quality of the sound. The game’s sound design works well to highlight moments of sadness and suspense, leaving players on the edge of their seat.
The low-poly graphics maintain a simple elegance that push the capabilities of the visual novel genre. Each station and cave is distinct in the player’s mind. The use of lighting and camera direction in the exploration scenes made the (typically boring) traversals more dynamic. The story is accompanied by a staggering amount of CGs. Many special moments and memories were highlighted in these scenes. Past and future and portrayed in understandable ways that help flesh out the narrative as a whole.
Another commendable aspect is the clean and easy-to-use UI throughout the game. Its pared down menus still hold a lot of information that is useful to the player. I especially enjoyed the messaging system that is included in the ship. Each character is given their own inbox, and the messages they receive are easy-to-read sources of drama, gossip, and pure comedy, made even more believable by the excellent UI. It’s a joy to use Echo of Starsong‘s minimalist menus mixed in with grandiose depictions of space.
All these items mentioned come together to create an incredible ambiance that effectively mixes several genres together – adventure, apocalyptic horror, suspense, and romance.
OPUS: Echo of Starsong was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Future Friends Games.