After the cult success of 2004's chilling Forbidden Siren, there was always hope that Keiichiro Toyama would take the concept further. Much like Silent Hill dragged the horror genre into a thoughtful new direction (a seminal game Toyama-san himself directed) Forbidden Siren introduced a wealth of completely original ideas that helped make it one of the scariest games ever conceived.
Ideas such as Sight Jacking (the ability to effectively tune in to the eyes of those around you) meant you had to pay full attention to what your aggressors could see, and taking your chances to slip past them unnoticed. Not only was this a fantastically well-realised idea, it was a truly harrowing way of hearing their excitable growls and moans first hand.
Layered on top of that was a fascinating overlapping storyline played out from the perspective of multiple characters each entering into the timeline at different points. But as bold and innovative as this concept was, it also made the game quite a confusing one for even the most hardened survival-horror nut.
Still, the prospect of a more accessible sequel is an exciting one, and we were given a rare opportunity to speak to the Toyama-san himself to fill in the blanks on one of this summer's most anticipated PS2 releases.
Eurogamer: Being able to see through the eyes of your enemies was a really interesting design decision that worked very well. What's the reason for letting you see through the eyes of animals in the sequel, and how does this add to the tension?
Keiichiro Toyama: In the first game, the character Miyako saw and acted through the eyes of her dog. This got me thinking that it would be interesting to make that particular situation actually playable. I wasn't overly confident that the experiment would result in something that would work as a game, but we ended up with an interesting scenario that really evoked a unique feeling of helplessness and frustration.
In the second game, there are a number of other new types of sight-jacking, including one which gives you the ability to see into the past, and another which lets you control others, all of which brings a whole new dimension to the gameplay.
Eurogamer: The original had an intensely confusing overlapping storyline/timeline that was interesting, thoughtfully designed, very original but also very tough to figure out. Often you'd find yourself having to replay old scenarios (often very tough ones, as well!) repeatedly simply to find an obscure object - or going around in a time loop not really understanding why. Have you simplified this for the sequel, and how have you made the game more accessible on the whole?
Keiichiro Toyama: Having thought that the first game may have been a little too complicated, we have made it possible to choose which scenario you follow from the beginning of the sequel. Also, the events that unfold do follow a fairly straight path, so people shouldn't get confused in the beginning, and we have tried to make it so that the story broadens out as it progresses in a natural way that is easy to get used to.
Eurogamer: The storyline (despite the complications) was one of our favourite aspects of the original. How does the sequel relate to the first game?
Keiichiro Toyama: It takes place in the same world, but concerns a separate incident. There are a number of points throughout the story where the events of the first game are touched upon, but the story and all the characters are new, and the story is essentially a standalone affair.
Eurogamer: What inspired the theme of the game, in terms of literature and movies and so on?
Keiichiro Toyama: The method of using myths and folklore as allegories for the modern world is influenced heavily by Japanese horror comics - comics like those of Daijirou Moroboshi and Ryouko Yamagishi. The idea of a remote Japanese village ruled over by a strange religion was strongly influenced by Daijirou Moroboshi's "Seimei no ki" ("The Tree of Life"). "Seimei no ki" was also made into a movie last year, with the title "Kidan".
Having time jump back and forth and blend together was a technique influenced by the movie "Ju-On", which was remade in Hollywood as "The Grudge".
Eurogamer: Who's doing the English voiceovers this time? The original voices were (to English ears) absolutely hilarious because they didn't suit the characters at all. Have you thought about allowing us to hear the original Japanese voice actors, but with subtitles?
Keiichiro Toyama: I admit that people's opinions of the voices in the first game were generally quite bad, and as a result of that we have worked very hard this time around to cast voice actors who really suit the characters, and to ensure that their performances are believable. In addition to this, just as you have suggested, the option to have English subtitles and Japanese voices will also be available.
Eurogamer: Another thing that we loved about the original was the grainy, gritty graphical style, combined with superb looking characters and atmospheric environments. What have you done, technically, to improve upon Siren 1?
Keiichiro Toyama: As far as the characters are concerned, we have used 3D capture techniques in the sequel, which make them much more natural and human. With the backgrounds, we have worked particularly hard on improving how your surroundings are lit. The last game was shrouded in darkness from start to finish, but this time, there are subtle differences in the degree of darkness depending on whether you are underground, outdoors, etc., and darkness is generally much more delicately handled. Also, objects which affect the light levels, such as streetlights, actually have a noticeable effect and are also affected by your actions, so that if you break one, it will get dark.
Eurogamer: One thing that made Siren 1 so damned terrifying was the defencelessness of your chosen character. On the rare occasions you could shoot your enemies, it only rendered them incapacitated temporarily. Are you still going to be somewhat weak, unarmed and generally forced to use your wits for most of the game, or are you focusing a little more on combat this time?
Keiichiro Toyama: The previous game was fairly poor when it came to variations in the gameplay with the various characters, so this time the differences between them are much more clearly defined. This means that there are soldier-like characters with military skills who can overpower enemies, but, just as with the previous game, there are also children who are powerless to protect themselves. Also, some of the weaker characters have the special sight-jacking abilities mentioned earlier, and it is by using these that they get themselves out of trouble.
Eurogamer: Many games in the survival-horror genre have almost given up on putting challenging puzzles in the game, or making them more about fighting and shooting. How do you feel about this, and is this the direction that Siren 2 is going in?
Keiichiro Toyama: The number of casual gamers has increased, and development costs continue to spiral, and these factors make it harder and harder to fine-tune games with more specific groups of players in mind.
But then, as someone who has a great respect for the adventure games of the past, I have devoted my efforts to keeping puzzle-solving an optional element of the gameplay in the Siren series, and making the riddles posed by the story and the setting something that players can puzzle over when they are away from the game.
Because the game has been upgraded in every respect, there are more ways of fighting in the sequel, but this is not to say that the focus has shifted more towards combat - the game's central style is still based upon the idea that the harder you think, the more fun you will have.
Eurogamer: Siren 2 is yet another game to feature a light and dark world, following on from the likes of Zelda, Metroid Prime 2 and others, but is the first horror title to do this. How do you think this adds to the gameplay, and why did you decide to run with this idea?
Keiichiro Toyama: I think it's slightly different from those games, in that they were more about there being two sides to the same game world. With the Siren series, the same map is used in several different scenarios, but it is the way the map is looked at and the strategy required that changes dramatically, and I think this is a key part of the game's appeal.
The theme of this game is "light and dark", and the inclusion of enemies called "Yamibito" (literally "dark people") came about as a direct result of trying to find ways to exploit the much-improved lighting techniques.
Eurogamer: Presumably this is your last ever PS2 project - do you already have an idea of what your next generation plans will be. What will the next generation technology offer us that this one doesn't?
Keiichiro Toyama: The improved physics and other features of the next generation machines have given me a few good ideas that I would encourage you to keep an eye out for in the future. Also, from a purely graphical point of view, the fact that the visuals will be so much better will allow us to finally show the shadows that we have not been able to implement in the Siren series so far, and I think the ability to create much more believably dank landscapes will make the games a good deal scarier as well.
Eurogamer: Would Siren ever work as a handheld game?
Keiichiro Toyama: It's hard to say if the style of the game would work if translated as-is to a handheld platform, but I think if you rearranged it so that it progressed more like a story, with the puzzles you solve bringing you further into that story, or made it more of a sight-jacking-based combat game, then there would definitely be some scope for an enjoyable title there.
Forbidden Siren 2 will be released in Europe in the summer exclusively on PS2, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.