Songs of Silence is a beautiful RTS. You can forget the staid, drab medieval fantasy of many other real-time strategies, and revel instead in the excesses and bold brushstrokes that the team at Chimera Entertainment have crafted. It’s painterly – the team label it more specifically as Art Nouvea – with character portraits that are reminiscent of a vibrant and vivacious Banner Saga, while its city building and RTS-like combat, are bold and colourful. This sumptuous display not only catches your eye, and your imagination, it draws you completely into the world of Songs of Silence.
You might still be expecting Songs of Silence to play like a traditional fantasy RTS. It throws that out of the window by tying in a dose of auto-battler where you don’t so much control your units as influence them by way of playing card-based skills. The team is clear to point out that this isn’t a deck builder, though, it’s just a more effective and enigmatic way of presenting your army’s skills and abilities while taking a step away from the traditional ability cooldown bar. It speaks to a team that are thinking as much about the why as the how.
Songs of Silence is set in an as-yet unnamed fantasy kingdom. It presents two parallel lands, the light, and the dark, who, though diametrically opposed, have to pull together to fight off the all-devouring Silence. Each of these lands has unique outlooks, as well as specific units and cities that emphasise their own unique attributes. The light side is more magical, spiritual even, with the promise of divine power present in their units and attacks. The dark side meanwhile lives closer to the land, and with nature, with units that include Constructs, living machines that roam the battlefield.
Our hands on began by leading the army of Lorelai of Ehrengard across the land, engaging in a series of opening battles that set up the political drama that drives the light side of the kingdom. This is an RTS for the modern age, and there’s a commitment to respecting player’s time. Maps and large-scale encounters can be completed in an evening rather than the many many hours that some games might ask of you, and it’s about positioning and using your faction’s skills at the right time rather than micro-management. Battles are swift and fun, in some ways playing out like a battle of TABS, albeit one that you can influence and alter in real time.
The skills and abilities that appear in your deck of cards might include extra units, or powerful moves such as a call to charge that affects your mounted units. Each of these operate on a cooldown, so you have to pay careful attention about exactly when you deploy them in order to ensure your army’s success. There’s elements here that make Songs of Silence far more accessible than many other RTS games, and with its narrative focus as well it feels like this is a game world that is capable of drawing people in who might not traditionally choose this type of game.
There’s a clear sense of progression to everything in Songs of Silence, with city-building and kingdom-ruling aspects that see you cement your place on the landscape as you progress across it. Your hero characters also gain XP and level up with each successful encounter, and you can add to your deck of abilities, while new areas bring new units to recruit to your cause.
While Songs of Silence looks beautiful, the team at Chimera Entertainment knew that they had to have audio that could match it, drafting in the legendary skills of Valkyria Chronicles and Final Fantasy Tactics composer Hitoshi Sakimoto. The beautiful orchestral melodies we heard during our hands on were testament to that, and reflected the onscreen action and drama perfectly. Between the audio and the visuals it feels as though Songs of Silence is an experiential piece of artistic expression as much as it is a game of tactics and strategy. That remains absolutely remarkable, even taken within the continuing and unyielding drive for creativity in gaming as a whole.
That link to Valkyria Chronicles is perhaps the most prescient. There too we had a game whose painterly visuals set it apart as much as its unique reworking of its genre’s expectations, and just like Sega’s iconic title it feels as though Songs of Silence could be a perfect reimagining of the RTS, built with care, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to forging its own memorable path into player’s minds.