A Highland Song Review
Back in June, during the Tribeca Games Spotlight, I found A Highland Song for the very first time, and it captivated me instantaneously! There was a lot to love about this indie title, and the passion of the team behind it only made it that much more intriguing.
This title, developed and published by Inkle Ltd, is a charming 2D game where you'll take on the role of Moira — a young teenage girl who is sick and tired of living at home because of her abusive mother and crappy lifestyle. Then, one day, she received a letter from her uncle Hamish, a man who lives in a lighthouse near the ocean and has invited her to come visit him. After that, she takes off on a journey across mountains and peaks to make it to the ocean to witness Beltane — a wonder that her uncle wants to show her.
For the most part, A Highland Song is pretty simple — all you do is try to find your way around the Scottish Highlands while being told the narrative through different bits, some of them come from the letters between Hamish and Moira, and the others come in the form of memories that she gets throughout her journey. Unfortunately, I felt like at the end, I didn't fully grasp the story as it's a bit vague because of the style of narration. But to be honest, it wasn't a bother to me at all because I still felt a connection to Moira and Hamish, and I really felt for the struggles she deals with, particularly because I can relate.
Of course, you won't just be jumping from hill to hill brainlessly while listening to the story — there are plenty of peaks to climb and learn the history of. In fact, every place you see, you can climb as long as you find your way to it! And truth be told, I had way too much fun exploring the absolutely stunning areas throughout my journey. I dilly-dallied so much during my first run that I got to the lighthouse four days late! Thankfully, the game encourages you to go again and again, and once you arrive at your destination, you have the option to start anew while keeping some of your inventory items and knowledge. In total, I played three times — the first one, I restarted, not understanding I could arrive late; the second time, I didn't make it in time; and the third, I barely got there for Beltane.
I fully intend to continue playing the game until I've discovered even more, as throughout the world, you'll find little secrets scattered around. Whether it's NPCs you can talk to, items you can interact with, or even things you can pick up from the floor, there's enough magic and wonder to keep you entertained, and Hamish's tales and information about the different areas really help add to that excitement. Truth be told, I was disappointed there wasn’t more of it because his voice actor (as well as Moira’s) did a phenomenal job!
Thankfully, there’s a level of difficulty that’ll keep you on your toes, but don’t worry, it’s not too bad. At first, I was a bit nervous the game would get boring just exploring for hours on end, but you have to keep Moira safe in her journey from the weather and falling. You can take breaks to help her regain some health, but ideally, you look for an abandoned house to hole up throughout the night. These survival elements weren’t too invasive or annoying, especially as I stopped being anxious about them, but they added a nice layer of depth to the gameplay on top of exploring, unravelling the story, and enjoying the scenery.
Of course, even a masterpiece has its flaws, and I had two grumbles with the game. Sometimes, I got stuck and lost a day (in the worst case, it was nearly three) because I couldn’t tell where I could go due to the graphic style; thankfully, this got easier to deal with the more I played and learned the differences. Still, it was a bit frustrating every time I was close to the lighthouse and ended up wandering in the snowy mountains and losing tons of time. The second gripe I have isn’t much of a complaint as it is that I loved the rhythm moments where Moira runs across the land while Scottish music plays, but I was a bit disappointed with their placement and abruptness. Although this last one is very subjective, I thought those sections could have been downright goosebump-inducing had they been positioned in pivotal moments or as we arrived at the lighthouse. They were still fantastic, thankfully! But I will drop a warning that it's a bit loud, especially in comparison to the quiet and relaxing tunes playing throughout the rest of the game, so prepare to lower the volume.
Overall, I am absolutely smitten by A Highland Song! I could look at the scenery and jump from peak to peak for hours, discovering the secrets. This is one of the most nuanced and adventure-filled titles I have played in a while, and I am so happy I got to be the one to review it! I can't wait to see what else Inkle Ltd comes up with.
A Highland Song (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A Highland Song is just as unique and nuanced as I had hoped, and the developer did an outstanding job at bringing a wild sense of adventure and emotion to a 2D title.