Kyoya awakens in a crimson sea. Understandably, his first instinct is to run once again, but another vision stops him in his tracks. This time he sees himself not from an attacker, but from the perspective of a benevolent woman in a red nun’s habit. She recognizes that he has the bizarre psychic skill of sightjacking, and teaches him to use it willfully. Sightjacking is Siren‘s main gameplay mechanic, and is one of the reasons the title is being praised as one of the most innovative of the year. By using this ability, you can invade the senses of humans and creatures in the vicinity. Pressing the L2 button to concentrate, the player focuses the character’s senses in a particular direction with the joystick, sweeping the area for signals like tuning to a satellite. Just feeling around for suitable targets can tell you a lot about where you do and do not want to be. By riding the viewpoints of others, a vast amount of information can be obtained, from basic knowledge like the patterns in which your enemies move and what weapons they use to the location of important objects. The most essential survival technique is to sightjack a nearby shibito until it turns away from you, then run by when it isn’t looking.
Somewhat more advanced is the practice of using your stolen images to locate yourself and your obstacles on the map. The diagram of each area is very comprehensive, with topographical information and important locations highlighted and labeled, but it doesn’t do things a normal map wouldn’t do, like plot your position. Figuring out where you are takes some attention to landmarks and your compass, while pinpointing the shibito requires some triangulation and inference. Of course, you won’t need orienteering lessons to get around, but the more you develop these skills, the easier it becomes to understand your surroundings and fight your fear of the unknown.
After giving a brief ESP lesson, the woman guides Kyoya through the monster-infested streets, helping you in the way you’ll be expected to help others throughout the game. Many levels pair you with an AI controlled companion whose safety you must ensure. By calling up the list menu with the Triangle button, you can give your partner various orders like waiting if the situation ahead looks too dangerous, coming to you when the coast is clear or running for it if things get out of hand. Many of these characters are playable, so the experiences they have while in your protection can alter the tools and knowledge they’ll have when you take direct control of them later on.
With Kyoya in the relative safety of a nearby church, the narrative shifts to an event that took place simultaneously with another character. Siren is completely unprecedented in that it tells its tale from the perspective of ten different people with little respect to chronological order of events. Instead, the hours of each person’s adventure are laid out on a huge chart called the Scenario Link Navigator that shows how each episode interacts with the others. Not only is it possible for the actions you take to affect events later in the timeline for that character or location, but they may also make past happenings relevant or require a previous level to be done differently. As a result, the web of dependencies becomes very tangled as more scenes become unlocked.
Another unorthodox storytelling tool Siren employs are archive items, which mostly take the form of newspapers, drawings and other objects that can convey information explicitly. These collectibles are hidden throughout the game and presented at certain plot points to impart exposition. For example, when Tamon Takeuchi is introduced, his ID card tells us he’s a professor of folklore at Josei University without forcing the information into the dialogue. Each article contains a critical snippet regarding the characters or the history of the town, so gathering as many as possible is key to uncovering the whole truth about the events in Hanuda.