Have you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be completely lost in the wilderness all alone? Have you ever wanted to learn more about the myths and legends of the Scottish Highlands? Have you ever wanted to play a rhythm gamewith brilliantly crafted Scottish Folk music? Well, A Highland Song may just be what you’re looking for in a video game!
As you jump into the game, you’ll meet Moira, a 15 year old who’s leaving home to meet up with her Uncle Hamish before Beltane arrives. Along the way, you have the opportunity to explore the Scottish Highlands and find mysteries, interesting characters, and music you can jump along to up and down the rolling hills. The art style is so beautiful, almost like watching watercolors move in front of your eyes.
Let’s take a look at these different aspects piece by piece.
Moira is a lovely character, full of life, and excited to have an opportunity to leave her little corner of the world and explore the grand areas past her house. She’s a wonderful protagonist due to her always having something to say about what she’s just done or is about to do. One of my favorite non-spoiler moments is when you have the choice to either climb a steep mountain or go through a tiny little tunnel. During this time, Moria will actually try to talk you out of making her squeeze through the little tunnel entrance. Usually, if you keep pressing A, she’ll cave and gain the courage to squeeze through. This kind of writing for Moria made me fall in love with her character pretty quickly.
The entire game is timed. Dawn, morning, early afternoon, etc. You have a week to make it to Uncle Hamish before Beltane. This is where the multiple endings come into play. If you make it after Beltane, that, in my opinion, is not the “good ending” even if it’s still a good ending. The “good” ending happens if you make it to Hamish before or on Beltane. I REALLY enjoyed what they did with the endings to this game. I found it to be the most peaceful game while also the most stressful. I played through A Highland Song three full times before writing this review. Twice without making it to Beltane on time, and once right on time. It isn’t easy to get there before Beltane on your first try. There are simply too many things to explore and it’s VERY easy to get lost as every character you interact with will tell you. Each playthrough took me between 3-6 hours, and each playthrough was completely different as I took different paths each time. As you unlock things on the first playthrough, you can carry over those items and maps to the next. I’ll say this for the time situation: making it on or before Beltane is worth it. I promise!
There are so many mysteries and characters to find and interact with during your story. Crashed planes, giants, ghosts(?), farmers, folk heroes, and histories of the Highlands. This game has all of them. This is partially what takes you off course timing-wise. You have a journal with all of the different things for you to uncover, including mountain peaks, songs, tasks, and more. The Mountain Peaks are uncovered by using maps and papers you find throughout the journey. Your job is to try and figure out which peaks are which by confirming areas on the maps. In three playthroughs I was unable to find all the peaks. You’ll also gain items that will help you find shortcuts, uncover other mysteries, or give you hints as to the ending of the game (which is too beautiful for me to spoil here).
Now, let’s talk about what drew me to this game to begin with: the rhythm sections. On the Nintendo Switch, I used X and Y to follow the music by Laurence Chapman, Talisk and Fourth Moon. During these, you’ll be following the guitar, flute, violin, etc. through a song as you climb up and down the Highlands. These sections are all flagged with a Deer, who will run with you up the mountain. So on my final playthrough to try to get to Beltane on time, my goal was to run with every deer I saw since they tend to lead you to the next location for you to explore. These are extremely fun sections but it does lead me to a slight issue I ran into. With the Switch specifically, you’ll need to recalibrate anytime you change from TV to handheld and back to TV. Even then, sometimes the calibration is just slightly off. I have played a lot of Guitar Hero type games, so I know how hard getting a calibration correct, but it is something to keep in mind as you play. The music has some pretty strong beats to follow, and you don’t want to feel frustrated missing notes you don’t feel you missed.
The only other complaint I had was the amount of clipping I would do climbing up and down the mountainside. There were a few times where Moria would just fall, fall, and fall. Her character model disappears and you lose all your health. These did make me feel a bit cheated as I would be exploring an area and be spawned at a random location on the mountain I was on. While it wasn’t a HUGE issue overall, it did ruin my second playthrough from being a successful arrival before Beltane and that was annoying. While this was my experience, the game since then has been patched on the Switch to be up to date with the Steam version, which fixed some of these. While I haven’t done a full playthrough with the patch, I played for about an hour and found no clipping during that time!
Overall, at the price of $17.99 at launch, A Highland Song is well worth it for anyone looking for a bit of mystery, a bit of rhythm gaming, and a lot of care put into an idea. Moria and her journey is one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve played through in an Indie game in a long time and I’m sure there’s something for almost every type of gamer out there.
Adam is a musician and gamer who loves his partner in crime, Regan, and their two pets Rey and Finn. Adam is a fan of Star Wars, Mass Effect, NFL Football, and gaming in general. Follow Adam on Twitter @TheRexTano.
A Highland Song
A Highland Song has so much heart, it’s hard not to find something to love. I was drawn into the game due to the rhythm based traversal for running up the hills. With music from Laurence Chapman, Talisk and Fourth Moon, I found myself running up and down hills just to get the songs perfect. The story also has such a sweet progression, each hint drawing you closer and closer to the truth of it all. Plus, with how much there is to explore and the time mechanic, the replayability is insane given the cost of the game. From the art style to the music to the adventure itself, it’s easy to get lost in the Highland Song.