A Highland Song is an atmospheric indie game that lets a player focus on the heroine, her uncle, and the land itself. It’s something special to play, even if the execution isn’t always perfect.
Moira’s had a special connection with her uncle Hamish, who works as a lighthouse keeper. In one of his latest letters, he asked her to come to visit him. So, she sets off secretly, hoping to get there in about a week before Beltane. We climb, jump, and sprint alongside her as she scales mountains and hills, finds relics and possible maps from those who came before, and encounters certain individuals and possibly supernatural elements as she makes the journey to the sea.
How someone gets to the lighthouse is honestly up to the player. While the goal is to get there before Beltane, it could take longer. Moira has some options as to which paths she takes, with players using the initial supplied maps or ones she finds, comparing them to surroundings once you climb a peak in an area, then trekking down to that exact spot to proceed forward. You’ll need to gradually climb rocks and cliffs, taking care to watch if she’s getting winded or in a dangerous area so she doesn’t drop and lose health. There are also the elements to consider, such as rain or snow, which might mean stopping to shelter in a wooded area or cave could be best to wait it out. Certain encounters could mean using items you’ve found that aren’t map pieces to learn more about people and the area. There are also rhythm segments, often accompanied by a telltale deer, that lets you tap X and Y through tracks to move along more quickly and build up Moira’s endurance.
The thing about it is that it all makes A Highland Song feel very natural. Keeping an eye out for abandoned homes or sheltered spaces for a quick rest becomes second nature. Climbing peaks becomes about getting your bearings and making more informed progress, rather than just getting to check off that you accomplished something in Moira’s notebook. Even falling, failing, and causing her to lose health can mean getting to hear a bit of an incidental story or perhaps even take part in an encounter you might not have happened upon otherwise. In most cases if you can see it, you can climb it, and there are multiple paths to allow for freedom of choice and potentially replay value.
However, there are times when I felt A Highland Song holds you back. At the very end of my first playthrough, I forgot to mark a certain part of the landscape using a map at the top of the peak. I think it was more I had an issue finding a certain place, and I reasoned I’d easily be able to get back up to that cliff. Except… I couldn’t. Moira acknowledged the path signpost and possible point where I could move forward, but there was no trigger. Trying to find my way back up to the peak proved problematic, due to the most obvious path having the slipper cobblestones that signified I couldn’t climb it. While normally it’s possible to go between different “layers” in an area, I found myself unable to. I ended up restarting the game and taking that knowledge with me the next time, thus not making that same mistake again later.
It’s an example of the clumsiness that can come up throughout A Highland Song sometimes. In a game where climbing and finding exact footing is so critical, sometimes it might not be as clear as you’d like. Especially when the rhythm game suddenly adds Y as an option without warning and doesn’t make the X and Y “notes” for those moments more different and distinct so you can immediately know and recognize them the second the options show up, without needing to eventually discern the nuances for fast-paced sprints.
But in a way, I feel it’s a small price to pay for the general experience of it all. Moira is a delight to listen to. Getting to hear her anecdotes about herself and her family are great, and even her outcries as she’d drop and hurt herself because of my mistakes really illustrated her personality. Likewise, Hamish himself is quite a character, based on what we “hear” from him, and I appreciated many of the other encounters as well.
I enjoyed A Highland Song so much that I almost went through my first attempt to reach the lighthouse in a single sitting, and then did get there the second time I played through it. I’m excited to go through it again, next time taking a different path and more leisurely approach. It’s good at building up a world through context, and I want to see if I can hear and learn more about Moira and her life by traveling alongside her again.
A Highland Song is available on the Nintendo Switch and PCs.