SIGNALIS is sort of an enigma of a game. It’s a great recapture of the feeling of the “5th generation” era of gaming and is actually a lot of fun. While its considered a survival-horror game, its more akin to an action-stealth game like Metal Gear Solid and less like Resident Evil per se. However, it has a very interesting, wild and convoluted story that needs a bit of explanation.
Another thing to note is a three person team worked on this game. I touch a bit on this in my article about meetings at video game studios, but a lot of the game is clearly intentional from a development standpoint. Which is why SIGNALIS feels so buttoned up.
SIGNALIS Is an Analog Horror Simulator
That’s it, that’s as simple as it is. Everything in the game is built around a dream like experience of that 5th generation era of console gaming with analog horror elements to it. The Resident Evil style save system isn’t there specifically because it’s cool but because it’s supposed to be more analog and more horror. The puzzles that you solve are boiled down versions of puzzles in that era. The inventory system, etc. are all part of that.
The true horror of the game is that you don’t know what or why you’re doing what you’re doing. No one explains it to you in a way that makes sense and no matter what ending you get, there isn’t any satisfaction. If you want a quick rundown of the plot and endings before we continue, let’s go through them.
If you want proof of this, check their about us page or even look at the settings and see how CRT mode is the best. The developers constantly seem to speak often about not wanting the game’s lore to be dictated by others and to be an experience each player goes through. SIGNALIS is a game about the player and the game exploring it together. It’s an experience, not a book. Which both methods of storytelling are valid, but for SIGNALIS it is more important to think of what you think of the story given all the “lego blocks” of lore hints and build what you want with it.
Together, we’ve been making analogue and digital games since 2014.Rose Engine
SIGNALIS Plot Explained
A dystopian multi-planet empire and a breakoff revolutionary government are at war with one another. Forced conscription is mandatory for military service and there seems to be government mandated jobs. Ariane grows up and has exposure to number stations, radio broadcasting, working in a photo shop and more. Ariane joins the military, before briefly meeting a girl known as Alina through a relevative. The Penrose project, a project designed to find more habitable planets, accepts Ariane. Ariane is assigned an ELSTER unit as the ships replika. Replikas are synthetic Humanoids who are somewhat like robotic clones.
Ariane, the Human Gestalt pilot, boards the Penrose scout ship Penrose-512 along with her ELSTER unit and heads out to explore in what is effectively one way mission. Ariane receives a confidential memo that instructs her to avoid bonding with the ELSTER unit which is ignored. She then spends the entire flight with the ELSTER unit bored and suffering as time ticks down.
It is heavily implied that Ariane and her ELSTER unit were in a relationship. Ariane also had little interest in reading technical manuals.
Eventually they give up on the ship, which begins to fill with trash as they stopped caring. At this point, Ariane had the ELSTER unit promise to not let her suffer. The ship eventually crashes into an unknown planet. Ariane is placed into cryo-stasis to hold off the radiation poisoning.
At this point, you the player are free to perceive what occurs.
SIGNALIS Story as Presented
The story presents the ELSTER unit, known as Elster, leaving the Penrose ship (which isn’t authentically represented, due to the lack of trash) into the inhospitable environment. Elster passes through a gate, then down into a hole where they crawl through another hole to Ariane’s room. There they pick up the King in Yellow, a book banned back at home.
The Elster unit perceives a reboot and is now located in the Sierpinski mining colony. A strange virus has infected all of the non-Human workforce causing a cancerous like infection and rampant aggression. Elster meets a STAR unit before being attacked. At this point, Elster moves through the mining facility looking for a girl known as Alina. Eventually Elster runs into a command unit, which pushes them down an elevator shaft.
Continuing through the mining complex, they eventually uncover the elevator down into the mining facility. Here they enter into an area known as nowhere. The mining facility, but sort of discombobulated. Elster moves through nowhere and lands back at the Penrose, this time damaging themselves and them rebuilding themselves.
Finally they end up in the Rotfront. Here in this base they encounter more of the same, locating an array of tarot cards and finally escaping back into Ariane’s room. Elster here can take the “Artifact” ending or continue with a boss fight with Falke who claims to be sharing memories with Elster. Upon defeat, one of the endings plays out.
No matter the ending, you more or less come to the conclusion that there’s two possibilities. The first is that Ariane and Elster are sharing memories while Elster shuts down due to bio-resonance. There’s a considerable amount of proof for this, which we will get into further into the article but it more or less centers around how nothing makes sense in the game. There’s no connection between a scout ship far away from everything and the events that occur in the game.
The “nothing is real” theory is absolutely in my mind most applicable here. The intention of the story is that the Penrose-512 crashes. Elster is damaged from the crash and is working on rebooting. Depending on your actions through the sentient AI’s fever dream (which may be also inside of Ariane’s mind) is how the ending works out (i.e. what Elster remembers).
A classic survival horror experience with a unique aesthetic, full of melancholic mystery. Explore a world with a dark secret, solve puzzles, fight off nightmarish creatures and navigate through dystopian, surreal worlds as Elster, a technician Replika looking for a lost dream.SIGNALIS Website
The radiation shielding on the ship has gone caput (as intended), the pilot is dying of radiation poisoning. Elster’s promise is to end the pilot’s (Ariane) suffering. The entire game is a bleed through of Ariane, a Gestalt with bio-resonance into her ELSTER unit, until it wakes up. The start of the game is within the dream, a dream where Ariane was not in the cryo-pod and the ELSTER unit went on an adventure, including elements from Ariane’s life.
The different endings change very little about the ending. No matter what, the ship is stranded and nothing changes the ending that it was a one way mission for Ariane and Elster.
There’s theories that discuss the planet the ship crashing on being some kind of alien artifact that connected back to the home world and infects the mining colony. These theories are fun to think about (and totally valid if that’s your take). The only issue is that there isn’t anything that really ties together the entire story well.
There’s an ending that isn’t an ending. It occurs as you play the story.
- Leave: Use little ammo, stealth, stay healthy and play the game a lot. Stay behind in the flashback as well. Here you won’t enter the ship, which more or less leaves the game’s ending and the surprise about the condition of the ship a mystery.
- Memory: Play very well, get through the game quickly and talk to all the NPCs. You enter the ship only to find that Ariane’s barely there, Elster has likely already failed and they spent the last part of the ship just more or less not caring anymore. You learn about the drama on the ship.
- Promise: Get hit a lot, play the game for awhile and just don’t act like you care a ton as you play through. You’ll need to die a lot and play aggressively. You’ll follow through the promise. Some tips here is to have more than 12 hours of playtime, do more than 2000 damage, take out every enemy and just lose a lot. It is a bit harder to get.
- Artifact (Secret Ending): Isolation Room on floor B2, frequency 96. Floor B8, Bedroom, with the frequency of 65. In Rotfront, a room connected to the library, frequency 240. Gather these three keys then when you reach the room from the start of the game through the tunnel you’ll want to use the keys then under the passcode from the start of the game (39486, 60170, 24326, 01064). Once you open the safe you get the secret ending, where Elster and Ariane have one last dance together. This ending more or less is as if Elster just accepts everything.
What’s Canon? What’s the good or bad ending?
It’s up to the player to decide the canon unless there is a sequel which isn’t likely. Elster shutting down is guaranteed.
Do note since the game is a “dream within a dream” it is likely that “leave” means Elster won’t move on and will likely repeat the entire memory loop again, except this time it may not be possible for it run back around. “Memory” is remembering the journey they had together. “Promise” is fulfilling the promise that is hinted at towards the game. “Artifact” is a secret ending that more or less skips the boss battle and concludes everything there and now.
The developers do not see a good or bad ending:
SIGNALIS and Analog Horror Revisited
What does this all come together to mean? Nothing – dressing for atmosphere and thought. Whatever you want to take from it. Pulling from heavy Silent Hill energy, SIGNALIS isn’t about a story about anything other than emotions. The Human condition, in all of its different ways. No matter how you cook it, its a dream world that exists as a construct of some ideas as a way to bring about cosmic horror in a rather sensible way without any effective world building consequences. From the features:
- Slow-paced, creeping surreal psychological horror with a dense atmosphere.
- Unique, Eurasian cold-war retro-tech sci-fi take on cosmic horror.
This exists due to the way the game is constructed in a dream like sort of fantasy state of nothing having any meaning. Its to give you that eerie feeling of playing Silent Hill or Resident Evil late at night and not knowing what’s happening or what’s going on. The zombie enemies represent whatever honestly you want them to and the story unfolds however you want it to.
It’s an emotional masterpiece in my opinion that drives atmospheric tension, music and gameplay to create a vibe more than it is something where you’re working to go and save someone.
Is SIGNALIS scary? Are there jump scares?
There isn’t any kind of Slender like jump scares in the game and the game is rather creepy, but it isn’t that creepy overall. You’ll find enemies in rooms you’ve returned to running at you from hallways. You’ll walk into rooms and be attacked immediately. Saving improperly can cause issues where you may not have enough ammo to comfortably get through upcoming sections of the game.
There’s forced perspective changes. There’s a lot of atmosphere but there isn’t tension. When a room is clear, it’s clear. You’ll know before you solve each puzzle that something will trigger. The SWORD puzzle is more frightening than much of the other content in the game.
It’s also part of the beauty. Each room there is hesitation. Will this damage you. Will this take up ammo. Is the item that’s out of range worth the trouble of trying to get to it or worth the ammo?
The game is often fair and provides ammo when required to move forward, usually after the monster. Easy makes it even easier to get through the game without worrying about messing up.
Who are the monsters?
The same thing with Silent Hill except this is some kind of dystopian where part of an empire has broken off and is in some sort of war with each other. The different robot units are infected with “something” for “some reason” which you can interject as whatever you want it to be.
This is more to do with Ariane than the ELSTER unit that you play. You can read through the story and try to piece together what Ariane was feeling and the different experiences at the different locations. The common “cleanest” theory is that Elster is breaking down and Ariane is bio-reactive, so this dream within the Elster unit is reflective of both the Elster itself and Ariane.
In the more occult theories, the monsters could be corrupted by Ariane through her psyhic link to them. The various ELSTER units may be all trying to find Ariane. The ELSTER unit you are playing saw a picture which triggered it going insane and is a rogue unit that someone needs to stop (making the fake out ending a good ending?). Anyway it’s up to you.
Its a common accepted community theory that most of the replikas (or all of them) are made up by Ariane. Their personalities built on people they met at various locations. Alder for instance being a patient at a hospital Ariane was at.
Ariane Yeong & Alina Seo – The Picture
Ariane the pilot of the ship and the one in the cryo-pod. Alina is a picture of a soldier that Ariane met briefly (which she sent to her mother) and is a self-insert for Ariane throughout the story. Many theorize that the picture itself could be “The King in Yellow.” Which is a story which anyone who reads it goes mad, anyone who sees the photo in this instance gets infected. Otherwise, Ariane is a “Gestalt Pilot” manning a scout ship with their technical Replika assistant.
Elster is having issues because Ariane formed an emotional bond with Elster, which isn’t how the program is supposed to work. This is evidenced by how Ariane treats Elster in flashbacks from when the ship was mid-mission.
Where does Sierpinski come from?
Sierpinski is a mining colony that Ariane would have went to if she didn’t join the Penrose program. It’s a potential possability for Ariane. Much of the stories can be construed as potential possibilities if Ariane hadn’t joined the Penrose program.
Ariane knows the interior and story etc. either from the dream they can see things due to bio-resonance or shared replika memories. The other idea is that an artifact on the ship they crashed has connected Ariane back the huge massive insane distance back to where the facilities you explore are.
Something to note is that after Sierpinski the game just starts to sort of fall apart purposefully. In Nowhere there is no coordinal directions or map. The phrase “dream within a dream” is around this time, when you play as Isa. This aligns with Sierpinski not being real. The sections where you’re outside without the environmental suit are also notable; that’s not realistically possible.
The Eldritch SIGNALIS Theories – A Defense for the Dream Theory
The game is a personal experience and has a lot of analogies to emotions that the player feels. To that end, there’s two options for players to take in regards to how the story of SIGNALIS goes:
- It’s a dream between Ariane and Elster. Araine is an occult fan back home and spent a lot of time on the ship thinking about occult stories. Ariane has radiation sickness and the Elster unit has already ceased functioning or is soon going to.
- An eldritch artifact on the planet their ship crash landed on connected with Ariane’s bio-resonance and has linked back thousands of cycles of travel to the home world where it has corrupted various facilities. Likewise, its also possible that it continues to reform the world they crash landed on.
I personally am a big fan of the game being a dream; it is so clearly spelled out for the player in so many ways that it feels almost silly to ignore the concept. There’s so many plot holes between areas and locations, along with the travel between them and the general bio-mass or unknown locations for it to be anything else.
For me, the eldritch themes in SIGNALIS likely come from Ariane’s dream, not from anything actually happening. To break that down, the way you move through the different locations isn’t realistic. There’s nothing in FALKE to really resonate with anything else in the game. The game itself is very nonsensical and any attempt to make sense out of it is long and hard.
The cold hard facts is the game is clear that Ariane is in a ship that crash landed on a planet and the radiation shielding has failed. Ariane and her ELSTER unit won’t survive and “The Nation” isn’t coming to rescue them. Their search failed and there is nothing on the planet.
If you want to try and make an Eldritch connection then you have to discard this segment of the game. With that removed, you can examine the various locations of the game as areas in which Ariane’s psyche and connection with the ELSTER units is causing them to correct: much like the King in Yellow. Where someone reads the book, anyone who sees the white haired girl will become corrupted.
In this scenario, the best way to describe the transitions would be different ELSTER units all working to find Ariane. So you’re more or less switching to different characters, all who have been infected with the photograph.
Though again when you discard the huge plot element (i.e. they are on a crash inhabited planet), then the game being a dream just starts to make sense.
Top Game Tips
- STAR is a promoted Replika unit.
- Easy and Normal provide enough ammo to take out every enemy at least once.
- Enemies do revive though. They are on what seems to be a random timer. Getting close to them can trigger their revival. Its best to use paths that avoid enemies all together.
- You can in theory soft lock due to ammo, especially on the harder difficulty. Stealth is always an option.
- Getting endings on purpose is a chore: while some articles rant about how it’s easier to go through the game a second time, I’d argue to go on YouTube and watch them. It’s just going to be easier and save you the trouble. Do your first playthrough however you like and unless you really want to play again, go to YouTube.
- The numbers are randomly generated for every puzzle except the secret ending. Those come from a cutscene. Every other puzzle solution is randomized. This prevents walkthroughs from giving you quick skips.
- Nothing other than the numbers and enemy revival is randomized. All item placements are static. Monster spawns are static. Key items are static.
- Easy difficulty is the best way to enjoy the game for the atmosphere.
- Stealth is always superior. Aggro ranges on enemies is extremely short.
- The first two bosses can be one shot with flares used at the right time, this was designed by the developers as as a speedrunning strat.
Deep Lore Thoughts
- Isa – Isolde Itou, is a Human Gestalt. They succumb to the sickness in the end, but that part isn’t as relevant as the memorial. The memorial notes that they passed before Ariane left. Isa likely fades away after finding their sister has passed (and so have they). This further confirms that you’re in a dream world.
Waking Isa up gets you the rifle after a boss fight.
- The King in Yellow theory gets extremely complicated. It’s really a red herring, the King in Yellow is a book that Ariane saw at a bookstore that was banned and is part of whatever fever dream the game is.
- Lilith Itou is considered the base for Elster units (not Ariana). Ariana is a false lead. There’s some debate about Lilith but Lilth as Ariana’s sister or aunt checks out.
- The secret ending is solved through an ARG using old school radio techniques and ARG solving skills. The community solved it and its recommended to follow the walkthrough vs. solving yourself, since it was designed for a community to solve.
- Ariane likely didn’t read the communication about not showing Elster war films or anything of the sort. This is likely why the dreams mixed with the memories are so interesting.
Should you play SIGNALIS for the story? What is the story?
The game isn’t designed around a unified story at all. The game is completely up to the player’s perception of what is going on. Is the game a dream? Maybe. Is the game due to some kind of eldritch god’s interference? Maybe. Do you just stealth and play because it’s fun? I’d say yes.
The game is designed entirely around bringing back the nostalgia of Playstation 1 (PS1) classic survival horror games. Silent Hill and Resident Evil may be the core games here, there are many others that is borrows from. Like for instance, much of the combat and stealth is very similar to Metal Gear Solid.
If you’re looking entirely for a game with an in-depth conclusive story or even a true ending, then SIGNALIS may disappoint. The adventure through the game will not. The conclusion of the game is more of a fourth wall breaking homage to the adventure ending in the game than it is a conclusion to a book.