For a while, rhythm games did their best. Guitar Hero and Rock Band rocked it, with players around the world strumming their plastic guitars to iconic songs. However, that was a long time ago and today music games are much rarer and we’re not even talking about physical accessories anymore. Needless to say, the subgenre has had to adapt, releasing games like Fuser and more recently a more ’70s indie from Glee-Cheese Studio. A short rhythmic adventure aptly named A Musical Story.
The story revolves around the memories of a young man named Gabriel, who literally sees his life flash before his eyes. At the beginning of the game, in the opening menu, we see Gabriel in a hospital bed, unconscious and obviously fighting for his life. The reason why he is like this is not clear, but once you start pl aying you quickly realize that the story gradually reveals what brought the protagonist to this situation. I will not go into the details of the argument. A Musical Story is a very short game (only two hours long) and the story is one of the most important elements. But what I will say is that while it can be difficult to follow at times due to the lack of dialogue, it doesn’t give up presenting an emotionally complex story that addresses and explores key moments in the protagonist’s life, including his work in a cannery as a child or his first love.
The way the narrative is conveyed is a little unconventional, as the story is divided into 24 chapters, each defined by a keyframe or memory, which you must build by composing music tracks by using the left and right button press correctly (a pc) at the right time and keeps the rhythm. In a way it’s similar to other rhythm games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band in that you have to hit one key at a time exactly as you’re told, but at the same time it’s very different in that there’s no scoring system, no overly complicated riffs, and there are only two buttons to take care of. It’s not that it’s a challenging video game, it’s a different way of conveying a story in a more attractive and unique way.
And how is a memory constructed or remembered? Each new chapter challenges you to create a rhythm by making the beats in time. If you’re successful, the beat fades into the background and is played repeatedly in a lower key while you tackle another beat that fits above it. Basically, A Musical Story asks you to write several small songs that reflect in Gabriel’s mind a memory or key moment he experienced. The songs themselves create a very 70’s soundtrack, with overtones of soul and hints of synth, although the latter really broke out in the 80’s. The songs are more in line with the darkest moments in Gabriel’s life and are certainly a bit disturbing and disturbing, especially at a certain stage related to drugs.
The mechanics aren’t exactly outstanding, but they’re not a weak point either. My biggest criticism is that it feels like Glee-Cheese Studio didn’t take enough risks with what they set out to deliver, as all chapters use the same circular track system that just adds a bit of “spice” with different colors of the left or right button. If you can’t make it to the last chapter, that’s no problem either, but without spoiling anything, it shows that there are different and unique ways to create a music track system. One that, if explored more frequently as the game progresses, would greatly enhance A Musical Story.
This also extends to the way the art (memories) is displayed, as more creativity with this system would allow the team to capture the beautiful visual effects and animated cutscenes used to capture these pivotal moments in Gabriel’s life to present, better to highlight and stand out. All of this seems like a missed opportunity to truly explore and deliver an authentic and unusual narrative premise.
While I share some complaints about A Musical Story, I don’t think it’s a bad game at all. If you’re looking to try a new video game to spend an afternoon with, one that captivates you with its emotional narrative, here’s a top candidate. It’s relaxing, it’s easy to play, it’s unique and can be completed in just a couple of hours, or twice that if you want to complete each chapter perfectly and without mistakes to unlock the final secret chapter.