A Musical Story, developed by Glee-Cheese Studio and published by Digerati, takes the music/rhythm genre and puts a narrative spin on it – does it succeed? We played the PlayStation version of the game, which is also available for PC, all other major consoles and even mobile.
The music/rhythm genre really rose to prominence in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band era, and to this day most games in the genre still involve some kind of gameplay element where you press buttons and/or move to the beat of the music. The formula even ventured into VR, where Beat Saber remains one of the most popular titles. The recent release of The Artful Escape explored another side of music though – its ability to tie into storytelling mechanics, and narrative is key in A Musical Story as well.
Visually, this game has a 1970s road trip vibe, with an art style and character designs that resemble the period. The story is about Gabriel, who loves playing guitar even though he has a day job labeling cans in a factory. He constantly thinks about music, and during his downtime he jams with two friends in a band – who decide they should enter a competition and go on a road trip to follow that dream.
The story is comprised of twenty five chapters/levels, each of which plays out as a rhythm game in which you gradually add layers to a song through well timed button presses. You might start out with a simple riff, but you’ll gradually enrich the music before reaching its full potential, completing the level.
Unlike other games in the genre, you don’t get triggers that you need to hit coming at you, telling you when you to hit them. Instead, you have to listen out for audio cues and hit the right buttons at the right time – a bit like in the musically-infused levels of Rayman or in games like Beatbuddy. It’s actually a lot more immersive than the old Guitar Hero system, which you can play with the sound off if you wanted to.
The soundtrack in A Musical Story doesn’t always lend itself too well to this style of play though, as it doesn’t have a range of all-time classics or instantly recognizable melodies or rhythms to it. With the psychedelic rock of the 70s as a recurring theme, it can be hard to develop and maintain a feel for when to hit the right button and get into a flow. An in-game help feature that helps you time your presses appears when you mess up one too many times, but ideally we wouldn’t need it. The reality, however is that you do, because this is a game with short songs where even a single missed note means that you failed.
But what it lacks in terms of gameplay mechanics, it makes up for with an interesting narrative and stellar presentation. The soundtrack and visuals complement each other very well, and tell a story all on their own. In that sense, it’s a bit like The Artful Escape, which was also a bit thin on the gameplay front but delivered its music-driven story with gusto. Here, the balance leans more towards the rhythm game contained in A Musical Story, but you’ll get more enjoyment out of the 70s vibe than from completing the game’s chapters.