A Musical Story – Feel The Rhythm
I don’t know if I’ve ever played a rhythm game that was more about actually listening to the music as much as A Musical Story.
With a backdrop of 70’s freewheeling lifestyles and gorgeously animated pastel-esque stills, a simple yet surrealistic narrative is woven across a tapestry of Americana, the beats and melodies of the world binding your experience to emotion, the journey, and life itself.
Most days, I don’t really get to listen to music any more. Between a mentally demanding 9 to 5 that overflows into every other aspect of life, a passion for this medium that soaks up an ungodly amount of time and, you know, actually living a life, the opportunity to just stop and properly listen to music has fallen by the wayside. Sometimes however, when I get in my car after an exhaustive day and take my 8 minute commute home, my phone will ignore my request to play the next chunk of podcast, instead inexplicably pulling a random alt rock tune from my 15 year old playlist, Nostalgia.
In an instant I’m transported back to a time of wild hormones and self-doubt; bus rides staring out the window on the way to school with nothing but a knock off iPod-shaped MP3 player for company. Immediately I feel the tires bouncing over the potholes in the road, see the light misty rain cascading down the glass, falling gently from a gloomy, cloud-covered sky.
A Musical Story is less A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More “Touch Me” and more about those rhythms of the world that surround us every day. The beauty of nature; the drive for freedom; and yes, even the ghouls of capital, the struggles of mental health, and the vices that corrupt and sometimes break us.
Spotlighting a journey cross-country, a small group of friends with an innate feel for the rhythm of the world set off to perform in a music show. The spectre of the crow looms large over the focal character as they jam, make plans and head down the highway. All of this is translated not through text, but by seeing, feeling, hearing. The abstract, intellectual pursuit of the written word gives way to the immediate, visceral emotion of being human.
Thanks to this format, story beats are deliberately vague and interpretive. This allows the game to tap into more ambiguous imagery, connecting you to the experience with your own understandings and emotional history. Conciseness gives way to amorphous recognition, a connection borne of empathy rather than logic.
Play in A Musical Story is found in small levels focused around a story point, consisting of a few subsections of chord progressions of different instruments building off one another. Each subsection will only be a few seconds long, with only 2 buttons in a handful of configurations mimicking that instrumental loop.
Eschewing the typical “keep above X percent of notes hit or you fail” structure of other rhythm games, it’s an excellent mechanical switch up that instead encourages you to get in the rhythm without penalising you harshly. Yes you are required to hit every note correctly, but the loop simply repeats if you miss one, with a visual indicator slowly increasing in prominence to help guide you through when you get stuck.
What results is a focus less on trying to gain mastery over the experience, and more on easing you toward harmoniously syncing with the beat, strum or keyboard notes. You can stare at the screen and press the buttons at the right time, which is what you do, but you naturally hear and feel the music. It in fact makes completing each sequence much easier to focus on the sound rather than visual.
On one occasion, I just couldn’t seem to hit it right, so instead I just closed my eyes and listened. Within a few loops, I had it. It’s about aligning and connecting you with the melody, rather than forcing you to overcome barriers in order to progress.
The game does offer recognition of true mastery of each level in the form of a star which, without getting too into spoilers, can be worth chasing if this is something you enjoy. I gained a few throughout my play through, though I’m no savant and mastery isn’t really my speed – I’d rather move along somewhat clumsily to the beat, often tripping over my two left feet, but still end up feeling accomplished and musically satisfied with each micro progression that I made. It’s a testament to the design that it can handle both novice and master rhythm gamers so effectively.
Music touches our lives in many ways. Yes there are the obvious – songs that get us hyped, let us vent our frustrations or help us through hard times. But the rhythms of our existences are much more subtle, yet are nevertheless still heavily impactful to our lives every day.
A Musical Story understands the joy found in music, from the melody of an acoustic guitar through to the tempo of a heartbeat. It’s a rhythm game about feeling as much as it is about listening.
A Musical Story was reviewed on PS5 using a code kindly provided by Digerati.