#27 A Musical Story

#27 A Musical Story

March 5, 2022 0 By Owly

Today’s promotion is A Musical Story, the debut release from small French studio Glee-Cheese.

A Musical Story’ is a rhythm game set against a 70s backdrop. Explore the memories of Gabriel, a young man trying to come to terms with his situation through the connections to his musical memory.

I’m a member of the Registry of Guitar Tutors – a guitar specialist, if you will. I spend my days teaching people of all ages how to play guitar, as well as bass, ukulele, and piano. Not many students take exams, but the last section of a guitar exam includes aural assessment. One aspect of that is to play a melody to a student and they have to clap or tap it back. It is only worth a couple of marks but you are trying to gauge an isolated sense of timing, which is quite important for musicians. Of the few that take exams, even less enjoy the aural assessment section. I think it is because it is the only obvious area of the exam where you can be more easily caught out. When playing an instrument your eyes and ears work together and to suddenly take sight out of the equation always causes panic. But as a tutor, above hearing a chord being played cleanly, or a scale having all the correct notes, my profession is most rewarding when I see a student’s sense of timing improve.

I say all this because as a musician and a gamer, I love rhythm titles. I grew up on Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I have Pianista on my Nintendo Switch, which I occasionally use in lessons (I’m a pretty cool tutor), and when I had VR, I played Beat Saber on expert daily. I was addicted.

A Musical Story is different. Whereas Guitar Hero and Pianista have strong visual aids within their gameplay, the central loop here focuses on your ability to listen and repeat – you could call it an aural assessment. As a fan of this genre, this was deeply refreshing and I loved my experience all the more for it.

You play as Gabriel, a young musician who we initially meet in hospital, clearly having suffered from something serious. To unlock his memories and explain how he ended up here, you must play music. The game is divided into beautifully wordless chapters, as Gabriel and his friends set forth to take part in the legendary Pinewood festival. It is a tale of friendship, addiction, and of course…love.

Before you begin, the game recommends you play with headphones. I tried with and without, and I too would recommend headphones. Given there are no words spoken, the soundtrack does almost all the heavy lifting here, although it is certainly helped by the breathtaking visuals. The game looks deliciously stripped back in a hand-painted style, and uses perspective and colour to wonderful effect. The art style goes hand-in-hand with the music on show and the story being told.

Back to the soundtrack, it is a real testament to the storytelling power of music and its universal language. My playthrough lasted just shy of two hours and the music never lets up. The story covers a wide range of themes – worth noting that drugs, sex, nudity, violence, and blood all make appearances – and very quickly you’ll forget that no one is speaking.

There is an eclectic mix of instruments from variously toned electric and acoustic guitars, as well as bass, piano, drums, organ, and synths. The developers have stated that the game has a 70s inspired backdrop with respectful nods to artists such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Jimmy Hendrix. You can really feel those inspirations soak through this in homage.

When it comes to playing, for me at least, the screen took on the appearance of a vinyl record. A small circular image takes center stage, surrounded by black. You’ll then hear a short riff or melody for the first time. As it plays for the second time, your input cues are laid out around the image in the middle of the screen. On the third outing, you have to hit certain inputs at the right time. Each chapter consists of different melodies back to back.

Although there is full controller support, I played on my MSI GF65 gaming laptop, which has an i7 and an RTX3060, and I used the directional keys. Both playstyles work very well.

You can see a star in the top right of the picture above. This means, at least at the time the screenshot was taken, I had a 100% streak. When you complete a chapter, you’ll unlock an achievement. If you complete a chapter having held on to a 100% streak, you’ll unlock two achievements. To help you in this pursuit, you can pause at any time and you can reset a chapter at any time. Regarding this matter, I am hungry to dip back in. At least on Steam, there are 54 achievements to collect.

Unlike similar rhythm games, such as a guitar hero, where a crowd would vehemently boo you off stage if you blanked on a solo, A Musical Journey takes a kinder approach. You can’t fail at this. If you miss a note, sure, you’ll lose that star in the top right, but nothing bad will happen. Keep missing notes and assisted mode will automatically turn on to help, just until you get it right. A white light will follow you around the melody to give you a greater sense of timing.

From the menu options, you can turn assisted mode on permanently. You won’t be able to earn certain achievements, but if you struggle with these sorts of games and still want to enjoy the story, assisted mode is your best bet.

This game is everything I had hoped it would be. I haven’t talked too much about the story because I don’t want to spoil it. The art style, presentation, soundtrack, and gameplay loop, make this a real gem for the genre. It adds something fresh, it makes bold narrative decisions that pay off, and it remains confident throughout. For a debut, this is extremely encouraging. I’m sure that when the year comes to an end, A Musical Story will remain as a highlight. I can’t wait to see what the studio offer next.

A Musical Story is out now on PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Playstation, and Xbox
A Musical StorySteam
DeveloperGlee-Cheese Studio
TwitterA Musical Story