A Musical Story arrives on consoles, and while the music is wonderful, does everything else harmonise? The Finger Guns Review;
A Musical Story harks back to an era of video games one could argue is long forgotten, a bygone era placed in a time capsule and gone from the industry that has moved on to sparklier endeavours, leaving the poor old rhythm game in the dust.
This isn’t Guitar Hero, but its DNA is treading water amongst the calm serenity of a band simply trying to make it to Pinewood to play the gig of their lives. In between, are rhythmic sections you play along to with two buttons, and hitting each on in time will allow you to progress through a story told only through gorgeous animation. There’s very little here you need to get your head around as this singular mechanic is all the game really has to offer you, and once you’ve gotten the basics down, it should be plain sailing for you all the way through A Musical Story’s light and breezy campaign.
And naturally, A Musical Story lives and dies on the music it includes and i’m going to throw my hat in the ring now and proclaim that it’ll no doubt win Best Music at this years Game Awards and next years BAFTA’s. It’s a beautiful soundtrack, blissfully leaving our wannabe rock stars in a constant state of bliss, with each ring out of a guitar accompanied by a somewhat jazzy rhythm section and a synth creating soundscapes to bring it all to life. It’s never-ending and wondrous and yes, you really should experience this one in headphones.
The story of A Musical Story is seemingly a tale as old as time. A band doing their very best to make it discover a huge music festival is being played across the country, so they jump in a van and tear it across seemingly the United States and you accompany them along the way, essentially being the fourth member of the band, pushing their narrative forward via the musical segments and essentially rehearsing their music alongside them.
The lead guitarist is our protagonist, if there even is one. We follow him as he falls in and out of consciousness via a persistent drug habit (we open the game with him lying in a hospital bed, with no idea how he got there). When he’s under, he’s surrounded by crows that stamp on his reality, leading him to question what is real and what isn’t.
There’s no dialogue included, as the story is told through the soundtrack and the games visuals. There’s not a huge amount else to A Musical Story, and once you’ve seen it all – which happens fairly quickly – you’ll soon work out if you’re in or if you’re not. The story unfolding is interesting enough that it held my attention, knowing all I’d be doing to progress it would persistently taking on its musical challenges. I’d like to think I have a good sense of rhythm and timing being a drummer and guitarist myself, though there were certainly moments the game caught me out and I had to start sections over again.
In these sections a circle will appear around the scene and you have to play along with the melody or the rhythm of the music. Icons will appear that represent either the left button – in my case, L1 or the right (R1). Keeping tabs on which is which is easy thanks to the colour coding, and on the rare occasion you’ll have to play them both at the same time it’s easy enough to notice, with these circular icons having a side each to match the colours.
It’s the distance between the circles that can catch you out. It may only be milliseconds, but if you don’t quite hit it correctly you’ll have to watch the entire circle play itself before you can try again. If you get it wrong you’ll lose the bonus star for the chapter. Not a huge deal but for completionists you may want to brush up on your timing. Chapters can be replayed whenever you like, so heading back to clear up your mistakes is easy enough.
If you fail enough times a position marker will follow you around the circle, and you just have to keep up with it. It will disappear once you’re back in the rhythm though, and you can make this a permanent fixture if you’re finding it particularly tricky, but you’ll be giving up the bonus stars in return.
It just never feels satisfying. And I’m not talking about slaying Through the Fire and Flames on Guitar Hero III satisfying, it’s just never rewarding. Sure, Trophies are unfathomably easy to unlock as they simply pop when you finish a chapter, but that’s about it. I got very used to just waiting for my trophies to knock out so I could carry on with the game, but I never really feel like I’ve earned my way to the next part of the story. If you mess up, help is easily provided. And it’s not like you ever play a complete song, rather you’ll work your way through a bunch of brief interludes or introductions across varying instruments.
And well, that’s your lot really. A Musical Story is very much one thing and whilst the story is engaging and the music is really superb, it’s not anywhere near as complex or taxing as it perhaps thinks it is to the player, allowing them to really work through the game with little fuss. If you have any kind of a rhythmic brain you’ll sail through the around two-and-a-half hour runtime, and wonder if you really achieved anything at all.
There’s certainly a notion here that it’s impressive enough to warrant a full playthrough, as the story was just engaging enough that I wanted to see it through to the bitter end after being on quite the journey with this pretty awesome band, but I don’t feel the need to replay the game in any real way and that’s a shame, because this one had been on my radar and now it’s over, it didn’t particularly leave me with any lasting memories.
Featuring a gorgeous soundtrack and sumptuous visuals, A Musical Story certainly has everything going for it, but the experience as a whole feels as hollow as an acoustic guitar that was played once and never picked up again. Once it’s done, it’s done. And you won’t feel the need to return.
A Musical Story is out now on PS4/PS5 (reviewed on PS5), Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Developer: Glee-Cheese Studio
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, a copy of the game was purchased. For our full review policy, please go here.
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