A Musical Story review | PC Gamer
Need to know
What is it? Rhythm game about the guitarist of a 1970s rock band.
Expect payment: £11.39 / $15
Release date: Out now
Developer: Studio Glee-Cheese
Review for: Intel Core i7-10750H 16GB RAM GeForce RTX 2060
Connection: Official site
If “Guitar Hero” is a dream to become a rock legend, then “Music Story” is a reality. You can’t smell music here and not walk around the living room like a rock god. It’s a challenging, offbeat rhythm game that insists on the perfection of every instrumental. It’s perfection through repetition, learning every rhythm, and understanding the music. This is probably a more accurate representation of the process of learning a song. Real rock stars don’t have a timeline showing exactly when they need to hit each note.
So it is with Musical History, a game where the timeline has (mostly) disappeared
A subtle position marker offers some help that activates if you fail repeatedly and quietly disappears when you improve. This is partly because I’m not that good at rhythm games, even with the (somewhat odd) help mode offered here. But it’s also surprisingly difficult to improve upon Musical History: a game of constant, slightly unsatisfactory learning.
Even if you master the music, you will never play the whole song. In Musical History, you only perform short passages. You’ll play the bass line, then maybe the drums and guitar, and then finish it with a great synth. These are the ingredients for the song, but… can’t I play them all at once? It’s like McDonald’s giving you a bread bun but withholding the burger and cheese until you’ve finished it.
It’s an approach that keeps the music fresh and the level of sophistication high since you’ll never repeat what you’ve already done. But it also means that when you’ve finally perfected that guitar riff, that drum loop, whatever it is, the mastery is essentially discarded. You have not been given time to demonstrate to enjoy your new skill before the game switches you to something new.
Of course, you can replay chapters. When I returned after finishing the story, I found that my playing had improved a bit, as if I had memorized the soundtrack. But the game still feels too shallow and strangely separated from the story being told. Why is it so important that I improve this song when the band that wrote it is falling apart? The main character has a drug-induced nervous breakdown, and I’m in the corner doing my music homework. It is extraordinary.
It feels like Musical Story is a game stuck between two worlds, which is immediately apparent when you look at the screenshots. There are cutscenes and gameplay, and they don’t connect in a meaningful way – so much so that the story disappears so as not to be distracting. And yet I enjoyed going back to yarn, feeling the relief of going through each frustrating ordeal as the song gradually formed around me. A fantastic, varied soundtrack pairs perfectly with the animation, transitioning from one genre to another as best suits the scene.
“Music History” requires a lot of effort from just two buttons or keys. You only ever press or hold one, the other, or both simultaneously, but it takes skill to catch the rhythm of each song. Despite my issues with how it connects, the actual rhythm mechanics are strong, cutting the genre down to its basics while still making it feel like you’re playing a real instrument.
I felt connected to the music – even though I repeatedly failed its tests – and I did not need to connect a plastic guitar to a computer. I want the game to know what it wants to be: a story that you experience or a set of challenges that you overcome. Either way, it’s somewhere awkward in the middle.