And so we reach another playlist theme that is nearly incompatible with games – musicals. Stories that are told and expressed in the medium of catchy songs are not exactly as prevalent in this form of media as opposed to movies or even TV (Buffy’s musical episode springs to mind). Sure, there’s the occasional musical number which may appear in a game – there’s the wonderful ending to Plants vs Zombies, a pirate sea shanty in The Curse of Monkey Island or the toilet humour of The Great Mighty Poo in Conker’s Bad Fur Day – but these are one-offs.
It’s not surprising really given that games can last upwards of 40+ hours and even if you’re the biggest musical fan in the world even you would give Julie Andrews up to the Nazis just for some respite. Of course with any form of media this wide, there are musical video games out there and I’m going to run through three of the best examples
Epic Mickey was promised as video game musical by the series creator Warren Spector as well as composer Jim Dooley – it didn’t quite turn out to be full-on Les Miserables but it did at least take it to classic Disney movie territory. While the rest of the cast don’t seem to have the backbone to belt out a tune, the game’s villain takes his role with great aplomb – these interludes are fun and a welcome distraction from an unfortunately below par title.
From mad scientists to shy dogs, we turn our attention to Parappa the Rapper. While not exactly what you’d conjure up in your mid when thinking about a musical, Parappa follows the general convention in that the narrative is pushed forward musically by his rapping all to get a chance to win the heart of his beau. The rapping lessons are what really sets this game apart from anything else, with amusing situations and bold, colourful if rough animation used as background. Amongst other things you learn to fight with an Onion karate expert and drive with a police officer moose and the music is just great fun; it’s catchy and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Finally we stay in Japan but move genres ever so slightly from rhythm game to actual JRPG. Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is exactly what it says on the tin. All of the games cutscenes are sung in a theatrical musical style. While each song’s lyrics aren’t exactly very deep (this is possibly down to being translated from Japanese first), they’re simple enough to be enjoyable. For such a twee game, the songs are catchy in the right way and of course drive the story forward, and Tenpei Sato has done a great job with the varied tones within the score, especially when it comes to the more emotive themes (e.g. Shooting Star)
I’d be very interested to see a video game attempt a full-on musical style narrative in the future – would you, or is that your worst nightmare? Let me know in the comments.