I do, at times, think of myself as the pretentious artsy sort of person. It’s an unpopular thing to be in most circles, so I try not to go overboard with it too often. My poor fiancé is going to murder me one of these days after I go on some long rant about spectacle or something along those lines. I mention this because The Lion’s Song makes it difficult to contain that little art nerd in the back of my mind. I will try to keep him contained, but fair warning, this could get artsy.
The Lion’s Song is a four-part, episodic adventure game that tells the stories of several people in Vienna, Austria during the period leading up to the First World War. Students of Austrian history will know this as Wiener Moderne; a time of cultural, artistic, and scientific growth in the region. Interestingly enough, this game deals with people intricately connected to those three spheres.
At first, players will be struck by the simple, monochromatic pixel art style. At first, I was convinced that this limited colour scheme was meant to be evocative of retro Game Boy games, but as I played the soft sepia tones evoked a different kind of nostalgia, unrelated to gaming. The Lion’s Song brings out a quiet feeling of simplicity while telling stories about complex, interesting people.
Gameplay is on the simpler side of adventure games. You won’t be managing an inventory or a host of verbs with which you can make your mark; just clicking on the world will suffice for The Lion’s Song. In fact, I would classify it as a visual novel, if there were not branching pathways that actually affect the story overall.
Throughout the episodes you will explore sound and silence as violinist Wilma combats her own self-doubt, help artist Franz understand himself by painting others, and combat exclusionary sexism with mathematician Emma. There is, of course, a final episode to give closure to these characters and their desires for success.
The sound design throughout is exemplary, though the music in the first episode stands out. Here we follow a young violinist as she attempts to compose a new piece but grapples with writer’s block and depression. Appropriately, the silence here is just as fascinating and important as the grumblings of the impending storm, the creaking of old lanterns, or the grumblings of a hungry stomach. Additionally, the way dear Wilma fidgets at her desk, poking into every drawer, cabinet, and cubbyhole as she struggles to find inspiration may be the realest thing I have ever encountered in a video game. I’ve spent a lot of nights doing that exact thing.
Every character and every interaction in The Lion’s Song is earnest and believable. I came out the other end feeling connected to all of them. I cared deeply about their struggles and felt bad when I made a choice that turned out poorly for them. That was how the entire game went for me.
If I had any criticism to bring against The Lion’s Song, it would that it’s short. Every episode lasts about an hour, and while there are alternate choices and plenty of connections between the characters that can be explored through additional playthroughs, that’s really it for replayability—unless you just want to revisit these characters and their struggles again (a legitimate concern).
It’s a small indie release, so I do not think you’ll hear a lot about The Lion’s Song. It doesn’t fall at the heels of some massively successful Kickstarter project and it isn’t a huge AAA affair from some lucrative publisher. It is an earnest game that tells stories about art and passion before events transpired that would change the world forever. The Lion’s Song is about the innocence that was lost and the stories that you haven’t heard before. Even the credits are presented in an interesting way. You can play the first episode for free if you don’t want to take my word for it.