A Bumpy, Heartfelt Journey
The concept of a mobile game being ported over to PC and, most especially, consoles has always intrigued me. At the risk of upsetting certain people (and I really don’t mean any offense, I promise!), mobile gaming has always seemed very “lowest common denominator”. It’s there when you need to pass a few minutes, and the mobile gaming market doesn’t offer much outside of its uncanny ability to relentlessly massage the reward center of your brain due to how most of its games are set up. Still, there are games out there which, despite their humble mobile beginnings, are destined for bigger and better things. And, clearly, Lost in Harmony is one such game.
Truthfully, Lost in Harmony is a little… well, strange. And I’m not just saying that because it used to be a mobile exclusive. Being the fancier of music that I am, I’ve played a good number of rhythm games in my life. And, as such, I’ve seen quite a few different sub-genres within the rhythm genre itself. What I haven’t seen, however, is a rhythm game that tries to mix multiple sub-genres together. At least, not in the way that this game does. So yes, Lost in Harmony is strange in that aspect. But hey, a strange game isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially if it plays well! And, wouldn’t you know it, Lost in Harmony plays pretty darn well! Mostly, anyway.
Two Stories, Two Souls
Technically speaking, Lost in Harmony features two different stories. They’re both unique, and completely separate from one another. However, due to the varying subject matter that they deal with, I’ll be focusing on one story far more than the other. The first, and what I’m assuming primary, story featured within Lost in Harmony is “Kaito’s Journey”. At a glance, it seems fairly simple. It’s about a young boy named Kaito, and a girl — presumably his girlfriend — named Aya texting one another over the course of a year or so. It isn’t long before you find out that something’s wrong with Aya. She’s sick — very sick — and Kaito has been doing his best to spend as much time with her as possible, both in person and over the phone.
Plots involving sick and/or dying individuals are sad, but it wasn’t the fact that this game’s protagonist was spending his days with his sick girlfriend that got to me. Nor was it the fleeting and genuine conversations that they had each day. No, what ended up getting to me was how Kaito ends up dealing with the whole situation. All of the levels in Kaito’s Journey aren’t real; they’re imagined. The player controls Kaito on a skateboard, often times with Aya riding on his shoulders, as they travel throughout various parts of the world while taking in all of the sights and sounds — both good and bad — that they possibly can.
In the end, Kaito’s Journey is all about one thing; using music as a coping mechanism. Kaito’s just a kid. A worried, helpless kid. He lives at home with his parents, he goes to school, and he talks to his sick girlfriend. There isn’t anything that he can do to help Aya, so he does the only thing that he can do in a situation like this; he puts on a pair of headphones, listens to his favorite songs, and slips away into a world where everything is okay. Better than okay, even. He’s a hero in his own, imaginary world — a hero more than capable of saving someone whom he loves dearly. Out of all the things that Lost in Harmony does, its portrayal of how music can be used for more than just entertainment is one of its best features. Kaito’s Journey may lack true narrative depth, but the message that it contains — in both text and subtext — is one worth letting play out.
Lost in Harmony also features a second story, titled “M.I.R.A.I.’s Escape”, which is about a musical robot (coincidentally named M.I.R.A.I.!) who, after escaping from his creator’s lab, journeys to Earth. In contrast with Kaito’s deeply psychological and introspective adventure, M.I.R.A.I.’s exploits don’t have a whole lot going on aside from a shallow overarching theme about music making people happy. M.I.R.A.I.’s Escape is also, rather unfortunately, teeming with typos. I don’t remember a single section of text that wasn’t error-free, and that, on top of ho-hum storytelling, made this a pretty poor follow-up to Lost in Harmony‘s debut story.
Alright, enough of that “psychology of music” mumbo-jumbo. Let’s talk about what you’re all really interested in — the gameplay! As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, Lost in Harmony is fairly unique for a rhythm game, and that uniqueness stems from its multi-tiered style of gameplay. I feel like it’s safe to say that Lost in Harmony, before anything else, is a music-based runner. Each of the game’s levels are set up in a way very similar to that of traditional 3D runners (there’s that mobile influence!), albeit with a back-facing camera instead of a forward-facing one. The “runner” gameplay works very closely to any other runner out there, albeit with one major caveat — it’s all centered around rhythmic timing. Everything — from the appearance of obstacles and collectibles, to enemy attacks — follows the beat of that level’s song. So, based on that, you’d think that navigating through each of the game’s levels would be easy. But no, of course it isn’t.
While it may be true that each of Lost in Harmony‘s levels are entirely “orchestrated”, it didn’t always feel that way. And that all boils down to the fact that, often times, there was just too much going on at once. Let’s break this down step-by-step, here. The appearance of objects followed the melody of each level’s songs. Most of the levels featured uptempo songs. And many of these uptempo songs featured complex leading melodies, rife with eight and sixteenth notes. Do you see what I’m getting at? While following a song’s melody itself may not be hard, things don’t work out as well when those melodies are transcribed into runner levels. And, given the fact that you can move in between multiple lanes as you’re running (or skating, I guess), you don’t even have to pay attention to the full melody of each song. Why weave my way through oncoming meteors when I can just scoot all the way over to the left side of the screen, avoiding them entirely?
With that being said, I don’t necessarily dislike what this game is doing. Yes, it’s difficult to get the hang of at first, but it ends up (mostly) being fun afterward. Being able to effortlessly dodge whatever’s coming at you, regardless of direction, is rewarding, and it feels good when you’ve gotten good enough at a level that you always make an attempt to jump over obstacles (gotta get those bonus points!) instead of just awkwardly swerving out of their way. I still never got out of feeling like I wasn’t entirely in a rhythm-based game when the music got too fast, but levels with slower, more deliberate melodies were enjoyable.
In between throwing throwing robotic bears, man-sized seagulls, and nuclear warheads at its players, Lost in Harmony also sprinkles some honest-to-goodness traditional rhythm game segments into each level. In contrast to my questioning reception of the game’s runner segments, I don’t have much to complain about here. Aside from a surprisingly steep difficulty curve that showed up halfway through the game, I found the rhythm sections to be thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, the few levels there entirely comprised of these segments ended up being some of my favorites overall. There’s something very satisfying about skillfully mashing buttons to the beat of a song, and that satisfaction is certainly isn’t lost in these segments.
It’s also worth noting that the transition between the two gameplay segments within this game is handled nicely overall. Admittedly, it is a bit overwhelming at first. Most of us, myself included, are used to throwing themselves into one specific type of activity during a rhythm game. Having to adjust from dodging incoming obstacles to following the melody with button presses takes some adjusting. Fortunately, that adjustment period doesn’t seem to stick around for very long. So long as you stick with it, and pay attention to what you’re doing, swapping sub-genres mid-level shouldn’t pose any kind of difficulty.
Music, Sweet Music
I’m sure most of you would agree when I say that a rhythm game’s tracklist is just as important its gameplay. Not only is good music (although I’m aware that that’s a highly subjective term) nice to listen to, but it can also help to improve player performance in a game like this one. In terms of musical quality, I would place Lost in Harmony somewhere in the middle. On one side, there were a handful of tracks that I absolutely fell in love with (its lyrical tracks were all especially good). It’s a great feeling when a game has you wanting to play the same level over and over again just because you like its track, and Lost in Harmony delivers on that front.
Unfortunately, however, those few phenomenal tracks were balanced out by a number of middling songs. I understand that not every song is going to be a musical wonder, but several tracks — especially ones from Kaito’s segment — felt so uninspired that I was almost glad to be done with them. That holds especially true for renditions of classical songs. Don’t get me wrong, I like classical music and everything, but I’m not particularly keen on listening to yet another rendition of The Nutcracker Suite or Swan Lake when what I really want are more songs like M.I.R.A.I. Discovery, M.I.R.A.I. Ocean, or that sad one in the secret level that I won’t say anything else about.
Bells and Whistles
Lost in Harmony‘s rise from mobile into console and PC has been an impressive one, and it isn’t difficult to see why it happened. While it’s true that this musical journey isn’t without its hiccups, rhythm game fans — especially determined ones — should still end up enjoying what its unique, hybrid gameplay has to offer. If you’re on the lookout for a new rhythm game, you could do a heck of a lot worse than Lost in Harmony.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC; Publisher: Plug In Digital, Playdius ; Developer: Digixart, Midgar Studio ; Players: 1 ; Released: June 21, 2018 ; ESRB: E10+, for Everyone 10+ ; MSRP: $6.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Lost in Harmony given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.