Creativity is Oft Misunderstood
I’m sure that most of you out there aren’t unfamiliar with the creative process. It’s something that surely almost all of us have flirted with at least once or twice in our lives. I, of course, am no exception. As a writer, the creative process is something that I encounter on a near-daily basis. Yet still, I’m not sure that I could completely accurately describe it to someone if asked. It’s a mental process, sure, but it’s also an emotional one. And that, compounded with the fact that everyone thinks and feels differently, makes the creative process oh-so-difficult to explain. But I’ll be darned if The Lion’s Song didn’t try to do it anyway.
Throughout its short, narrative, frolic, The Lion’s Song puts players in the shoes of a number of different characters, all from varying walks of life. Despite these differences, however, they’re all working toward something similar; creation. Whether it’s music, art, or even mathematics, The Lion‘s Song is a game about genius; and about the creative turmoil with which genius is often juxtaposed. And the end result? Well, it’s an experience that’s a bit… pretentious. But it’s also incredibly honest, and very well-written. And it’s those very aspects, both good and bad, which I believe carry The Lion’s Song, in a rather unique way, throughout the entirety of its narrative voyage.
One Journey at a Time
Rather than featuring one overarching narrative, The Lion‘s Song instead presents four short stories (or “episodes”), set in early 20th century Austria, which revolve around a number of creative and courageous individuals and the problems which they have encountered. Episode 1, “Silence” revolves around Wilma, a young up-and-coming musician who, after finding out that she only has a week to come up with her next masterpiece, struggles to find the right notes for her composition. Episode 2, “Anthology”, follows Franz, an aspiring painter with an uncanny ability to see the various psychological layers of his subjects, as he attempts to make a name for himself in the world of art without sacrificing who he really is. Episode 3, “Derivation”, focuses on Emma, a bright mathematician attempting to solve an algebraic equation about “change” who, after being rejected from a local mathematician’s club due to her being a woman, dons the disguise of man in order to find the truth that she seeks. And finally, episode 4, “Closure”, ties things up with a story about four men on a train whose final destination is unknown until the very end.
Normally, I pride myself on being able to give a more detailed explanation of a game’s story than what I just did. However, most games are also not The Lion’s Song. As much as I want to delve into the unique twists and turns of each episode, I can’t. And that’s simply due to the fact that this is an incredibly short, entirely narrative-focused game. As artistically as it presents itself, The Lion’s Song doesn’t say more than it needs to. That’s not to say that there isn’t dialogue — there’s plenty of it, on the contrary — but everything that is said relates so closely to the story that going into anything narrative-wise at length would essentially be ruining it. After all, each story is only about an hour — there’s only so much narrative that you can fit into at a time like that.
Instead, I feel that it’s better (and less spoiler-y!) if I focus on what isn’t being said. Strange, I know, but just bear with me. The Lion’s Song is largely about attempting to understand the creative processes locked within the minds of each of its bright protagonists. And, as such, there are key points throughout each of the character’s stories where the narrative transcends mere words. For example, Wilma’s story involves not just music, but sound. And sound, depending on its source, can either be an unholy hindrance — such as with an annoying, creaking house — or a musical boon — such as the musical way in which a friend speaks to you over the phone — for the creative process as a whole. Naturally, Wilma’s isn’t the only story in which everyday occurrences give rise to artistic inspiration — every protagonist within The Lion’s Song deals with the world in their own, artistic way. And yes, I’m including the mathematicians in that statement as well.
While all of The Lion’s Song‘s episodes dealt with the creative process in a novel manner, I personally felt like the second episode represented what this game was trying to get across the best. Not only did it cover the creative process to the degree that I consider to be the most in-depth, but it also most acutely dealt with the psychological aspects of the creative process. Whether Franz was actually capable of literally seeing the “layers” of his subjects or whether he was merely just incredibly perceptive is debatable (although I personally lead toward the former), but it still brought to light how, in some cases, the way in which one looks can change (albeit metaphorically more often than literally) the way that others perceive them, as well as the difficulty that many of us have peeling back the layers of our own selves — an action which can be incredibly painful due to the amount of honesty it requires.
The Choices You Make
Although narrative progression is The Lion’s Song‘s bread and butter, it’s not completely devoid of player interactivity. The game plays akin to something along the lines of a classic adventure game, with players guiding their respective characters via simple point and click action. There’s a reason why I said” plays similarly to a point and click adventure” instead of actually calling it one, however, as The Lion’s Song lacks something essential to P&CAs — an actual adventure. While this game may be brimming with artistic creativity, it tends to put players in a passive role. I often times found myself feeling as though I was passively suggesting what my protagonist do, as opposed to actually guiding them through their journey. To its credit, a setup like that does work within the confines of this title. I get that it’s more of an “experience” than a traditional game (and I mean that respectfully). Still, I do wish that it offered me more to do. I get that the developers may not want to throw in pitfalls or artificially inflate this game’s difficulty (which I wholeheartedly appreciate), but I don’t think that a puzzle or two would have been too much to ask.
The Lion’s Song may not have puzzles, but it does have decision-making! Throughout each episode, players will be faced with several pivotal points which, based on their decisions, will change the parts of said episode. One thing that I appreciated about the game’s decision-making process was that it felt natural. Although it was clear that some of the decisions that you would be making would impact things later on, the game didn’t always slap a proverbial “WARNING” label on every decision before you made them. There were even a few times where I had’t realized that I had made (or failed to make) a decision until the very end due to how subtle they were.
While I did enjoy how this game handled the actual decision-making process, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with how many of the decisions actually played into the stories themselves. The Lion’s Song, perhaps due to the fact that it’s so keen on presenting to players a specific narrative (something with which I have no problem), doesn’t seem to budge much one way or the other with decisions that you make. Sure, your choices may immediately impact smaller things, but it’s not like each of the stories had a multitude of endings. Or even more than one ending. To be fair, that wasn’t the case every single time, as some of the decisions that you make in earlier episodes come back to haunt (or help) you in the final episode, but I think that I would have preferred a more immediate narrative gratification overall when it came to what I said and did within each episode.
When All is Said and Done
Like the creative process itself. The Lion’s Song is unique, eclectic, and even a bit hard to understand at times. But, because of those very qualities, it’s hard to argue that this game doesn’t stand out. I’m not sure that I would recommend this game to everyone, but for those of you who fancy yourselves deep thinkers or as being artistically inclined, or those of you who enjoy artistic video games, I think that what The Lion’s Song has to offer will be something that you’ll ultimately find rewarding.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC, iOS, Android ; Publisher: Mi’pu’mi Games ; Developer: Mi’pu’mi Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: July 10, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of The Lion’s Song given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher