Music and video games have long been regarded as influential pop culture and entertainment industry powerhouses. These mediums provide seemingly endless possibilities for innovation and truly immersive, interactive experiences — and especially so when combined. Symphony is the result of doing exactly that: fusing fast-paced action with any song you own, directly affecting the actions and patterns of nearly every aspect of the game itself.
Merging classic shoot-’em-up “bullet hell” gameplay with tracks from your personal digital music collection, this visually-striking game involves embarking on a virtual journey through your own collection of songs to liberate them from “demons”. These demons have somehow managed to cross into our dimension using the universal power of song, and it’s up to you to save the day. Surprisingly indeed, Symphony does feature a clever story, and although it may seem to be a bit cliche, the fact that it features a plot, period, is a welcome addition; striving to thwart the demons is further encouragement to work your way through your library of tunes and restore the “Symphony of Souls” in order to banish the overeager evildoers from our realm.
In order to free your music from the clutches of evil, you must race along an ethereal track while attempting to destroy — and dodge — enemies that fly and zoom toward you from all directions and at varying speeds. Almost all of these enemies move and attack based on the calculated algorithms of the particular song you’ve chosen, and its refreshing to witness how wonderfully accurate the results of this process are. The game speed shifts to reflect the intensity and tempo of the music, while waves of targets dance around and encircle your ship during loops and elongated notes. There are enemies that use music-sheet measures as their method of attack, while others might have rotating shields or explode upon destruction. As you defeat enemies, they will drop power-up items, as well as “Inspiration”, which instantly repairs your ship when damaged. There’s a chance of encountering a demon lurking in each song, and even if you fail to defeat it — or if it manages to flee — you are given the opportunity to replay the song, allowing you to encounter the same demon and apply the lessons learned from your prior failed attempt.
When you first begin, you are introduced to simple tutorial messages that guide you through each new feature as they’re stumbled upon, which is quite nice. The initial scanning of my personal library didn’t take too much time given that I have over 50,000 songs in mine, but there were several game crashes during this process, even after the scan had completed. Thankfully, the developers at Empty Clip Studios released an update that seemed to fix several issues, including the problem with loading a large library. However, it still seems as though using a large collection slows down the song selection screen substantially, and makes it quite difficult to find particular songs that you wish to play.
The song selection menu itself is simple and easy to navigate, and allows you to filter your collection by artist or album title. Unfortunately, this means that if your music files aren’t properly tagged, it can be very difficult — if not impossible — to find a particular song you’d like to play if you have neglected to properly tag them. There’s no search or randomize features, and no shuffle, survival or endless modes, which all would have been a perfect fit for Symphony. Another huge downside is that there is no support for foreign characters, causing non-English names to be displayed in a sea of blank squares and question marks; half of my library would be a complete surprise until playing them if it weren’t for the song preview feature, but having to click on each and every mystery song to know what it is grew tiresome quickly.
Symphony is bursting at the seams with features to unlock. Ship customization is delightfully detailed, with options to set four different weapons, adjust their firing angles on your ship itself (you can even fire weapons BEHIND your ship!), and map different buttons for each one. Some weapons are passive and respond to your music, such as the “Subwoofer” weapon — which fires note-shaped bullets to the bass — while some can even be set to auto-fire. Upgrading your ship is crucial to succeed, but the more powerful your ship is, the more difficult it is to accumulate Inspiration. Also, the six available difficulty levels, unlocked by defeating increasing numbers of demons, set various Inspiration goals to be met, which in turn award “Kudos” — and, along with Inspiration, are used to unlock and upgrade weapons and power-ups that you have obtained by liberating songs. The higher the difficulty, the more Kudos you can score. Of course, the game also has plenty of achievements to work toward.
Many will be pleased to know that there are infinite lives when fighting your way through a song, regardless of the difficulty mode selected. Being defeated does deduct Inspiration and it takes a bit of time to respawn, though, which can result in the loss of potential enemy waves, Inspiration, and power-ups. Destroying an entire wave of enemies awards Inspiration multipliers that are cumulative until you’re defeated, and while this might seem to be a simple task at lower difficulties, it quickly becomes increasingly challenging and requires finesse to accomplish, even with the best of ship improvements.
Graphically, the game is beautifully presented and features stunning effects, no doubt a result of the fabulous amBX lighting engine, but far too often are there so many particles and enemies that it is incredibly difficult to distinguish bullets and enemies from Inspiration notes and power-ups. It also doesn’t help that your ship is quite large and is often shooting its own weapons in multiple directions, so it can be quite easy for confusion to set in and frustration to build as numerous deaths become inevitable, regardless of skill. Thankfully, there are plenty of options in the game’s settings to adjust and tweak things here and there, as well as mouse sensitivity, but it never seems to be enough to make your way through the most manic of difficulties due the amount of similar-looking objects on the screen at once. That isn’t to say that it’s impossible — it merely requires a lot of practice and plenty of patience. The crisp, vibrant visuals are direct evidence of impressive artistry in the game’s graphics, and the developers did a fantastic job of creating a well-balanced fusion of classical-inspired elegance and sleek, modern design.
While it may not be as refined as it could be, Symphony provides a challenging, satisfying experience that is all about customization and, of course, your favorite music. The lack of key features such as the ability to search for a particular song, a random or shuffle song select option, and endless, “free” play modes result in the game being enjoyable only for short periods at a time — which makes it difficult to maintain attention and keep you coming back for more. Regardless, the combination of crusading to rescue your personal song collection and the game’s vivid, luminescent graphics makes it worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of the music-rhythm or “shmup” genres — or if you’re simply looking to blow bad guys up to the beat of your favorite tunes.
This review of Symphony was provided by Empty Clip Studios and GOG.com for review purposes. You can purchase Symphony at GOG.com for $9.99! That means if you have 999 songs and you play through all of them, that’s a penny a song! Think of the value! Think of the children! THINK OF THE VALUE CHILDREN!