If you love pixel art as well as good old-fashioned story telling, then you may want to take a look at The Lion’s Song over on Steam (Windows only, I’m afraid). Particularly, as the first episode is now available for free.
Originally an entry for Ludum Dare 30 way back in 2014, The Lion’s Song has since been expanded into a full game comprising four episodes each following a separate but interlinked protagonist. Episode 1: Silence puts you in the shoes of Wilma Dörfl, a talented but struggling young musician. Under heavy pressure to produce her next composition, which will be performed for the great and good of early 19th century Vienna, she retreats to a secluded cabin in the Austrian Alps where she hopes to recover her muse.
Despite the similarities to both old-school point-and-clickers and the modern Telltale-style graphical adventure, The Lion’s Song is probably best described as interactive fiction. Perhaps more akin to the Choose Your Adventure books of the 1980s.
Though you can transition between locations, your character is for the most part static, and control of Wilma’s actions is largely indirect. The gameplay predominately revolving around interacting with your immediate environment and making dialogue choices during conversations.
Wilma is searching for inspiration for her composition while contending with all manner of distractions. The decisions you make direct the narrative, as well as the eventual outcome. And we’re told that these choices will feed into the other episodes and ultimately determine whether or not each of the protagonists find success in their endeavours.
It sounds potentially dull, and I wasn’t too sure if I would enjoy it, but The Lion’s Song is surprisingly captivating – there’s a charming simplicity to it. And it’s pleasantly atmospheric and immersive thanks to the evocative music, great use of ambient sounds, and some fantastic sepia pixel art and animation, which is endearingly reminiscent of both vintage photography and classic adventure games such as those produced by Cinemaware back in the days of the Amiga.
But The Lion’s Song’s real strength lies in its engaging storytelling and characters. By exploring your surroundings, you become increasingly acquainted with Wilma; her inner demons and desires (unrequited love, loneliness, ambition, fear of failure) cleverly and entertainingly depicted by means of darkly allegorical dream sequences. I particularly enjoyed the unexpected and touching friendship she strikes up with Leos, a quirky Czech innkeeper who calls the cabin by accident when testing out his first ever telephone.
As such, it’s hard not to find yourself identifying with Wilma and the people she encounters, wanting to know their pasts and caring about what happens to them next. And it achieves this without voice acting or being overly saccharine. Something that many narrative-driven games really struggle with.
Anyway, it’s free to try and the season pass only costs £8.99. You can watch the trailer below and find its Steam page here.