Despite what you may think of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls creator, David Cage, there’s no denying that he has blurred the lines between a video game and an interactive movie. Whether or not the direction he has taken is for the best is a discussion for another time, but it does raise the question: if video games can be made to feel like cinematic experiences, why can they not be made to feel like musical ones too?
To a certain extent, elements of the Video Game Musical (VGM) can be found in some games already, with Epic Mickey 2’s villainous jingles and the Monkey Island series’ singing pirates easter egg. Even games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero have implemented mechanics, but the problem there is that these games lack the story and the feel of a musical. They’re more similar to a cabaret in video game format, rather than a VGM.
The fact of the matter is that nobody has yet made (or even attempted to properly make) a video game musical. God only knows why, seeing as it would be a lot simpler to implement than most people would think.
All you would require is a colourful world and interesting characters where the singing wouldn’t create complete dissonance between the player and the story. Bioshock Infinite would have been a perfect environment for a musical to grow – particularly seeing as the use of music in the game is one of the most iconic things about it.
The game could be open world, but only if the songs were scattered throughout –imagine random NPC’s who would sing at you once you discovered them – but for the purposes of creating the first ever VGM, it would probably be in your best interests to keep the story relatively linear.
What about the style of music? Well the first few VGM’s would do well to stay away from large, operatic soundtracks. However if we’re talking about musical adaptions into video games (something I wouldn’t condone at all) then big epics such as Les Miserables – two hours of glorified death scenes – would be best suited to a video game adaption focusing on longer periods of time around the barricade. However an approach like this would fall into the pit of stretching itself too thin (a lot like Les Miserables on stage!) with too many characters and side plots for your audience to sink your teeth into. The music ought to be punchy, not unlike the Rent soundtrack, or the new recording of Godspell.
The singing/dancing can’t be limited to cutscenes, either. If the game is to truly succeed in preventing dissonance, cutscenes should be kept at a low, less than – for example – the Assassin’s Creed games, where cutscenes are minimal. Dialogue is still a must. Similar to how the Jekyll & Hyde musical works. A consistent dialogue should run between each song, but when necessary, the dialogue should give way to song.
Animation is key here as well. If your game includes fighting, make the fighting structured, choreographed, and depending on the style of song or character, the animation should fall anywhere between West Side Story’s dance-fighting (leaps, spins and kicks) and We Will Rock You’s fight to Ogre Battle.
Most importantly of all, make sure your story is strong, wastes little time with love interests and has a good ending. It’s one of the greatest problems with musicals that there are rarely strong endings to the larger tales. Guys and Dolls, Wicked, Our House, Billy Elliot, Anything Goes, Ghost, and particularly Mamma Mia amongst many others suffer from shit-ending-syndrome, which appears to be a recurring problem in musicals.
If you can’t totally comprehend how a really good Video Game Musical would look, just follow the link below, which shows an alternative ending to Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, done by the cast and crew, where one of the last scenes is done entirely through song. Not only is it hilarious because Troy Baker (the voice of Joel) has no idea what’s about to happen, but it’s a perfect example of how a dark and gritty tale could be told using a VGM.