By David Fernandes / August 22nd, 2012
Symphony – Liberate Your Music
Developer: Empty Clip Studios
Publisher: Empty Clip Studios
Platform: PC, GOG.com/Steam/Origin/Playism/ImpulseDriven
*NOTE* Was playing the GOG version.
Genre:: Rhythm, Shoot ’em up (Shmup)
Release Date: August 6th, 2012
With a dozen or so rhythm based games out on the market, there are a few that let me reminisce with old classics. We have Audio Surf that works like Amplitude, we have Beat Hazard that has a style like Asteroids. Then we have Symphony – Liberate Your Music, a game that crosses with the pure flavor of a bullet-hell shooter and a classic vertical shooter. Then put the ‘Rhythm’ genre with those two elements in a blender; you got one interesting little game on your hands.
Like the aforementioned games, Symphony – Liberate Your Music uses the gimmick of making stages out of your own music tracks. Genres ranging from Heavy Metal to Rap, studio albums of famous artists to your favorite 8-bit video game music; anything really. The game recognizes a staggering number of music file formats: MP3, M4A, AAC, OGG, WAV, FLAC, WMA, AIFF, WV, and APE.
While starting the game, I noticed there were no options to speak of, but fear not! You can locate the options (‘Display’ ‘Audio’ etc) when selecting your music. I tried using the keyboard and a controller to no avail. Your only option is the mouse, which works quite well. It would have been nice if they gave us alternatives, though. Thankfully the game has a nice filter option, going by “Artists” & “Albums”, even an option for every individual music track to be shown.
The game comes bundled with 21 songs, but of course you’re here to experience your own music library. The game will scan most of your hard drive, but you have the option of adding or removing what you want to load from. It’s fast and effective, which is a great plus for people who will continuously add more to one’s library. Another option is the convenient, ‘Scan Computer’ feature, but as stated in-game before use, it’s in beta form. Sadly it doesn’t work for me, as it manages to crash every time, and it seems I’m not alone in this. So for now it is more like an inconvenience, hopefully it will be sorted out in the near future.
The game’s design has a bit of a Tron like feel to it, red and blue are the prominent colors, though other colors are added to the mix. The game’s villain even feels like MCP, the antagonist of the original Tron. And yes, the game has somewhat of a story to it; the primary theme of the game is to “Liberate Your Music” as the subtitle states. An unknown entity has spread his ‘Demon’ minions onto your oh-so lovable tracks and kidnapped your favorites music artists. Your job is to save them by completing a song’s objective scores, win enough and you will eventually run into a boss in a song, there you must defeat it, and you will unlock part of a music sheet. You must complete 5 music sheets in order to complete the story.
Then after all that is said and done, you know your objective, you know your enemy, you have your music loaded, and choice of song in hand. Time for the main attraction.
You will quickly notice how the game looks quite stunning. Psychedelic lighting, smooth layers in colors, and coupled with particle effects that are a sight to behold, it’s almost euphoria inducing. You will want to spend hours just looking at the game rather then playing it. My advice is to play the game in a dim lit room, as your experience will be more enhanced. Though with these beautiful effects comes with a price. As it does take some getting used to, especially with bullets being really small and hard to tell apart with everything else that’s going on.
The stages have that Geometry War-style to it, but also the vertical view, something on the line of games like Radiant Silvergun and Ikruaga. Even the likes of old classics like Galaga were felt.
Enemies spawn from front & sides, firing at you with the beat of the music. Killing an entire wave of enemies nets you a “Wave Bonus Chain”, and while killing enemies they drop “Inspiration”. Collecting inspiration & wave bonus chains before the indicator disappears keeps you in a multiplier. “Kudos” is earned at the end of a song. What determines how much “Kudos” you get is what difficulty you’re playing on, how many chain bonuses you achieved, and how well your over-all performance was.(The amount of enemies killed to the amount of deaths that occurred). Unlike most Shmups, you won’t die in one hit. In fact “Inspiration” also acts as a sort-of medkit for you ship. While this design choice may sound like the game is easier because of it; trust me, it isn’t.
When beats start getting faster or the music is picking up, the stage and enemies start to change, indicting that the difficulty is ramping up. It goes from a clam blue, to a dangerous vibe red. Enemies can even change according to a beat change after spawning, for better or worse. You will also see new enemy types as you defeat ‘Demons’ and unlock more difficulties. This is where the game shines. It can be quite relaxing experience on Easy, but on Normal or higher, it can be quite brutal; perfect for shoot-em-up fans looking for a challenge, but having a nice balance for those who just want to have a simple activity while listening to their music.
Each individual song has unlockable parts. You complete the score objectives for any song and then you have the option to spend your “Inspiration” you accumulate to purchase the unlocked part for your ship. It’s completely random, so you never know what you might get; so many possibilities. It doesn’t end there, as you can also spend your “Inspiration” and “Kudos” to upgrade your ship parts to help you have a better fighting chance on the higher difficulties. While we’re on the subject of upgrading your ship, you have the option to change up to four parts on your ship. It’s a nice feature, and letting you toy around with your creation, to not only insert new parts but determine the direction your weapons shoot. So there’s a bit of strategy in play here.
Another neat thing about Symphony, even when you delete a song off your hard drive, the game remembers the item and score you achieved on it when reinserted later. The Steam version also comes with achievements. There is also an online component; there are leader boards for every song, and each difficulty is separated in its own category.
It’s a fantastic little game when it works… yes, when it works. Sadly like Audio Surf, some songs just don’t make the cut. For example half of the 16-bit music from the Megaman X seriesproduced average stages even on the higher difficulties. While for a Power Metal band, in this case I used Kamelot, the stages were fantastic. It seems studio quality and vocal beats deliver a greater experience, while lower quality or music without vocals don’t get that luxury half the time. When I used No More Heroes 2 vocal tracks like, “Kill or Be Killed Remix” I was having the time of my life. It could be that the it scanned the Megaman X tracks and knew that it loops. It’s hard to determine what variables are accounted for, but all in all, the game’s stage generator works for the most part.
Other examples would be music produced by Falcom from their hit series Ys and Legend of Heroes. Their fast beat adrenaline inducing battle music tracks make for exciting stages. Vocal tracks also produced some fine results. I used a huge chunk of famous bands off the top of my head: Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, The Big Four in Thrash Metal etc. I also tried more then a few game soundtracks like: Donkey Kong, Turok 2, Sonic, Mario, Xenogears, Chrono Trigger,Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei, Guilty Gear/Blazblue, Doom 1 & 2 and many more with mostly positive results!
Keep this in mind though! Symphony cannot generate stages with music tracks that are less then 1:30 and over 10 minutes. So famous tracks from Dream Theater and Rush that go way beyond 10 minutes won’t work sadly.
My suggestion is to keep it simple, and load a ton of music. That way you have a better chance of finding those rough around the edges, but fun gems that can be produced.
Besides that, I had a few gripes. Since ship parts are embedded with songs, and I assume like me you have a ton of music, it’s a nightmare going through and remembering which ship part you want to go back and upgrade. There will also come a time when you will see items you already own but accidently purchase, and it is hard to keep track which ones you want to upgrade or have already upgraded.
I experienced a few lag/frame-rate hiccups even when I met the system requirements which lead to my death numerous times. Lowering my settings didn’t help. It seems to occur when the stage and enemies change from blue (calm and relaxing) to red (hell is upon you), on rare occasions when another group of enemies spawn immediately after another.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to really rate this game as the experiences may vary, as one’s music library offers limitless possibilities. But if you’re a fan of games like Audiosurf and Beat Hazard, this is the game for you. For shoot-em-up fans this may not be the first choice, but one to check out none the less.
Also, before you ask, YES! Xenoblade/The Last Story/Pandora’s Tower music works like a charm.
Bullet-HelldigitalEmpty Clip StudiosGOG.comImpulseDrivenOriginPlayismShmupShoot 'em upSteamSymphony - Liberate Your Music