The Lion’s Song (Switch) Review

A Narrative Magnum Opus

Early 20th Century Austria may not sound like the most interesting setting for a video game, but it gave rise to significant moments in history. Many may know it as the home country of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination was pivotal leading up to World War I. However, not everyone may know that it was also a breeding ground of modernism in an era focused on cultural advancements in the arts and sciences. The Lion’s Song explores this period through a point-and-click adventure game told in four episodes, all available in one download on the Nintendo Switch.

 

See what the game is like in my Video Review!

Each episode stars a different character, delving into that person’s life as he or she is on the cusp of a new development, be it in music, art, or mathematics. The stories focus on their hardships with shockingly deep introspection. Truth be told, it’s a much more mature game than its teen rating implies, dealing with insecurities and issues that some adults may resonate with today. For instance, the first episode follows Wilma, who struggles to find inspiration for a song composition right before her breakthrough concert. Many of us have been in her shoes, facing writer’s block before a deadline. How the game presented her trouble is what sold her plight for me – her desperate expressions, her vivid dream sequences, and her moving display of fear and loneliness.

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The early 20th century was an era of cultural growth in Austria.

Similar situations apply to the second episode in which a young artist can see the inner layers of others but has trouble capturing their true beauty. Then, there’s the third episode where a female mathematician seeks change during a time of discrimination and sexism. Each tale presents a dark look into what the characters are truly facing, and how they must overcome their insecurities.

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Truth.

The emotions are more genuine than you might expect from a game with retro pixelated graphics. Yet the sepia tone fits so well to convey this period long past, in the same way some movies use a filter to invoke nostalgia. However, the drab monochromatic color scheme, relatively motionless characters, and lack of voice acting run the risk of being dull. The same can be said for the overwhelming silence, although it picks up once you first hear the titular composition.

The Lion’s Song is a point-and-click adventure game, but given the limited interactivity, it plays out more like a visual novel. You can move a cursor and click on objects, oddly without touch screen support, but there are no puzzles beyond figuring out where to go and what to do next. Even when a situation remotely resembles a puzzle, like finding a key, the character will tell you exactly where to find it.

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This reminds me of a puzzle.

There’s some player agency in the form of your dialogue choices, which affect some minor story deviations, such as character relationships. At the end of each episode, you receive a Telltale Games-like breakdown of how many players made identical choices. I appreciated that I could instantly go back and redo these segments just to see how they would alter the story. While the episodes intersect at points, decisions from previous chapters make very little impact in the long run. The only real payoff is unlocking bonus achievements and scenes in the epilogue, which aren’t necessarily compelling enough to warrant replaying this four to five hour game.

The lack of engagement is The Lion’s Song’s biggest shortcoming. The story is well told and the characters are sincerely relatable, but you get little chance to do much with them in an enjoyable way. In the first episode, you are limited to a cabin setting, and all you do is tap on objects and talk on the phone to give the musician Wilma creative inspiration. It’s meaningful when the story comes together, but the journey itself is tiresome. The mathematician Emma’s story has a similar issue, only with an expanded map. You can walk to different locations, put on a male disguise, and fiddle around with equations, but the story drags due to its repetitious themes and dry tone. The story that captured the greatest balance was that of the painter Franz, whose tasks to choose viable art models and impress a harsh critic provided a solid gameplay loop.

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Encore!

Conclusion

Overall, The Lion’s Song presents a poignant narrative adventure that aims to invoke strong emotions. While not every tale was fun to play, they each told fascinating character pieces focused on passionate creativity that actually drove me to introspection. Even for a point-and-click game, it is light on interaction and more akin to reading a book with dialogue choices. The drab presentation and dry plot may bore some, so it’s not for everyone. But those who appreciate good historical fiction will find there’s more to this game than its cover.

Score: 7/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was written on DarkStation.

What are your thoughts on The Lion’s Song? Are you fan of point-and-click adventures or visual novels? What are your favorite narrative adventure games and why? Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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18 thoughts on “The Lion’s Song (Switch) Review

  1. Wonderful review as always! Makes me wanna go Hakuna Matata! Oops, not that lion’s song. In fact, this game has many worries–which requires much introspection. I enjoy visual novels and point-and-click adventure games. I’m as much into historical fiction, but I appreciate the vignette that this games paints for each character. I also love that Freud psychoanalysis, at least, I’m pretty sure that has to be Freud. A splash of color would’ve done the visuals some good, but I can see why the developers chose sepia for the whole palette. I’m not sure how the lion ties into all of this though… Bravo, Mr. Panda, for another great job and for pursuing your creative passions! Encore! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thank you for all your support and encouragement throughout my creative efforts as always! It always means so much to me! 😀 I love point-and-click adventure games like Thimbleweed Park and Maniac Mansion, and and also enjoy visual novels like Steins;Gate and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. So I was excited to play The Lion’s Song. Although it did feel unexciting at points, I really resonated with the hardships the characters went through, both as a creator, and just as a human with struggles. I think a lot of us experience these same issues, so it was eye-opening seeing it all wrapped together in one poignant package. Definitely had me doing some retrospection! As for the lion, I think he’s off singing his own song with a meerkat and warthog. 😉 Thank you again!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Early 20th Century Austria may not sound like the most interesting setting for a videogame.”

    This is the most we’ve ever disagreed in 20 years of friendship. Anyway, this looks beautifully done, if a little static. The type of the thing that probably won’t be a massive hit, but the people who do play it will remember fondly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YAAAAAAAAS!!! If there had to be one thing to disagree on, I’m glad it was the viability of early 20th century Austria as a video game setting. Though, to be fair, it was more of a blanket statement and I ended up liking the period, so we may have to somehow find another point of contention hahaha! The Lion’s Song will definitely stick in my mind, but for more than it’s setting. Though, now I’m curious, what other video games could we see in good old Austria?

      Like

  3. I think history is so important and I’m glad to see fakes starting to incorporate that in a more educational fashion! Have you played Valiant Hearts: The Great War? It’s phenomenal as a game and story, and it sneaks in some history lessons. It’s also a huge tear jerker.

    I definitely want to check The Lion’s Song out! I love point and click games and I honestly feel like I retain more knowledge this way because it’s more interactive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have not played Valiant Hearts, but I’ve been intrigued by it. I love great stories and tear jerkers, and although I admit I’m not a huge history buff, The Lion’s Song did actually pique my interest about cultural history – you know, aside from wars and the like. The Lion’s Song is really interesting, so I hope you enjoy it if you pick it up! I also love point-and-click games, so we’re definitely on the same wavelength with this game. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I’m looking Valiant Hearts now, and it seems very similar. Following four characters around WWI-era. The biggest difference besides gameplay seems to be the timing. The Lion’s Song is pre-war and Valiant Hearts is post. I’ll have to look into picking it up for sure! Hope you enjoy TLS if you do get it! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I liked Wilma’s dream sequences, too, especially the dream about her running away from herself. I think that ties into Franz’s identity related dissociation and Emma/Emil’s figuring out their identity after spending some time presenting as a man. This game has a lot of self discovery for the characters, which is cool to watch unfold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome! Glad you also enjoyed Wilma’s dream sequences. I really like your idea of the characters running away from themselves as what ties them together. Their growth and discovery helped me identify and feel closer to them, which was a big part of why I enjoyed the story and game. Thanks for your wonderful comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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