Lyrica is one of the better rhythm games available on the Nintendo Switch. It might not be as well-known as the Taiko the Drum titles, or Hatsune Miku’s Switch outing (of course), but Lyrica had something different and compelling going for it: it offered culture. The sequel is more of the same, but that’s not a bad thing by any means.
In the commercial sense, the developers of Lyrica shot themselves in the foot by making a game about poetry. And not just any poetry, either. Old poetry. From Chinese authors that even the most well-read of us are only going to be vaguely familiar with. The concept of the game is simple; each of the tracks takes Chinese poetry (predominantly, but also some from Taiwan and, I think, other parts of Asia), and fuses it with modern musical genres, from rock to love ballad and on to R & B. The lyrics of the song pop up on the screen as you play, though naturally, they’re written in Chinese characters. You can see where the problem might lie for mainstream interest in the game. It’s hard enough convincing people to watch foreign TV shows unless there’s a dubbed version, let alone play a game where they have to look at foreign language characters. That’s just plain scary. No wonder this was released around the Halloween season.
More seriously, I’ve never understood why people need to understand the lyrics to music, but I also realise that I’m in the minority there. It doesn’t bother me that Japanese music is beyond my comprehension, for example, and I can enjoy Hatsune Miku, enka music or whatever else without needing to understand the words. Good music still carries the meaning behind the words through the sound, as I’ve learned from going to many operas over many years. I have always thought that music is a universal language and the lyrics are in many ways the least interesting tip of the iceberg when it comes to meaning, and so Lyrica fascinates rather than confounds me. But, again, I understand why the design of this game relegates it to an incredibly niche audience right from the outset.
Lyrica’s a game that takes Chinese poetry and turns it into rock, pop, R&B and folk music and it is the best rhythm game almost no one kniws about. The sequel, this one, is even better. #NintendoSwitch pic.twitter.com/PSXilx19io
— Dee Guevara 🇯🇵 (@MattSainsb) October 13, 2021
The music is good stuff, though, in no small part because it is so varied. Shifting from something mellow and smooth to something rocky, and the foot-tapping along to some modern pop gives the soundtrack an eclectic vibe, which contrasts pleasantly with the traditional brush-like drawings of the Chinese characters that pop up on the screen. It’s not the most difficult rhythm game out there, because the window to register a “perfect” timing in Lyrica is incredibly generous when compared to just about any other rhythm thing that you might play, but the music itself is of such a unique quality that, much as with the first Lyrica, I will likely come back to this one for the purposes of the soundtrack alone. For those that really like their rhythm games difficult, there is a challenge mode that does have some fangs, but it’s also completely optional, and in a different menu off the main screen. I’ve seen people give up on the Miku games because they know they’ll never register a score on the highest difficulty settings, which leaves them disappointed that entire sections of the “main” game have become “inaccessible” to them. Lyrica’s developers have done their best to make the “main” game accessible in full to players, and buried the challenge out of sight for people that might be put off it. Smart move.
Equally, Lyrica is impressive for the effort that the developers have put into the narrative. Now, we’re not talking about something of the quality of Dream of the Red Chamber, of course. It’s not literature. However, the visual novel-stylings of Lyrica 2’s narrative mode are beautiful, and they’re backed by poetic quality that’s really beautiful. And that is all fully translated and readable. One of the things that I’ve found most admirable about Lyrica and its sequel is that the developer and publisher really did want to use this as an outlet to share something about Chinese culture and art with the world. With the Chinese being one of the most ancient and academic cultures in human history, it’s unfortunate that in the political climate we so rarely get the chance to cut through and enjoy the culture’s proud artistic traditions. Lyrica, and now its sequel, are precious for that, and while I’m rarely going to celebrate a narrative within a rhythm game, in this case, it does complete the package.
I don’t have much else to say about Lyrica that I didn’t in my review of the first game. The differences between the two of them are so slight, besides the obviously different tracklists, that they are two sides of the same coin. In fact, the physical edition is a bundle of the two of them together, and that only reinforces that perception that Lyrica and its sequel are, really, one product split artificially into two. Given that this particular coin is made out of solid gold, though, I’m not complaining.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb