written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
It’s a wonderful feeling when a game can make the player experience real emotions. While on the surface the experience is a mixed up smoothie of ones and zeros, the character of the project is what can send the player into fits of elation or down a rabbit hole of depression. Even the simplest of gaming mechanic can illicit a strong emotional response, proven by games like Undertale and Limbo.
Let’s take Lost in Harmony for instance; at first glance the game plays like any other mobile runner game. Unlike others like Temple Run or the myriad of freemium ones found on your mobile app store, Lost in Harmony has clear cut levels that begin and end… all the while running (or skating as this game is concerned) to the musical stylings of various remixed classical songs.
The gameplay is simplistic yet incredibly challenging. To clear a level you have to make it to the end with a 50% or higher sync rate. This synchronization slowly increases as you skate along and your sync receives a penalty when you collide with objects in the way. What sets Lost in Harmony apart from all the other runner games is the reliance on music, when the score of the level rises to an epic crescendo the gameplay elements of the level reflect it.
You control the player by tapping on the left or right of your touchscreen. During certain parts of the level, the game turns to a rhythm/tapping game and successfully hitting the visual prompts yield a bonus to your sync level.
Avoiding obstacles proved to be the most challenging part of each level. While you have to avoid obstacles in front of you, you also need to dodge all manner of car, buffalo, crazy ass bird that may come up from behind you. To further challenge you, the game is played from the perspective of the controlled character dashing toward the screen. A short visual prompt tells you when something is coming up ahead and of course you can see what’s coming up from behind.
While managing one element or the other isn’t that big of a deal, it’s when they are all coming at you that you need to get into the zone. That’s where the score comes in, listening for audio clues in the music will make surviving each chapter that much easier.
I’ve spoken at length about the gameplay and honestly more so than I would like for a mobile game. What really got to me was the story…
Each level plays out like a dream, you control Kaito and he races down a dreamland roadway carrying Aya on his back. Aya helps out by pointing out when you need to jump or grab a bonus item.
In between chapters, the game’s core narrative is played through text message conversations. Kaito lays in bed and talks to Aya on the other side of his smartphone. As each chapter passes, the story elaborates more on Aya and her illness. While it isn’t spelled out for the player plain and simple, through the dialog one can surmise that Aya has some form of aggressive cancer and Kaito tries to help comfort her during this difficult time.
The rhythm/runner gameplay slices feel like Kaito’s dreams manifesting his unrelenting desire to stand by Aya. Various clues from his text conversations with Aya show up in his dream world sequences as obstacles or as the main setting of the level.
Even when the levels got to be almost annoyingly difficult, I powered through each one to make it to the next slice of the story. It really hit me hard and I found myself sympathizing not just with Aya and her illness, but also with Kaito and his feeling of helplessness. Like I mentioned, it wasn’t explicitly stated that Aya had cancer, but from clues in the narrative it felt fairly obvious. Whenever Aya hurt, Kaito hurt as well… causing him to retreat to a dream world where he can show this girl the world and then some.
By the final chapter (and final level) I was a wreck, it’s fairly obvious what happens. The last level is equal parts somber and enraging, with a musical score that perfectly describes what Kaito is going through… and for that level, it’s the only one where his beloved Aya isn’t clinging to his back as he skates down his dreams.
I didn’t think a mobile game could hit me this hard, I couldn’t even imagine that a runner mobile game could make me feel what I felt. If a game like Limbo can turn a side-scrolling platformer into an emotional experience, I don’t see why (with the right narrative) a mobile runner can’t do the same… and that’s exactly what Lost in Harmony did. It’s a testament to what game developers can do when they give the player a powerful experience that can leave you sobbing in your car during lunch on a Wednesday afternoon… not that it happened to me… or anything… yeah.
Lost in Harmony is free on your app store of choice, giving you the first five chapters. I challenge you, download it for free and after the fifth chapter, if this is your cup-of-tea, purchase the full game in-app… trust me when I say you won’t want to miss out on this.
+ Surprisingly full of heart
+ Made me cry
- F*ck Cancer