Mozart “Wreckquiem”: A Classical Music Video Game Gone Wrong

We live in an age where classical music has lost much of its wider cultural relevance, but a select few composers still loom large in the public consciousness. Take Mozart, for instance. His recognizable face is plastered on everything from ugly Christmas sweaters to chocolate wrappers. He’s shown up in books, movies, and TV shows (both live-action and animated). He’s even appeared on Saturday Night Live, as played by Justin Timberlake. (You know you’ve made it when your life becomes an SNL sketch.)

Mozart is everything everywhere all at once.

One area of pop culture Mozart hasn’t fully infiltrated is the world of video games. The composer and his music have appeared only sporadically in the gaming realm, including a 1988 home computer game called Amadeus Revenge (which sounds incredible, tbh).

In 2008, the French outsourcing company Gameco Studios—in collaboration with Micro Application, S.A.—sought to fill this gap with a point-and-click adventure game titled Mozart: Le Dernier Secret (Mozart: The Last Secret). At first, it was a European exclusive. Originally released in France for PC, it was soon translated into German, Dutch, and Russian as Mozart: The Conspirators of Prague. Then, in 2022—with the help of GS2 Games and Hoplite Research—it was translated into English and reworked for Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and Playstation 4 under the new title Mozart Requiem. (Yes, that’s Mozart Requiem, not the more grammatically correct Mozart’s Requiem.)

The game’s official description reads, in part:

It’s 1788 and Mozart is in Prague. He is giving the inaugural showing of his famous opera, Don Giovanni. The plaudits he receives are universal, but very quickly the events that are shaking the capital of Bohemia will take his mind off the music. Far from the footlights, a terrible conspiracy is underway, designed to dethrone Joseph II, Austro-Hungarian Emperor and Mozart’s benefactor. Left bereft and manipulated, the musical prodigy finds himself plunged into the heart of a grand conspiracy!

Glaring historical inaccuracy aside—Don Giovanni premiered in Prague in 1787, not 1788—a murder mystery game built on real-life characters and events sounds intriguing… and fun! The game developers seem to think so too. In an interview, creator Jean Martial LeFranc stated:

[Our] target audience will encompass several groups: the history buffs, the lovers of music, people who like to learn as they play, fans of narrative games, fans of murder mysteries… We expect the community for “Mozart’s [sic] Requiem” to be large enough to make it a success.

Jean Martial LeFranc

Well, is the game all it cracked up to be? Was the game’s translation into English worth the wait? Is this Amadeus: The Video Game??

No. No, it’s not.

Upon its English release, many gamers panned Mozart Requiem, calling it “a woefully outdated experience,” “a disappointment all around,” and “not worth your time.” Just take a look at the trailer below. It’s quite something.

Still, as a musicologist, casual gamer, and fan of so-bad-it’s-good media (à la Plan 9 from Outer Space), I was morbidly curious. So, I bought a discounted copy of the Switch version on Amazon—saving $17 in the process; the absurd cover price is $30—and braced myself for the worst.

But I didn’t want to take the leap into Mozart’s virtual Prague alone. I decided to bring along my dear friend, Sarah, for the ride. Sarah is an avid gamer who regularly streams on Twitch under the handle @AWildFanAppeared. During the anxious early days of the pandemic, Sarah was a part of my local “bubble,” and we streamed several games together, including The Sims and a wacky Nancy Drew computer game from the early 2000s. She was the ideal candidate to venture into the world of classical music video games with me.

Apparently, Mozart is out to solve a murder mystery but has to get through tedious puzzles and boring dialogue first.

We streamed Mozart Requiem on Twitch for about two hours and got a small taste of the game, its mechanics, and its story. While it’s certainly not the worst thing ever created or an abomination to Mozart and his music, the game is still a HUGE mess. The controls are clunky. The pacing is slow. The minigames are frustrating. The puzzles are confusing. The voice acting is awkward. The animation is creepy. The plot is thin. The list goes on and on. It was both hilarious and aggravating at the same time. (We did agree that one of the few redeeming factors is the soundtrack—all music by Mozart.)

After our riveting and seemingly-pointless adventure, Sarah and I sat down to discuss our thoughts and impressions of the game. Below are some highlights from our conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity. I have also included several short video clips from our Twitch stream, so you can experience the pain that is Mozart Requiem yourself without spending the money or wasting the mental energy.

(If you’d like to check out our full two-hour stream, click here. Be forewarned: our language gets a bit salty at times!)

Kevin McBrien (KM): So… Mozart Requiem. For one thing, it didn’t look as bad as I thought it would. The animation is pretty uncanny, but the environments looked mostly fine. The controls and walking mechanics were quite janky, though.

S: Yeah. I’ve played a lot of games that have those tank controls, but for 2008, we’ve definitely moved past that era of game.

KM: I also feel like we didn’t really get into the story.

S: Well, we didn’t have time! We were too busy making coffee! [Both: Laugh.] I was excited for the murder mystery, but there were so many tedious things to do.

KM: Yeah, I guess we’re still in the early stages. There are supposedly 30 hours of gameplay! [Laughs.]

A small taste (ha!) of our annoying, 10-minute quest to make coffee in Mozart’s apartment.

S: It’s like the developers thought, “Oh, there’s 30 hours of gameplay because it’s complicated.” It’s not clever complicated; it’s unnecessarily complicated! [Laughs.]

KM: Yeah, wandering around an apartment for ten minutes trying to figure out how to make coffee is not how you want… you need to help people along the way! [See clip at right.]

S: Most games have a tutorial, where the game will tell you what to do at the first stage, and then after that, they’ll stop doing it. This game never did that. They just left us to our own devices. In other games, it makes way more sense. Think The Painscreek Killings, for example. That game is similar in that you have an inventory, but you gradually figure out how to use it along the way. With this Mozart game, you grab an item and try to use it, but if you don’t click on the right pixel or in the right area, it won’t work.

KM: I wonder if part of it was because we were playing on the Switch. Maybe it’s easier on a desktop computer. But Painscreek is a good counterexample because while there is trial-and-error involved, it’s way more intuitive and clearer about what you have to do. [KM edit: Sarah and I have also streamed Painscreek on Twitch; it’s excellent.]

S: Painscreek was also made more recently [2017]. I feel like that just points out the poor design of Mozart Requiem even more.

KM: Yeah… If they had funneled more money into the design and the mechanics, some of the kinks probably could have been worked out. Because parts of the game are just so frustrating. You’re sitting at a harpsichord and have to navigate your pointer to this tiny little arrow above the tuning peg… And I never entirely figured out the sheet music minigame, either. Are you swapping the notes and trying to find the right combination? You can’t troubleshoot it at all. [See clips below.]

Who knew tuning a harpsichord could be so infuriating? (Like the coffee-making task, this was another 10+ minute “adventure.”)
Even though I can read music, the composing minigames were horrendously counterintuitive. They made me feel like my doctorate should be revoked.

S: It’s a missed opportunity. What could have happened is that every time you click on a set of notes, it plays that sequence. That way, you actually learn! If this is supposed to be a kid’s game—which I highly doubt—what better way to teach them how to read music? If you think about apps like Duolingo, it’s essentially the same thing—you press the buttons, and the words or syllables speak out loud so you can learn the language. They could have done the same thing with reading music, but they didn’t.

[KM edit: We later found out that you have to use the surrounding musical lines/context clues to swap sets of notes and put them in the right place, which can be very difficult if you don’t read music. Plus, they only play the excerpt once at the beginning, so unless you already know the piece, hearing it is really no help.]

KM: Definitely. You bring up an interesting point about the game’s purpose. Is it for kids? Like, to teach them about history? Or for older kids? Gamers? Who is it for? It seems like they were trying to bring a few different strands together, like, “Let’s take this beloved historical figure and create an alternate history but also make it fun and kind of educational, and there’s a murder mystery component, too.” It doesn’t seem like it really succeeded in any of those areas.

S: It’s a shame because the premise is interesting. I love mystery games, but it’s sort of a dying genre. And historical fiction doesn’t have to be 100% accurate to have merit or be entertaining.

KM: Not at all! Look at Amadeus! While there is stuff in that film that’s rooted in fact, they took liberties to make it more dramatically interesting and presented it as an alternate, “what if” history. And I’m not bugged by the historical inaccuracies because it pulls it off so well. [KM edit: I’ve waxed poetic about my love for Amadeus before on this blog.]

S: And the filmmakers also made it very clear with the tone that it’s not supposed to be accurate.

KM: Right! But with this game, certain details or facts were just off, and it wasn’t clear why they were that way.

Sarah loves Vivaldi. Mozart, however, does not (much to Sarah’s chagrin).

S: You assume the designers did their research, but they probably did the bare minimum. I’m wondering: with those busts of the composers in the opera house, how much of that was actually correct? Although I guess most of that dialogue was just Mozart’s opinion about each composer… [See clip at left.]

KM: Well, Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel were all dead by the time the game takes place, but Mozart would have known who they were. And I think he did particularly admire Handel and Bach, so that’s all true to real life. But including the busts was a bit odd because this was a period in history where composers were—more or less—treated as servants of a particular court or ruler and not really memorialized like that.

S: Do you think the game represented that accurately? Some characters did seem to treat Mozart like a celebrity, but only so much.

KM: I don’t think we got far enough in the game to see. Mozart was definitely celebrated during his life, but it wasn’t really until Beethoven came along, after Mozart, that composers began to be viewed and treated as “artists.”

Want to conduct like Mozart? Then try your hand at this awkward minigame!

S: As far as I could tell, I feel the game did represent that correctly unless it was just a happy accident. I remember thinking, “Shouldn’t more people be following Mozart around or treating him with more respect?” But, if his status as a composer was basically that of a working-class person, then it makes sense. As a musicologist, are you disappointed that there aren’t many games about classical music, and now that there is one, it’s not very good? [Laughs.] Is this a genre you feel should have more merit? Or does it not really fit?

KM: That’s an excellent question! I think there’s definitely potential. On one hand, any attempt to marry one art form with another can turn into something cringy and not very good. But, on the other hand, I think of video games like Assassin’s Creed that are set in different time periods. They’re obviously fiction but still meticulously researched in terms of the setting, character designs, and historical context. I’ve never played any of them, but a similar type of game centered around classical musicians could be really neat—if done well—and draw people into a world or subject matter they didn’t know a lot about before.

S: I haven’t played any of those games either, but they seem very good overall. I do think, though, that it’s often a bit easier to adapt topics like this to television and film. Music is a very passive medium; the main point is to listen and experience it. Video games are meant to be interactive. We saw the problems of that while we were playing. When you click on the harpsichord, Mozart walks up to it, starts playing, and all you can do is sit there and watch him. [Both: Laugh.] Most video games don’t do that unless it’s a cut scene and there’s story happening.

One actually good music game I remember from childhood was Making Music. Created in 1995 by composer Morton Subotnick, the various melody and rhythm games could get tricky but were still incredibly intuitive and made learning music fun. (Screenshot from MobyGames.)

KM: At the end of the day, it’s a game. It needs to be fun to play and not feel like a task!

S: Exactly! Which Mozart Requiem felt like the whole time. It’s like, “When is the game going to start?” [Laughs.]

KM: Why is it so freaking hard to make coffee?!? [Both: Laugh.] At the end of the day, I think the game’s flaws are more funny than sad, but it still makes me curious: is there indeed potential for other games like this? You could also do something similar with artists, like a Van Gogh murder mystery game. Or, I don’t know… authors!

S: I was actually just thinking that! But then again, I don’t know if I can imagine a Jane Austen video game… [Both: Laugh.]

KM: It’d probably be very boring. There’d be a lot of visiting people’s houses and talking. [Laughs.] I guess you would have to make it more like a dating simulator-type game.

S: Or a romance visual novel!

KM: Yeah! The medium would have to be adapted to the subject matter. Well, to wrap things up, if you were to give this game a rating—let’s rate it in powdered wigs [laughs]—out of how many powdered wigs would you rate it? Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, so let’s have 41 powdered wigs be “this is the best game I’ve ever played” and 1 be “this is garbage.” [Both: Laugh.]

S: I would give it 20 powdered wigs out of 41. Right in the middle, a little less than half. So, five out of ten if we were to go by regular metrics. [Laughs.]

Miscellaneous clips from our play-through, including weird glitches, salacious dialogue (this game is supposed to be for kids?!?), bad accents, and pigeon feeding.

KM: Fair enough. I would say a bit lower. Maybe 15 or 16 out of 41? In terms of entertainment value—or unintentional entertainment value—it would be off the charts! We had fun. [Laughs.] But objectively rating it as a game, a historical document, a piece of “art,” I would give it three out of ten. But we’re also still in the beginning stages, so maybe…

S: I’m sure it would go lower and lower if we continued. [Both: Laugh.] That last puzzle was a real doozy.

KM: We’ll have to see if we can finish the game. I’m so curious.

S: Or we could just look up the ending!

KM: Or that! There are people who’ve suffered through it already.

S: They did the Lord’s work. [Both: Laugh.]


Sarah and I did regroup a few more times to try to finish the game. While there was indeed a murder mystery—and a conspiracy to assassinate Emperor Joseph II—it moved at a snail’s pace and was bogged down by more rambly dialogue, nonsensical puzzles, and pointless minigames, including one where you have to play and win at blackjack against several other characters (it was maddening).

Actual footage of us when we discovered that our last game didn’t save. Bye bye $13.

Sadly, our attempts to reach the end were ultimately thwarted by a glitch that wouldn’t let us save past a certain point in the game. Such a bummer (*he said sarcastically*). We did end up watching a walkthrough of the ending on YouTube. It’s pretty ridiculous. In a nutshell (spoilers!): Mozart prevents a bomb from going off in the Prague opera house by having the orchestra play a corrected version of his Symphony No. 38—appropriately nicknamed “Prague”—thus thwarting the assassination plot and saving the day. It’s 007 meets Mozart, everyone! The kids will love it! Or hate it! We genuinely have no idea who this game is supposed to be for!

This unfortunate turn of events aside, our initial consensus remained unchanged. All in all, Mozart Requiem is a wreck—or, rather, a “wreckquiem.” (Don’t boo me; I’m super proud of this pun.)

Sarah regularly streams on Twitch under the handle @AWildFanAppeared. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram. She also has an art account on Instagram @wildfanart.

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