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.)
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.
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.]
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.Continue reading “Mozart “Wreckquiem”: A Classical Music Video Game Gone Wrong”