Take symphonic metal to the next level in a macabre interactive music video retelling of a classic fairy tale.
Developer: Capricia Productions
Publisher: All in! Games
Release date: 20 May, 2021
Games can be an art form, but what makes them unique from other forms of art is that the outside player’s interactions are an integral part of the work. The gameplay experience may be different for each individual player, yet it is essential to bring any game to the status of masterpiece. Of Bird and Cage is an interesting example of how the traditional art form of music seeks to use the medium of games to bring itself to a new level. The question remains whether it succeeded in creating a game or little more than a glorified music video.
Of Bird and Cage builds its world and tells its story through music, with much of the dialogue being sung rather than spoken. The story is presented in three acts with four possible endings depending on choices made during the game, and the player mostly acts from the perspective of Gitta, a 25-year-old woman whose tragic and violent childhood is probably what led to her adult drug addiction. However, as is sometimes the case with music videos, the story often feels like it doesn’t make sense. Part of this may be because Gitta’s addiction makes her an unreliable narrator, but there is also a lot of jumping around between past and present as well as between reality and memory or nightmare sequences.
In addition to being inspired by symphonic metal, the story is a macabre retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The tone is dark, and the themes explored feel like the game needs more robust content warnings. For example, a scene of domestic violence is the first of the game and recurs throughout, and that isn’t the only scene of violence to play out on screen. While this can be a powerful jumping-off point to explore deep and complex subjects, Of Bird and Cage seems to miss the mark in drawing essential connections to prevent the violence from coming off as gratuitous and meaningless.
Gameplay and Mechanics
True to its marketing of a metal album presented as a game, the gameplay experience is essentially an interactive music video. QTEs make frequent appearances, and the vast majority of scenes run on timers. This can be stressful due to insufficient cues on what the player is supposed to be doing or how they are supposed to accomplish it. Gitta’s addiction affects gameplay by blurring and graying the visuals if she can’t get access to drugs (although imagery of birds can also help her focus), which adds an additional layer of challenge in a way that feels more frustrating than fun. Some players may feel like they’re more along for the ride than actively influencing the outcome. There were many times where the clock ran out, and I was left wondering how my action (or inaction) could have possibly led to what was happening now. I played with mouse and keyboard and found that the controls weren’t always intuitive or responsive.
Art Style and Graphics
The graphics quality is perhaps not as high as it could have been for such an artistic endeavor in 2021, especially when considering the artistry frequently present in symphonic metal music videos. This includes the fonts, which seem childish and out of place. The menu interface design certainly conveys the music album theme since the player chooses which level or part of the story they would like to play by selecting a song in the soundtrack. The game does use a gothic color palette, but when Gitta is in the throes of her addiction the blurry vision and grayed colors get so extreme as to render the player taking actions impossible. The game does open with an epilepsy warning due to the visual design choices.
Sound and Music
Of Bird and Cage’s name-dropping of artists from several of my favorite symphonic metal bands immediately piqued my interest in the game, so it’s not surprising that the soundtrack is one of its strongest elements. The majority of the dialogue is sung rather than spoken, although where there is spoken voice acting it tends to be mediocre, particularly when compared to the singing. However, as much as it pains me to say, the music isn’t as emotionally gripping or compelling as I would have anticipated for the primary driver of the story’s throughline, and the songs won’t be ones I’ll be adding to my personal playlist.
At the time of review, Of Bird and Cage is $14.99 with an as-advertised playthrough time of approximately 2 hours. However, there are four possible endings, 57 possible Steam achievements (many of which are missable), and in-game collectibles such as CDs, story items, and visions to give the game plenty of value in content. Fans of symphonic metal may find this an interesting and interactive musical experience. However, if you prefer a more player-involved experience or aren’t a fan of dark and violent themes, this game may not be for you.