Deconstructing the Musical Narrative and Imagery of Ephemerid: A Musical Adventure

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When searching the App Storeʼs seemingly endless sea of titles, there are always those rare titles that go above and beyond the conventional, yet still go unnoticed. Sometimes players will come across these titles by pure chance or recommendation. In the case of Ephemerid, created by SuperChop Games, I found out about its existence via recommendation.

Early May of this year, when I attended Women In Games Bostonʼs monthly meetings, Emma Clarkson recommended it to me after Caroline Murphy had our small groups interact and discuss our favorite games, both old and new. I expressed how impressed I was with Moon Studioʼs Ori and the Blind Forest and how it drew influence from the traditionally animated films of the ʼ90ʼs as well as how the gameplay harmonizes with the storytelling. Emma told me about Ephemerid and how it also uses traditional animation and its gameplay to align with the story similar to that of Ori. I downloaded the game off of Steam (where I usually get most of the latest titles off of nowadays).

With the gameplay time taking up to at least one hour and a half or less to complete, it makes excellent use of every moment in the story while paralleling with the music. The one set back (depending on some playersʼ expectations) is how the gameplay functions. The player makes their move by clicking accordingly to the music, but if they miss a beat, there isnʼt any consequence for failure. The player doesnʼt achieve any rewards and therefore, hit or miss, the game still progresses without addressing success or failure. This is possibly because the game wasnʼt designed with that goal in mind and it would be the reason some gamers might decide to skip Ephemerid. But for gamers who seek to discover new ways to diversify their experiences might overlook the lack of reward and consequence of gameplay. Regardless of what the player is seeking in the gameplay experience, the area where Ephemerid excels most is its musical narrative and imagery, which together offer a wealth of material that gives its story a deeper meaning. A mayfly as its main protagonist, a music record on the menu screen as a metaphor representing life and mortality and the tone of the music juxtaposed with the scene, the story Ephemerid tells us is presented in a way that audio and visual best express it.

The title and main character are a representation of the mortality and life cycle theme the story displays. The word, ephemeral (which the title is derived from) means to live for a very short time. The main character is a mayfly, which are known to have a very short life span. Based on the title and how long the character lives, the story takes place within the course of an afternoon to sunset, to sunrise and lastly next sunrise. The mayfly starts its life in the afternoon during a late fall/early winter season. The mayfly meets another mayfly to mate with, but fate prompts the protagonist to retrace back to the forest before itʼs too late. When the protagonist dies at the end of the story, a new life cycle begins, bringing the player back to the title screen.

Imagery such as the record signify the endless cycle of life of the mayfly. When the earlier generation dies out, the new is born. The record, being the shape of a circle, is used as an analogy to having no beginning nor end. Thereʼs no specific point as to

where a circle itself begins and thus, no specific point as to where it ends. Music itself can also be thought of much in the same way as music is always around us. A simple knock on the door, the sound of nature, the rickety sound of dilapidated wood are examples of sound. Any sound can be used as the start of a rhythm or a beat and can be built upon. Music starts softly and builds up as it gets to the heart of the piece. The way music is utilized in Ephemerid start off lightly and as the scene builds momentum where the gameplay works at a faster pace, the energy of the piece invigorates to match. As the scene slows down, the music gradually moderates. The same pattern repeats throughout the story. There is a slow piece in slower paced gameplay such as the snowball and sewer scenes and the music picks up its forte when the player is guiding the characters in more accelerated segments.

Aside from the recordʼs metaphoric representation, there is also the parallel of the mayflies and the Chinese dragons. The analogy is open to interpretation, but the dragons could be seen as the epitome of their physical beingʼs mortality, yet the spirit of their love is eternal like the endless life cycle and the soul. Such imagery appears to be further represented at the end of the game when the mayflies reunite and fly through the sky, where constellations and the universe are juxtaposed into the final musical piece. The scene afterward depicts the mayfliesʼ demise, leading into the sunrise and the start of a new birth.

The the way the tone of the music and the environmental changes blend is surprisingly quite fitting in the sense the music of Ephemerid has a more Trans-Siberian Orchestra type vibe to its sound. The layout and appearance of the entire game was made from paint, paper cut-outs and glass. When looking at what was used to create the Ephemerid universe without listening to the music first-hand, classical music might come to mind. At a first glance, the world of Ephemerid looks as if traditional classical pieces or music influenced by classical music would go into its narrative. Upon listening to the soundtrack, it would not be what players expect, yet oddly the tone and atmosphere per scene fit this genre of music into this type of animation.

 

In comparison to other recent games, such as Ori and the Blind Forest and Monument Valley, Ephemerid tells its story through the juxtaposition of music and imagery, which suit the each segmentʼs ambience. But in contrast to Ori and Monument Valley, the gameplay directly does little for the character development and more for the story itself. As I discussed in my analysis of Ori and the Blind Forest, the gameplay was a crucial part of the character development. Every new skill the player acquired is also a representation of how Ori is growing as a character. The gameplay and cinematic elements went hand-in-hand rather than just let one aspect speak more than the other. With Monument Valley, the gameplay had the player guide its main protagonist, Ida to return the lost artifacts back to the decaying monuments. There is music to match its imagery and narrative, which leave open interpretation for the viewer. Monument Valleyʼs lead designer, Ken Wong described in Itʼs Nice That Nicer Tuesdays how the player perception of Monument Valley is similar to viewer perception of the music video for All is Full of Love by musician, Bjork. Both forms of media leave room for the audiencesʼ interpretation as the story of Monument Valley was designed to be viewed much in the same way as one would view a music video. Ephemerid, like Monument Valley adopts a music video type representation in that there are scenes and imagery that are left open ended. Both games differ in gameplay. The player participation in Monument Valley centers on Ida returning what was stolen and making up for her past mistakes, which contributes to her character directly.

The gameplay in Ephemerid doesnʼt just benefit its main character, but all the other characters and their interaction with their environment. That being said, although Ephemerid is very character as is story driven, the gameplay functions more like turning pages in a storybook than going actively inside the main characterʼs mind. The player plays as almost all the characters in the story, interacts with their motions and delves into their state of mind accordingly to how the environment is affecting them. By engaging with each character and how each scene shapes their movements, this feature functions as a way for the player to actively play as a conductor conducting an orchestra. Itʼs if the player is the beat of the drum accompanying both the music and the motions. For example, there are parts of the game where the player reiterates a musical sequence, which is conventional gameplay. There are such faster paced segments such as the rhinoceros beetles (Dynastinae) and the bees carrying the mayfly back to their forest or the mayfly and her mate flying from one flower to the next in a harmonious fashion. Although no penalty for misses, the goal is to try hitting the flower, the cloud or tree stump accordingly to the music.

Despite the lack of gameplay focus of Ephemerid, the utilization of music to accompany its story and innovative style of animation is a major forte that the game merits mention. The imagery as metaphor and representation of life and mortality, yet the everlasting spirit speaks for itself through the music. The music itself serves as a solid, non-verbal narrator. Despite the 1980ʼs music vibe blending in with an aesthetic resembling childrenʼs book illustrations, it never fails to reflect the atmosphere of each scene. While the gameplay is less connected to the character development of the protagonist as seen with the likes of Ori and the Blind Forest and Monument Valley, Ephemerid is on par as these titles in allowing its actions tell its storytelling quality. Although Ephemerid might not appeal to the average gamer seeking a challenge with rewards, it can be greatly appreciated by those who seek quality storytelling in a way that grants its characters to express their innermost thoughts and emotions via gestures and music.

 

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