Author Topic: Athenian Rhapsody (Switch) Review  (Read 948 times)

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Offline riskman64

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Athenian Rhapsody (Switch) Review
« on: May 14, 2024, 05:00:00 AM »

An Undertale-like with the wackiness and color dialed up to 11.

It’s undeniable the impact that Toby Fox’s Undertale had on the video game industry, and indie games in particular. Few titles, however, have been bold enough to try and more or less replicate the experience wholesale. Enter Athenian Rhapsody, which seems to skirt the border between imitation and homage, especially in terms of its RPG combat. That said, whereas Undertale dabbled in a mix of both subtle humor and slapstick, Athenian Rhapsody is much more in your face with its comedy, with hilarious sound effects, fart jokes, and a cavalcade of outrageous characters.

After a series of quiz questions set against a black background, your Ness-looking character awakes in the world of Athens, and it's hard to ignore the vibrant, cartoony environment in which you find yourself. Among the first characters you encounter are a pair of inseparable creatures that look like either Grimace knockoffs or Pokemon that ended up on the cutting room floor (which could actually describe a fair few of the ridiculous Athenian denizens you end up befriending). This is Richard and James, and they set the tone for the incredibly absurd puzzles, antics, and trials you’ll encounter throughout the game’s approximately 10-hour main story. Your ultimate objective (insofar as the game actually has one) is to reach the Gardens area at the end of the world, while working to understand the drive of so many in Athens to earn as much EXP as they can. However, a much more effective way to experience Athenian Rhapsody would be to frequently stop and smell the roses, even if you’ll eventually catch a whiff of something rather unpleasant.

Unlike larger or more mainstream RPGs, there is no quest guide or checklist to work on as you weave your way around Athens. Instead, you’ll need to listen to what characters tell you and speak to everyone, which ends up being worthwhile for other reasons, too. For instance, it’s not always obvious which characters can be invited to join your party, so adding to your stable is one reward for chatting everybody up; another perk is that a lot of the writing is genuinely funny, and I never found it boring to walk about a new area and check in with all the locals. Each new environment within Athens offers a new color palette and design as well, which helps to distinguish these areas and keep pushing you towards the endgame. The catchy soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either.

You can win turn-based battles by attacking and defeating enemies or by befriending them, which sees you taking an action like posing, insulting, or laughing until your opponent is ready to give up and accept your friendship. During an enemy’s turn, you’ll need to play a dodge-’em-up minigame that is exactly like that of Undertale, wherein you need to carefully avoid a series of projectiles from all sides of the box in the middle of the screen. Every basic enemy and boss has a unique version of this minigame, with bosses often introducing a handful of variations to it. If you choose the more pacifist befriending route, you’ll need to step up to the challenge of an HP meter that basically never grows (since you don’t earn any EXP) and enemy attacks and obstacles that can put out heaps of damage. You do earn coins from any successful combat, and these can be used to purchase healing items, but your pocket space is limited, and so you may find that health restoration is regularly in jeopardy.

Two factors that can help turn the tide in battle are the ability to swap your main character out for your chosen partner ally, who has their own unique abilities to prop up your team or finish a fight. The other is the Burst mechanic, which allows you to draw from another pool of points to heal yourself or speed up your avatar in the dodging minigame. Successfully evading enemy shots can quickly restore your Burst meter, but taking too many hits will decrease both your health and Burst, which makes for a harsh penalty. Athenian Rhapsody does have a “Chill Mode” option that can make the fights a bit more palatable (by offering temporary invulnerability after you get hit), but even with it activated the difficulty level never felt too low. What at all times did feel too low, however, was the overly restrictive item storage box and your character’s own pocket, which combined still only allowed you to keep about 20 items.

There are elements of Athenian Rhapsody that point towards a long-tailed future for the game after its launch. For one, each playthrough of the game creates an individual, personalized Rhapsody, which can be shared with other players or rewatched by yourself. The game’s Steam page suggests that Rhapsodies can be combined or even used to access special in-game events; I’m eager to see if a substantial community forms around the game and if these features lead to some fascinating ways of sharing and storytelling. I know I haven’t seen everything the world of Athens has to offer, but it sounds like there’s potential for this world to grow if the support is there.

Athenian Rhapsody is much more than just another creator’s take on Undertale. Through effective comedic writing, a world that is filled to the brim with surprises, and an attractive presentation, developer Nico Papalia has crafted an experience that stands on its own as both an homage and a reimagining of what Toby Fox accomplished almost a decade earlier. The idea of each playthrough being transformed into its own object and gaining a tangibility is an intriguing one, reinforcing the power of decision-making in a world of unknown consequence. The vibrancy of Athens comes as much from its nature and biomes as it does from its inhabitants, and it was ultimately a sincere pleasure to spend time here. As a lover of both Earthbound and Undertale, I found in Athenian Rhapsody another experience that felt like home, complete with characters randomly exploding more times than I could count.