Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure review
Just when I thought July will only have a single rhythm game that I'll be obsessed with for the Nintendo 3DS, out of nowhere comes Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure, quite possibly one of the most entertaining and well put together rhythm games I've ever played.
Rhythm Thief takes a similar approach to the Professor Layton games in terms of storytelling and visuals, Rhythm Heaven when it comes to the mechanics of the rhythm games, and some added quirkiness of Elite Beat Agents. What makes the game so compelling is that despite it being primarily a rhythm game, it tells a story with genuine characters you want to care about, presented in gorgeous anime cinematics.
Rhythm Thief puts you into the role of Raphael, a mild mannered art enthusiast by day, and thief extraordinaire by night that goes by the name of Phantom R and his trusty dog Fondue. Not everything is as it seems however, as Phantom R doesn't steal items for his own personal gain, but rather he's trying to piece together clues that will help him find his father. Throw a resurrected Napoleon Bonaparte into the mix who is on his own conquest to reclaim Paris in his glory, and a timid yet resolute girl named Maria who also happens to be a major piece in the puzzle, and you got yourself quite a fascinating story that you're going to want to see through to the end.
This is one of the main aspects that separates Rhythm Thief from Theatrhythm, a coherent and engaging story, and for a rhythm game, it was surprisingly fleshed out.
When not tapping, sliding or pressing buttons to the beat, you'll be exploring the streets of Paris, trying to piece clues, helping out citizens, solving some easy puzzles, collecting coins, recording sound effects and trying to find hidden phantom notes. Much like Professor Layton, each mark on the map is a static screen with various objects you can tap on to interact with, as well as various citizens who usually have something helpful to say. The coins you collect can then be used in the game's shop where you can buy the in-game movies as you unlock them, but they can also be used to buy helpful boosts before each song. If a song is giving you a hard time, buy the item that makes it harder to get out of your groove, or an item that helps you gain groove easier. For the rhythm experts who want an even bigger challenge, you can buy the Full Contact Challenge before each song, which means if you mess up once, you fail that song.
Another shop in the game allows you to play recorded sounds to the shop keeper to help construct his master instrument. He'll tell you the type of sound it is, along with a clip of it, and then it's up to you to go find it and play it back to him.
The story missions are by far the best as their use of map traversal and puzzle solving, combined with awesome rhythm games provide the deepest and most engaging experience in the game. One mission will have you break into the Louvre where one of the rhythm games will have you sneak past guards by hiding behind differently shaped plants. It's completely nutty and hilarious and even when I cleared the song with a perfect score, I found myself replaying it due to the amount of fun I had during it. The side missions can then be found all across the map of Paris. You could come across a cook who is in dire need of assistance, or a fellow dog owner who wants to pit his dog and your dog in an eating contest. Each of these instances result in an often hilarious rhythm game that start off easy, but get more complicated and intricate as you progress.
There are also small instances of puzzle solving to for instance open a locked door, which usually result in an overly simple minigame that's more often than not associated with rhythm. Other parts task you with playing a certain sound you recorded, such as a lullaby to put a librarian to sleep to sneak past her and access the archives, but each time this happens, you're always presented with the answer, so it's never a challenge trying to figure out which sound to play.
It's one thing if a rhythm game has great gameplay mechanics, its another however if the soundtrack is just as entertaining. I can easily say that Rhythm Thief might have one of the best soundtracks for a rhythm game, right there next to Rhythm Heaven. The upbeat jazzy songs mixed with some truly beautiful violin segments, it's a soundtrack that I'd kill to buy alongside the game.
While the game is almost perfect, there are a few things that somewhat irritated me. For one, when looking for the various hidden items on each map, you have to literally tap everywhere in order to make sure you didn't miss anything. This could have been made much more intuitive by either indicating that all items on that map have been found, or that there are some still remaining. The worst part of the game however are any rhythm games associated with using the Gyro sensor. Tilting the 3DS left, right, back and forth just isn't that responsive, and for a game where you have to always be on rhythm, it's difficult to gauge if you're even tilting it correctly. Thankfully these Gyro instances are very few and far between, so they can be easily overlooked.
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure was the 3DS game I never knew I absolutely needed. It does a superb job at marrying entertaining rhythm segments with great storytelling and gorgeous animations. Rhythm Thief needs to be in your collection. Here's to hoping for more Rhythm Thief games in the future.