Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure Review

Filed under Nintendo Handheld

System: 3DSrtetbox.jpg
Developer: Sega/Xeen
Publisher: Sega

Genre: Adventure/Rhythm

Players: 1-2

For a long time, Rhythm Thief was one of those games that I was kinda interested in but didn’t really know that much about. I knew that the titular Rhythm Thief was a stylish looking guy, and that Napoleon was involved somehow, but my understanding of the gameplay was along the lines of “it’s some kind of rhythm game, I guess?”

Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is an adventure game in which you take on the role of Raphael, alias Phantom R, as he searches for the father that abandoned him three years ago and is soon drawn into a plot involving the lost treasure of historical figure and Bill and Ted bro Napoleon Bonaparte. The adventure gameplay is standard Japanese adventure fare: moving between areas, talking to people and solving puzzles in order to advance. Raphael carries a recorder with him which can be used to record various sounds you encounter as you journey around the streets of Paris, which you will use to clear out people who obstruct your path. Puzzles fit within the sound motif of the game, centering around timing and musical patterns.

rtet_image1.pngPeppered throughout the game, and the focus of Sega’s promotion of the title, are a myriad of rhythm games. Rhythm games make use of the full gamut of control options available on the 3DS, utilising all combinations of button, touch and gyro input. The rhythm games are used for both Raphael’s thieving exploits (sneaking past security at the Lourve, avoiding the Parisian po po, fending off soldiers) and all kinds of everyday activities (filling in as a chef, taking part in a dog show, etc.). The wide variety of scenarios and use of different input methods remind me of Sega’s early Nintendo DS title, Project Rub. While some of the mini games are weak, on the whole they are the better part of the gameplay and it’s no surprise that Sega wanted to focus on them.

The problem with Rhythm Thief is that the adventure elements aren’t particularly engaging. There’s no sense of exploration or discovery. Your path is always highlighted in red on the map screen and there is little room for diversion; speaking to people may bring up an optional rhythm game, but stepping too far off the designated path will have Raphael reminding you that he doesn’t need to go that way, returning you to the red dotted road that you must follow. Objects containing sounds you can record easily stand out, and the game flat out tells you the solution to any of the sound recording puzzles. Any item that you need to examine to progress is marked with a glowing point. The game shepherds you from point A to B the entire time, leaving little for you to figure out yourself.

rtet_image2.jpgThe best adventure games are remembered for their stories and characters. This is another area where Rhythm Thief, unfortunately, falls short. While the scenario is fairly interesting and Raphael and Fondue make for a good leading duo, the supporting cast falls short. Everyone is so loosely defined and your exposure to them is rarely more than a line or two while they do their schtick – as with the jumpy policeman who you come across a few times and must scare away with recorded sounds to pass – before the game pushes you on to the next scene. The ensemble shows potential, but it is never truly exploited. Despite this, the odd bit of personality manages to shine through in the dialogue, like when a mother remarks “You know why babies are so cute? Self preservation. Because if this baby wasn’t so cute, I’d…”

The game’s real strength is in its presentation. The bottom screen’s 2D backgrounds used for the adventure environments look great and feature plenty of detail, while the adventure map and rhythm games use a stylised 3D on the top screen. The game makes liberal use of gorgeously animated cutscenes that at times had me thinking “see? This is fantastic! Why didn’t you just make an animated movie out of this story instead?” The game’s music direction is provided by Tomoya Ohtani who has worked on many Sega titles since the turn of the millenium, among them Space Channel 5 Part 2, Project Rub and the Sonic series, and features a variety of styles from laid back airy numbers, upbeat dance tracks, jazzy tunes and electronica. If the game has succeeded at one thing, it’s advertising the beauty and atmosphere of Paris.

Score: 6/10
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is very much a game of two halves and unfortunately, the lesser half is the one that takes up the majority of the time. Parts of the game make it look like it could’ve been a minor classic, but it never manages to reach its potential. Instead it feels like a great animated film or rhythm based mini-game collection bogged down by a middling adventure game. There’s some cool stuff in there, but I can’t strongly recommend it unless you’re really desperate for an adventure game on your 3DS.

By Dylan Smith (Aladdin Sane)