Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure Review
What I personally find incredibly weird, is how Nintendo seem to be publishing/distributing almost every major 3DS title here in Australia. It almost makes it seem like they’re single-handedly attempting to keep their console afloat. It’s not that it needs it, mind you, as it’s got some great games from themselves and third parties. When they announced that they were publishing Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure, I was actually quite surprised. The game did not jump out at me nor did it interest me at all. Why were Nintendo even bothering to localise this title and bring it to us here in Australia? To be fair, developer SEGA have had their fair share of successes when it comes to rhythm games including Space Channel, Samba de Amigo and of course the Jet Set games. Well, after playing the game through, I will most certainly eat my words. Rhythm Thief is an absolute gem with production values up there with games like the Professor Layton series. It’s just so damn good.
Rhythm Thief follows an 18 year old boy named Raphael. Raphael is also Phantom R, an infamous thief known among the Parisians for stealing famous works of art, only to return them days later. While many in Paris shrug this off as a publicity stunt, the Paris Constabulary believes it’s connected to the case of the missing casket. A few years ago, his father disappeared and left behind a single coin containing a mysterious symbol. Discovering that a prized bracelet currently on display at the Louvre also bears the same symbol, Raphael heads out with his trusty dog, Fondue, to investigate the mystery behind the symbol. In his journeys, Raphael encounters a girl named Marie who also possesses a violin containing the same symbol as the bracelet and his father’s coin – and an enemy claiming to be Napoleon himself is also on his tail. The story is nothing too special but it has this kind of charm that makes you want to play through quite a bit. Additionally it does a great job at keeping the player up to speed, recapping them before you begin each session.
Rhythm Thief’s presentation is part of the reason why it’s so charming, the whole game is presented like an anime cartoon series; the cutscenes themselves are fully animated and you’ll feel like you’re actually watching a cartoon. The high production values of these scenes are just a great almost Nintendo-like touch. Of course, when you’re actually playing the game, Rhythm Thief looks amazing too. The designers have done a great job at capturing the look and feel of being in Paris, and it manages to paint the city in a way that will make you sure to visit (regardless of how accurate its depiction is or not). The soundtrack is also top notch, but you’d expect that from a game that’s built around rhythm. The soundtrack is lively and fun, and during more important plot points the tracks that play are brooding and mysterious. The voice tracks, in particular, are quite good. I loved hearing all the characters, though some of the obviously fake French accents did become a bit noticeable. A nice touch that adds a layer of authenticity is that a lot of famous classic pieces are included but reworked to sound a bit more modern, and some music aficionados will definitely appreciate this.
The 3D effect in Rhythm Thief is very well implemented, and in a move that I hardly ever see, the 3D effect is actually really well pronounced during the animated cutscenes themselves as well as the gameplay. The layers in the game are quite pronounced so there’s obvious depth in many scenes, in both gameplay and cinematics. It’s a great accomplishment in actually using the 3D, and while it’s purely a cosmetic thing and doesn’t really add any major effect to the gameplay, it’s still nice to see a developer other than Nintendo implementing 3D at a great depth without any major issues.
There are two distinct components of Rhythm Thief’s gameplay, and the first is the exploration and investigation phase. During this phase, a map of Paris appears on the top screen, while the bottom screen displays the actual area you’re in. The navigation is pretty much the same as the Layton games, where you move around, search a distinct area, and continue moving. Talking to certain characters can of course shed details on the plot, but others can allow you to take on other rhythm games non-essential to the plot. The other, slightly cool, yet kind of shallow feature is the sound recorder. Raphael can record around sixty different sounds and use them to get around. For example, there were times when we had to record a rattle to please a crying baby, or record a rooster noise and play it to wake a sleeping old man. Finally, while in this “phase” of the game, players can tap the screen to uncover medals hidden in the scenery, which can be used to purchase unlockables.
The other component is the rhythm games, which you will play at random points throughout the story similar to how you would play puzzles in the Layton games. Some of the rhythm games are great, but some of them feel really pointless. Overall, though, they feel really well put together and it’s astounding how the development team have managed to find so many different ways to incorporate rhythm into tasks like street fighters, soccer playing and even stealth sections. Following each game, you’ll be rated on your performance but to be quite frank the ranking system is quite flaky (we’ll go into that a little later). All of these rhythm games overall do a great job at utilising the 3DS’s functionality. You’ll use everything the system has to offer easily, and since the games themselves are not too complex many people will be able to enjoy them. Heck, SEGA fans will definitely notice a few games modelled after their favourite franchises too.
When you really break it down, Rhythm Thief is a good game and it’s not too linear; you’ll have free roam of Paris most of the game, but almost all of the time you will know exactly where you have to go. It’s handy to never get lost, though some players will definitely get bored of running around in Paris, talking to people and advancing the plot rather than just getting straight into the rhythm games. Speaking of the rhythm games, they aren’t too complicated. However some of the games that are controlled by the gyroscope just feel very unresponsive and they become just plain unfun. This leads to some rather frustrating road blocks where you’ll have your progress halted for almost 30 minutes and it’s rather jarring. My big two issues are concerned with the sense of rhythm in the game. While the games are fun, I found myself relying on the visual clues to tap or press rather than purely listening to my sense of rhythm and playing along with that. It’s a bit of a bizarre complaint and I’m sure people won’t understand what I mean, but I can’t really explain it. The other issue I have is with the game’s ratings system, which consists of five letters but each game seems to score you quite differently so it doesn’t really feel like a true (or at least comparable) indicator of performance.
Besides the main game, there are quite a few things to do on the side too. “Phantom Notes” can be discovered while exploring Paris and require you to find a sequence of notes. Collecting all of these will unlock additional chapters to play through. Your collected medals can also be used to unlock clips, but we’re a bit annoyed we have to pay to watch clips we’ve already watched, as it feels like an artificial lengthener. Finding all the sounds and recording them will unlock the “Master Instrument”, which is another nice and lengthy side quest to get through. All in all though, Rhythm Thief could take about ten hours to complete, though this could easily go a little bit higher if you wanted to find absolutely everything, or if you skipped a lot you could finish this in around six hours (but why would you?).
There’s also a slew of modes available, well, not a slew, but quite a few. Hard mode is a welcome addition, though I kind’ve wish this was available from the outset. Marathon mode, as the name suggests, puts you up against a gauntlet of mini-games until you fail. You can also replay all the rhythm games in order to bolster your scores, though the lack of leader boards becomes quite apparent. Multiplayer mode is also included, though this is relegated to local play only and allows players to battle it out in rhythm based challenges, many lifted from the main game. Finally, StreetPass enables players to “trade scores” as they pass one another, and if you manage to beat someone their “fandom” will be added to your own version of Paris. It’s a nice touch very similar to the Mii Plaza, but many will wonder just how necessary it is.
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is a great 3DS title that really came out of nowhere for me and impressed me with almost everything that it does. It uses every functionality of the 3DS well, with exception of the gyroscope, and it presents a beautifully depicted world and characters to tell a truly intriguing story. It’s just a bit of a shame that some of my issues with the ranking system, some of the rhythm games’ frustrating nature and the large amount of wandering really stop it from being almost perfect. SEGA are really on to something here, and I really hope that this does well enough to warrant a sequel; I am very keen to see Phantom R dance his way across my 3DS screen at least once more.