Backlog Battle: Week 2

Jacob Nash

Week TwoRhythm and Action

Melody of Memory, Rhythm Thief, and Harmoknight

The rhythm game genre is a relatively recent genre of video games compared to genres like roleplaying, racing, and sports. A subgenre of action games, rhythm games became popular in the late 90s and early 2000s with titles like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and PaRappa the Rapper. Rhythm games continue to be popular in recent times, and there are a few newer titles that I will be looking at this week.


Why I Bought It: I got a Nintendo 3DS as a Christmas gift in 2019, about eight years after it was released. Since the 3DS’s online store is set to close later in March, I had a short window of time to buy and play games. Harmoknight was just one of many games I bought at this time, so it fell to the wayside compared to more popular games exclusive to the 3DS.

What Took Me So Long: Rhythm is not exactly my favorite video game genre, so it took me a while to get around to playing Harmoknight.

My Experience: Harmoknight is a simple game at its core, only using two buttons. Once you learn how to attack with the A button and jump with the B button, you’ve learned the game. Despite this, I found that this game tests your rhythm and reaction time pretty well.

You control Tempo, a young “Harmoknight” in training. Harmoknights are warriors that use magical music note-shaped staffs to battle noisy monsters. Tempo automatically runs to the right of each level, where music notes and monsters will be waiting for him. You can beat each level by jumping and attacking, but only if you’re on beat. Messing up can make Tempo miss out on collecting music notes, or worse, take damage. If you take too much damage, you’ll run out of hearts and have to restart the level. On top of that, you need to collect enough music notes to unlock later levels. Certain games, like this one, bring out the perfectionist in me. I found myself manually restarting from the pause screen every time I missed a note or took damage. A perfect run is awarded with a congratulatory “Bravo!” After beating a level, you can try a faster, more difficult version of that level to unlock unique artwork upon completion.

Where Harmoknight truly shines is in its presentation. Every action in a level is given a musical flair, from jumping to collecting notes to whacking monsters with your staff. Levels that feature boss battles are given dynamic camera angles that make them stand out from the standard side-scrolling fare. Cutscenes are presented in a comic book style, with speech bubbles that punctuate prominent sound effects. With a game that is simple in its controls and gameplay, the presentation really goes a long way. Harmoknight offers little in terms of gameplay variance, but what it offers is great in short bursts.

Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure

Why I Bought It: Rhythm Thief was the last game I bought for the 3DS after hearing about the online store’s imminent closure. I heard it was a great title, and there was no way I was buying a physical version.

What Took Me So Long: Seeing as there were lots of games I had yet to play before Rhythm Thief, it moved to the back of the line.

My Experience: While fellow 3DS rhythm game Harmoknight was simple but consistent in its gameplay, Rhythm Thief took a scattershot approach. One level has you using the 3DS stylus to swipe the lower screen in different directions, while another has you pressing the A and B buttons to evade policemen. You will have different prompts to follow on the bottom screen as the main character Raphael dances through the streets of France on the top screen. Timing each prompt to the beat of the music is key, as your aim is to get a good rank on each level. You’ll start at a D rank, but good rhythm will net you an A rank. You can clear levels with any rank, but the better you do, the more medals you’ll receive, and these medals can unlock bonus content as you progress through the game.

The game features a large focus on its story, which gravitates around Raphael searching for his missing father. Raphael lives a double life as Phantom R, an art thief. The plot kicks off as Phantom R must break into the Louvre to steal a bracelet connected to his father’s disappearance. Action-packed rhythm levels are broken up by slower paced gameplay where you must use the 3DS’s bottom screen to solve puzzles. I had no problems with the change in pace, although I imagine some players would want to get right to the action.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory

Why I Bought It: I had never played a Kingdom Hearts game before, so it might seem strange for me to start with a rhythm spinoff. The reason I started with Melody of Memory was due to the ultra-popular crossover fighting game Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Sora, the main protagonist of Kingdom Hearts, was the last character to join the roster. People who had save data of Melody on Memory on the Nintendo Switch would unlock music when they played Smash.

What Took Me So Long: Since I bought Melody of Memory mainly for content that would be unlocked in Smash, I played the latter more often.

My Experience: Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is by far the most complex rhythm game of the three I played this week. Complexity is actually a good word to describe the whole Kingdom Hearts series. The unique combination of Square Enix video games and Disney movies has led to two decades of action role playing games for a bevy of gaming systems. With so many games before it, Melody of Memory has the difficult task of summarizing the story so far while also delivering fun rhythm gameplay.

You control Sora, along with his Disney allies Donald Duck and Goofy. The three run forward and must fend off enemies to the music. Pressing either the A, L, or R button right before an enemy attacks will defeat it. There will be times when you’ll have to press two or three of those buttons at once to defeat multiple enemies. Additionally, you must press the B button to jump over obstacles, glide through the air to collect music notes, and attack airborne enemies. It’s a lot to keep track of, but there are multiple difficulty modes to ease players in before giving them a challenge.

Levels are cleared by finishing without losing all of your health, denoted by the green bar at the bottom right of the screen. A level’s progress is tracked at the bottom left. Getting hit by enemies not only makes you lose health, but it also breaks your chain. You’ll get a score bonus if you can beat a level without missing a beat. You’ll also gain stars from completing objectives, and the stars are used to unlock later levels and cutscenes. With cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, as well as a museum where you can view art, cutscenes, and music from across the Kingdom Hearts series, Melody of Memory is a much more substantial game than the other rhythm games I discussed. It will, however, take the longest to fully complete.

Summary: If you enjoy rhythm games that focus on action, I would recommend all of these games. Harmoknight is the shortest and simplest of the three, but I found it endearing and surprisingly polished. Rhythm Thief integrates its plotline into the gameplay very well, and it has the most gameplay variance. Melody of Memory is ironically the easiest game to track down, due to selling for retail value both physically and digitally on multiple consoles. Harmoknight is stuck on a system that is about to shut down its online store, and Rhythm Thief goes for absurdly high on the secondhand market. A physical copy of Rhythm Thief goes for anywhere from $130 to $300, five times the price of your average game today. The other advantage Melody of Memory has over the other two games is its robust amount of content. If you’re able to find these games, I’ll bet you’ll have a great time. (And if you don’t like the gameplay, you’ll at least have some great music to listen to.)

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