Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure Review


November 18th, 2012

Posted in Sega

Une, deux, trois… Magnifique! Extraordinaire! Génial! Ça, c’est un jeu impressionnant. Ah zut, that was my French coming out of me. It’s been happening ever since I started playing Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure on the Nintendo 3DS.

Rhythm Thief is a charming, and even magical story about a boy and his dog groovin’ through the streets of Paris as they unwrap the mystery of his father’s disappearance and the apparent revival of Napoleon Bonaparte. At night, Raphael takes on the guise as “Phantom R” evading authorities while stealing valuable pieces of art. Early on he comes to the aid of Marie whose mysterious past has put her (and him) directly in a dangerous struggle against Napoleon who is in search of the Dragon Crown — an object that could place the city at the feet of l’empereur malveillant. It’s a well-written story with a few twists and turns that will take you by surprise. I am definitely interested in seeing how the plot can be taken further which is hinted at by game’s end.

Years ago my French teacher told the class that if any stranger gets too close, tell them “Hey buddy, ne me touché pas!”. In the case of Rhythm thief you’ll be doing all of the touching – the screen that is. The controls are easy to grasp and simple to execute. The majority of rhythm games usually involve tapping the stylus or sliding it in the appropriate direction. To help with your timing, the designers created subtle hints using color and sound cues that will allow you to not only rely on the music’s beat. Don’t worry about being too exact because the game is forgiving enough to read most of your inputs though I did encounter a few cases where it wasn’t responding to quick movements but it was infrequent. One of the most natural and engaging experiences using the touch screen was when you play the violin as Marie. It works perfectly and it gives the impression that you’re using the bow of a real four stringed instrument.

All of the inputs of the 3DS are utilized in Rhythm Thief and some with more success than others. In the case of using the face buttons and touch screen, it works well but unfortunately there are parts that use the gyroscope that don’t quite function as planned. You will need to turn the 3DS left, right or forward to have the character evade thrown objects. The first few gyroscopic games don’t pose much problem but later on, when the speed is increased, I had a lot of trouble getting the character to move in time since there was a delay going back and forth.

The general structure of the game involves walking around an expanding over world map where you can talk to NPCs, compulsively tap the screen for hidden collectibles or head to the red marker that shows the location and/or person of interest. When you are not checking out La Louvre, you’ll be enjoying one of the many rhythm games.

Running along roof tops, engaging in hand to hand combat, and of course, dancing in tandem with a group of Raphael look-a- likes are just some of the diversions. Not to spoil anything but you’ll get a smile on your face when you encounter a couple of the special mini games, especially if you are a fan of SEGA’s past entries in the genre. It was an absolute delight playing these and shows SEGA’s penchant for reliving their glory days. Sometimes you will need to solve simple puzzles which are a nice break from the usual game flow. An interesting puzzle in the later half requires you to recompose a piece of music; it’s inventive, a little challenging, and provides a memorable experience.

Any rhythm game worth its salt needs to excel in the audio department and thankfully Rhythm Thief steals the show. Story scenes are enhanced with beautiful music that really punctuates what’s happening and the sentiment of the characters. You will feel the magic of “Moon Princess” when your body starts to tingle hearing the soothing vibrations of the violin. It has a style all its own and blends the funk of Ulala, the catchy melodies of Samba de Amigo, the soulfulness of jazz and a touch of opera sprinkled delicately at the top. It may not be SEGA’s best game soundtrack but I would say it has the most refinement in terms of synthesizing game and traditional types of music.

Sega did a great job with the localization on both the dialog and voice acting as well. At the beginning I didn’t care for Raphael’s voice but it eventually grew on me along with the rest of the cast. Most characters have a distinctive French accent and help reinforce the ambience of exploring La Ville-Lumière.

Visually Rhythm Thief holds up well with nice art for the over world and detailed 3D backgrounds during rhythm games. The character designs are solid with special note for the Chevaliers Diabolique; they seem to have drawn inspiration from Jet Set Radio’s Poison Jam gang. However, the character models are very jagged in both 2D and 3D which distracts from the overall presentation. Speaking of the 3D effect, it doesn’t have much punch in the cut scenes but looks rather nice during gameplay.

The amazing hand drawn animation coupled with the smartly implemented cg creates cut scenes that rival the best animation studios. It was thrilling to see when the next cut scene would happen and had me looking down into my 3D stereoscopic display with eyes wide (and perhaps with some drool). One early scene in particular had me stunned just how well the rippled water reflected the lights of the buildings at night. It blended in so well and made me do a double take and a subsequent replay of the scene (something that Brandon would appreciate).

For those who gotta collect ‘em all, each area in the over world map will contain one of four collectibles. Medals are abundant and are used to buy movie clips and extra rhythm games from Auban’s Shop while music disks allow you to listen to the game’s soundtrack. By tapping on specific objects (like a mower, bird, etc.), you will come across different sounds that can be recorded and be used to solve puzzles or to help construct a Master Instrument. Finally, phantom notes are scattered pieces of paper that unlock an extra story element at the end of the game. It’s well worth going through the trouble of finding them all.

Completing the game will take around 10 hours but there are some extra modes that can extend it further. Marathon mode has endless rhythm games that will test your fortitude swiping and dicing and there is multiplayer via download play with street pass functionality.

There is something intangible about classic SEGA games that make them timeless and inherently unique to any other game. They were numerous during SEGA’s time as a hardware manufacturer but have since slowed to a trickle. Rhythm Thief, thankfully, is a glorious reminder of that special era and one of the 3DS’ best games in it’s still growing catalog.

Presentation 9.4 Very high production values for a portable game. Cut scenes are extremely engaging and beautiful.
Gameplay 9.0 Controls are simple and the rythm games varied. Gyro input can be frustrating at times.
Graphics 8.6 The backgrounds are detailed with nice lighting but the character models could use anti-aliasing. 3D effect is used conservatively.
Sound 9.7 One of the best soundtracks in recent memory paired with great voice acting and SFX
Lasting Appeal 9.0 Story mode is short but sweet though improving your rank on rhythm games will keep the beat