Buy The Metronomicon
Music has been a theme of quite a few RPGs. There was Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure on the Nintendo DS and PlayStation, and Eternal Sonata revolved around musician Frederic Chopin's final days. The Metronomicon touts itself as another musically inspired RPG, but it's a little different from what you may expect.
The story blends modern musical trappings with a medieval setting, but it isn't as odd as it sounds. It is graduation day for a few of the students of the Neon Shield Academy, a place that studies rhythmic phenomena via the mystic book known as the Metronomicon. Recently, meteors have crashed on the planet with foul music, which has attracted monsters with disastrous results. With knowledge of how to use the power of dance to fight back against the monsters, it is your sworn duty to stop any raves that pop up in the world.
If you're expecting an epic story like any other RPG, forget it. Beyond the setup, the rest of the tale revolves around finding new members for your party and discovering the location of the next rave. It doesn't get any deeper than that, and with the characters not evolving from the beginning to the end, the story is more framework than anything of substance.
RPG mechanics don't deviate too much from the norm. The characters you start with in your four-person party and those you pick up along the way fill pre-determined classes, whether it's a berserker, healer, rogue or warrior. Each one has distinct moves, and they can be equipped with anything you won in battle to augment their stats or increase their potency with elements.
Speaking of which, The Metronomicon employs a system where both monsters and almost all actions fall into one of four element categories (air, earth, electricity and water). As expected, some elements are stronger against others, while matching elements lessens the amount of damage dealt. When all else fails, there's physical damage, which isn't as strong as elemental, but nothing can lessen its overall impact. As for your abilities, you can have up to three active at a time, each occupying different tiers that determine their potency. You can also equip a secondary ability that automatically triggers once preset criteria are met during a battle.
That's really the extent of the RPG mechanics, as everything else has been removed or simplified. There's no currency, so shops don't exist. The closest you'll get to that is Street Cred, which is only used to unlock more options and team abilities, like the chance to hear music tracks on their own or add new team attacks. You can't modify your stats, and general leveling up takes care of that for you. There's no need to worry about switching and using all party members to level them up, since inactive members get the same XP and benefits as active ones, leaving you to focus on getting the best lineup and using them exclusively. The title has just enough to be considered an RPG.
As for rhythm game mechanics, you're looking at a mix between Dance Dance Revolution and Frequency. Colored arrows come from the top of the screen, and your job is to hit them in the target area so they get counted. Complete a sequence, and you can choose to keep going to utilize your other abilities or switch to another character's lane to start on their abilities, triggering your completed one in the process. Though this is how it plays out most of the time, some enemy attacks can add bad notes to your lane, rotate them to confuse you, or add fog to the upper half of the note lane so you can't easily see what's coming next. At worst, they can unleash a meteor attack that wipes out your notes for a while and tasks you with jumping from lane to lane to hit all of the notes. As in many rhythm games, you'll need to finish the song to be granted a victory, though the number of enemies you encounter in a battle depends on how quickly you can dispatch your foes before the song ends.
Much like the RPG aspects, the rhythm game mechanics can be quite forgiving in certain areas. The grading of note hits is gone, so there's no need to worry if a good hit won't do as much damage as a perfect hit. Instead, the target leeway is wide enough that the only real way to fail is by hitting notes way off time or hitting the wrong one altogether. So long as you complete enough notes for a level 1 ability, missing a note simply activates the ability instead of penalizing you for a miss. The note streak remains intact at this time, and the same happens when switching lanes, since nothing is counted against you until you start hitting buttons again. You also don't lose any energy if you miss notes, which is a nice bonus if you're a tad clumsy on the controller or keyboard.
When both RPG and rhythm mechanics come together, the result is a game that just works. The rhythm and RPG sections aren't overly complicated. You have a good deal of freedom when it comes to configuring your abilities and character lineup, so you can easily fall into a cadence when it comes to balancing which abilities occur at which times. Fighting is frantic but not distracting enough for you to panic and lose your place. It does a great job of making classic rhythm gameplay count for more than just high scores.
Of course, the only way for anyone to appreciate this is with the help of a good soundtrack. Thankfully, The Metronomicon delivers. There are a number of dance songs here, but the soundtrack runs the gamut, and a variety of genres are represented. The artists aren't exactly on constant mainstream radio rotation, but there are some pretty well-known names, including DJ Sultan, Jimmy Urine from Mindless Self Indulgence, Mega Ran and Shiny Toy Guns, to name a few. There are around 50 tracks, and there are no duds in the set, making this one of the stronger licensed soundtracks in recent memory.
The campaign is structured pretty well, so you're given an initial list of songs to choose from in each environment. Finishing a song levels up your party pretty quickly, but it also opens up more songs in the environment. Beat enough of the songs, and you can go straight to the boss level, skipping the other tracks in the process since the boss level is the only real gate before unlocking the next stage. Aside from going after extra items and XP, you'll want to finish off all of the songs, since some open up side-quests. The side-quests differ from regular stages in that you'll have special conditions to fulfill, such as beating a boss under par time or hitting long note streaks. Completing all of these gets you even more XP, more items and Street Cred.
While the campaign isn't overly lengthy, a few modes can provide some longevity. Arena mode is similar to side-quests in that it gives special rewards for completion. However, you're given a specific configuration instead of being able to use your own party. Free Play mode lets you play any song you want, and each song has an individual leaderboard. After a recent patch, you can make your own steps for songs you import in OGG format. If you don't feel like making the steps, you can also import any steps made with StepMania; numerous ones are already available for any song you imagine. You can also play these songs in Campaign mode but without the chance to gain items or XP for it. If you've always wanted to play with StepMania but didn't have a dance mat for it, here's your opportunity.
Speaking of dance mats, The Metronomicon does a great job of supporting loads of control schemes. Aside from your standard keyboard, controller and dance mat, both guitars and drum kits are supported as well, and the game supports the correct lane highways to match all of those interfaces.
With everything that the game gets right, there are still portions that aren't done as well. The idea of almost everything having elemental traits is fine, but since you don't have an idea of which elemental monsters you're facing, the system becomes less important. The game is also laid out in such a way that it is sometimes difficult to figure out what's going on. The most important part of the game is the note highway, but focusing on that exclusively blinds you to other meters and important icons. You can see your party's energy meter because of its size and proximity to the note highway, but you'll only see the enemy's meter if you catch a glance when there's a break in the notes. The same goes for any icons at the bottom that denote party ailments or icons at the top that remind you of which ability is in which tier. Memorizing those attacks will help in this regard, but the game is so busy that you'll only see everything happening if you're watching someone else play.
Whereas the song selection is the strongest part of the audio, the rest of it is simply mediocre. The sound effects are understandably more muted than normal to emphasize the songs being played, but they tend to lack any punch. Earthquake and melee attacks sound muted, while other elemental attacks don't sound like they have anything associated. The vocal performances range from decent to terrible. You either have a case where the voice may be correct but the delivery is all wrong or the lines just weren't that good to begin with. You can fast-forward through cut scenes, so you don't have to hear it all, but you can't escape them during battle, and that's where it fails to inspire.
Graphically, the title is pretty colorful. The party theme of every battlefield ensures that light beams and a light-up floor appear regardless of the setting, even if it's in the middle of a forest. The character and enemy designs aren't exactly the best-looking, and the faces look a little odd in some of the cut scenes. The designs look pretty good, and it's funny to see enemies dance in their outfits.
The Metronomicon is a game for those who want their rhythm games to be a little different. Though the story is inconsequential, the various RPG elements spice up an otherwise nice twist on the standard rhythm game formula. The different modes give the game some legs, while the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. Despite a few flaws here and there, The Metronomicon is certainly recommended for rhythm fans.
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