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Athenian Rhapsody Review

Athenian Rhapsody Review

You may want to prepare yourself for this one, things are about to get weird. In all my years of writing about games, I’ve never experienced anything quite like Athenian Rhapsody. This choose-your-own-adventure RPG from developer Nico Papalia is certifiably insane and packed full of jokes, player choice, and surreal environments. But, does all this madness work in the game’s favour? Or is it just too much for this reviewer's fragile mind to handle?

Before getting into any gameplay, Athenian Rhapsody starts with a personality test. A dog/cloud/baseball… thing (who we later learn is named Thunder Goober) asks you a series of questions with a variety of options to answer with. When the questions include gems such as “there’s a fork in the road, which path do you take?” with the answers being the “smelly” or the “moist” path, it doesn’t take long for things to get odd! It isn’t immediately apparent what these questions mean in the grand scheme of things, but they do help to shape your adventure later down the road.

After the intro, you awake in Athens (although not the one you’re thinking of) and meet your Save File, who introduces themselves as “less like a stalker, and more a mandatory friend” before shoving you off a waterfall. Not very friendly! Thus begins the writing of your Rhapsody, with the story unfolding based on the choices you make. The game claims that no playthrough can be replicated by another player, a bold statement that sounds almost Molyneux-esque but one I hope has some truth behind it.

No matter which way your story plays out, you can expect plenty of laughs, many memorable party members, and some surprisingly touching moments along the way, despite the eccentric nature of the game. It’s hard not to be drawn in by such a surreal experience, and it’s certain to have you grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire adventure.

The retro look of Athenian Rhapsody is an endearing, vibrant aesthetic that takes inspiration from games of the past whilst adding a more modern feel. Environments, for example, are full of foliage swaying in the breeze, creatures just hanging out, and more colour variation than a Matisse painting.

Character and enemy designs are absolutely off the rails, and I mean that in the best possible way. You’ve got creatures that look like Kirby inhaled Cloud Strife, a Namekian that failed a fusion attempt with a spider, and so many more weird and wonderful designs. They’re all charming in their own way, if a little unhinged at times, but the creativity on show is really something to be applauded!

Finally, the music ties it all together to give a sense of “Hey, did I play this back in the ‘90s?” thanks to the simple — yet effective — use of chiptunes. Credit to the artist, Arpbug, for creating such a fun, upbeat soundtrack that really fits well with the tonal themes of the game!

Athenian Rhapsody definitely has a feel of Undertale within its gameplay mechanics, particularly when it comes to its turn-based battles. During your turn, you have the option to attack, use special powers known as Bursts, or switch to another party member and use their unique skills. However, you can also attempt to befriend each opponent and resolve things peacefully, with enemies having a meter separate from their health bar to indicate how close you are to making friends with them.

Either way, you’ll also have to dodge enemy attacks by running around a small, squared area that has items flying every which way. It almost felt like a bullet hell title in some of the tougher fights, and you’ll need sharp reflexes to ensure you’re not hit with a swift game over! No matter how you go about each combat encounter, though, there’s always a good amount of goofy, humorous dialogue during each bout (mainly light insults thrown your way). Despite the turn-based battle system not being revolutionary, I still never found myself rolling my eyes and quickly escaping whenever I jumped into a random battle. If you are struggling, the “Help!” menu also gives you some useful tips (including an incredibly beautiful piece of advice when selecting the “I’m sad when I go to bed at night!” option), but if they’re still not enough to assist you in a particularly taxing fight, you can always activate Chill Mode! This gives you a few seconds of invincibility after each time you take damage and gives everyone a fighting chance to fully experience the game without replaying the same boss battle for hours on end.

Outside of combat, you’ll explore the strange world of Athens from a top-down viewpoint, wandering the mostly linear areas to find the next story point. You’ll come across a variety of puzzles, too, some of which are silly, some a bit more perplexing. It’s all very well-designed and kept me engaged throughout my initial playthrough. Its simplicity shouldn’t be considered a negative, though, as the main draw is definitely the story and fascinatingly odd creatures you’ll encounter.

There’s also an option to play through other Rhapsodies by inputting other player’s user tags. As I played this pre-launch, I didn’t get the chance to check out this system, but it’s a unique way to play through a friend's version of the game. Of course, as the game points out, you’ll need friends in real life to do this!

There is a lot to love about Athenian Rhapsody, and I would wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try. From the silly characters to the challenging combat and old-school style aesthetics, this is a genuinely great game. This type of humour certainly won’t be to everyone's taste, but for me, it’s the perfect amount of quirky and surreal. I’m excited to start a new Rhapsody and eventually play through my friends’ adventures to see just how varied this title can be!

9.50/10 9½

Athenian Rhapsody (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

A wonderfully weird adventure, Athenian Rhapsody is both unhinged and charming in equal measure. A delight to play with genuinely enjoyable combat, this is an easy recommendation!

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Mike Crewe

Mike Crewe

Staff Writer

Bought a PS5 and won't stop talking about it

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LuznoLindo - 09:48am, 17th May 2024

This won't become the next Undertale, but it's still a fine addition to the independent RPG library.

MickSaveMOYF - 10:31am, 17th May 2024 Author

It's hard to imagine anything capturing the attention of so many people like Undertale did!