Athenian Rhapsody Review – Missing the Joke

Have you ever watched stand-up comedy and sat there thinking “is this bad, or am I just missing the joke?” Most of my time with Athenian Rhapsody was spent thinking exactly that, its (many) jokes mostly falling flat.

All Jokes, No Substance

Athenian Rhapsody sees you play as an eternally smiling kid who ends up in the world of Athens. Along the way, you meet a large cast of weird creatures and attempt to figure out why everyone is suddenly obsessed with gathering XP.

From the get go, it’s hard not to keep thinking back to Undertale and Deltarune (even if the latter technically isn’t fully released yet.) Both games — which already took some inspiration from titles like Earthbound — seem to have formed the basic outline for many of Athenian Rhapsody’s systems.

You have a character that ends up in a world filled with non-humans, writing that leans more toward comedy most of the time, and an interactive battle system that also lets you spare enemies. In the case of Athenian Rhapsody though, the writing veers so far into comedy that any attempts at serious moments fall completely flat.

Each area is dense with NPCs you can talk with, towns having large groups of characters no matter where you go. Thing is, these characters are shallow by design, often there to tell a single joke and nothing more. While novel to start with, after a few hours I really didn’t feel like talking with NPCs just to read a joke that I likely wouldn’t find funny.

This causes a couple of problems. The first is that a lot of Athenian Rhapsody relies on you making choices, and going out of your way to discover side events and areas. My drive to actually do so was rather low because of the game’s writing — I’d say 19 out of 20 NPCs would have nothing interesting to say, with only the occasional quest or event to break things up.

For me, Undertale worked because the amount of characters weren’t so densely packed. Athenian Rhapsody often feels like too much all at once, not helped by the incredibly cramped field of view. The writing in that game was also (for me) a little wittier, sometimes relying on wacky humour but also giving time for more serious character moments.

Athenian Rhapsody instead goes way too far into zany humour, and the few times the game seemingly tries to be serious, it doesn’t land at all. For some the focus on jokes might be a plus (especially if you vibe with this style of humour), but for me the balance was completely wrong.

Combat Carries… Mostly

On the more positive side of things, Athenian Rhapsody takes the minigame style of Undertale’s combat and uses it to good effect.

Enemy attacks generally take the form of various projectiles and objects that you must actively dodge. Some fights change up how you move, such as having you swim, or even throw in different minigames entirely — a joke involving a rhythm minigame was one of the few that actually landed, despite being predictable.

You have the option to not attack enemies too, choosing to talk with them and become friends instead. Befriending enemies yields no XP, which can make fights hard — though you can always respawn enemies by leaving and returning to an area.

When it comes to difficulty, Athenian Rhapsody does feel all over the place at times. Most regular enemies are pretty simple to take out, then you’re suddenly jumped by a boss that can kill you in three hits.

Making the weird difficulty worse is the fact that by default, there’s basically no invincibility period after being hit. This leads to certain attacks hitting you multiple times, wiping away large chunks of HP at once. “Chill Mode” fixes this, giving you a few seconds of reduced damage after being hit, though it feels like the default mode should be somewhere in the middle.

Outside of combat, exploration is pretty linear. There are secrets and sidequests (most unfortunately tied to talking with unfunny NPCs until you find something of substance), though the general path is simple to figure out. Inventory space is also very limited, giving you little reason to actively try and find items.

Pleasant Presentation

Visually, Athenian Rhapsody is actually quite nice. The spritework is competent, with the main character looking like a combination of a Pokemon protagonist and Link from The Minish Cap. It’s also one of the areas where the random humour actually helps, since you’ll end up seeing a lot of strange characters along the way.

It’s a good thing the sprites are well done, since the game’s default view is so cramped that you can barely see anything at most times. I was almost reminded of playing certain GBA games where even simple area layouts could feel like a maze, since you can barely see what’s coming.

There’s also some catchy background music, fitting in with the unserious tone of the game. Honesetly, it’s probably why the battle music ends up being so funny to me. You’re listening to energetic battle themes that mostly wouldn’t sound out of place in a regular RPG, except you’re now fighting a clown.

Athenian Rhapsody Review | Final Impressions

Athenian Rhapsody is billed as a game where each player’s experience is different, and that you can play through multiple times to find new paths. But due to the focus on wacky characters over good writing, I had a hard time even wanting to finish a single run. I’d imagine some people might still have a good time, but I can safely say Athenian Rhapsody was not for me.

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Isaac Todd
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