The Metronomicon PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4 Developed by Kasedo Games Released in 2016
For somebody who regularly complains about not knowing anything about music, I am actually remarkably into rhythm games. I was having a real good time during the Guitar Hero boom and even nowadays I regularly play games like Melody’s Escape, Audiosurf, and Stepmania. Stian and I are also both really into medieval fantasy and roleplaying games, so when The Metronomicon promised to be a medieval fantasy rhythm game… Well, I just had to play it.
Swords and Sorcery? Nah, in this fantasy universe it’s all about dancing. We begin the game at the graduation of a prestigious dance academy, where our four main characters are in attendance. The headmaster presents one final test, whereupon we are granted the mystical Metronomicon and asked to investigate a series of monster parties in the nearby vicinity.
It’s not amazing storytelling and our characters are kind of simplistic. Wade is a huge jock straight out of Gears of War who acts as a team coach, Gwen is a straightforward and serious paladin girl, Clark is a hopeless romantic with a bit too much ego, and Violet is kind of a deranged pyromaniac, as well as most excited about getting to fight a load of monsters. Each of the game’s zones concludes with a cutscene in which new party members are recruited and the next monster party is discovered, but there is not much in the way of intrigue or drama here. It’s really easy-going and it definitely feels like the story has resigned itself to the fact it’s just a silly excuse to tie levels together.
Story score: 6.5/10
Each zone features a number of songs you can play that each has its own difficulty (which multiplies as you switch between the overall easy, normal, and hard settings) of which you must beat a majority before a boss stage unlocks.
During a song monsters will pop up for you to fight, which you do by hitting keys in rhytm with the game. It’s really in the style of Guitar Hero, Stepmania, and Dance Dance Revolution, where the bottom of the screen displays when you need to press, and you hit the according key once an arrow (which stream in from the top of the screen) reaches the bottom. By default these are the arrow keys or WASD, but you can fully customize the controls to your liking. I ended up setting the keys to ASKL, so the keys lined up with the order they are displayed at on the screen and I’d have enough space to control the game with both hands.
Once you hit a note the next few will turn a brighter color, representing that you began to dance. You’ll have to hit up to the last, bright note in order to perform an attack. Once you level up you’ll unlock additional tiers of attacks, which means you can perform stronger moves if you keep hitting notes past the first stop until the next one, though you’ll perform the tier 1 move (or tier 2 if you were going for a tier 3) ability if you mess up. Once an ability has been performed your character won’t be able to perform another for a few seconds, as no new notes will appear. This is when you can hit shift to switch between the maximum of four party members, who all have their own roles and abilities.
It has to be said that the RPG mechanics in Metronomicon are actually really well thought out. Your entire party shares a health meter, but each character has HP, defense, attack, and magic statistics. This means an enemy who beats up Clarke the healer will take more out of your collective HP than one that attacks the beefier Wade or the armored Gwen. This is where abilities like Taunt come in, which cause enemies to focus their attacks on Gwen for a while. Each character has their use like this, with Violet dishing out a lot of magic damage, but due to elemental advantages she may sometimes underperform when enemies are strong against her best magic, which is where the pure physical damage of Gwen and Wade comes in. Later on you unlock other characters, allowing you to mix up your line-up and experiment with different setups.
Performing well in the missions rewards you with experience and crystals, the former of which levels up your character and improves their stats, whereas the latter improves their abilities. You also get item drops that can be equipped, which sometimes just give a flat stat bonus, whereas others provide different effects. In a fun move, you can also swap out the three abilities each character has, or change their order in the tier. A tier 1 ability may advertise doing light damage, but move it up to tier 3 and that is suddenly major damage. Even so, you’ll have to be sure you can reliably hit notes to pull off that tier 3 move consistently. You also have a “passive” ability that triggers whenever you keep up a streak of notes (keeping in mind that you can miss notes so long as you don’t start dancing) for long enough. Especially Clarke’s passive light heal was useful.
So yes, it’s a novel idea for an RPG to map combat to a rhythm game and with equipment to gather, characters to level, and the option to swap out abilities or entire party-members, this is actually a really developed game. In fact, I kind of struggle to find anything worth complaining about in regards to its gameplay, besides that the estimated song difficulty is sometimes bogus and boss monsters kind of recycle the same strategies and moves a lot. The Metronomicon is unorthodox, but it’s so full of clever design choices you’d almost think rhythm-based fantasy RPGs were an everyday genre they had years of experience with.
Gameplay score: 9.5/10
Not my kind of party, but I’ll show up for the drinks
Music still isn’t my strongest suit and it’s kind of telling that most rhythm games I enjoy are the ones that let you import your own music. While I enjoyed Guitar Hero’s tendencies towards classic rock and for Stepmania I just downloaded a few gigs of anime packs, The Metronomicon is different for me. The game features a wide selection of music and if I had to describe it I’d say it’s more… party-like than I’d prefer. It’s not the trash you are bombarded with on the average radio channel here, but a mixture of pop music, electronical stuff, that kind of jam.
As a fan of classic rock, Jrock, a bit of Jpop, and metal, it’s entirely out of my genre, but I did find some tracks I really enjoyed. Pubstep by Phonetic Hero was a great track, I thought Republic of Gamers was a fun inclusions, and there were a few others song I liked. That’s not to say I was suffering through the rest of the soundtrack, there were a few highlights, and the rest of the OST I just didn’t mind much. Didn’t exactly care for it, but I wouldn’t walk out of a room if somebody started playing it either. Of course your enjoyment of it will be different depending on what kind of music you are generally into, but I’d say Metronomicon’s line-up is rather accessible.
The visuals I find hard to judge, however. It’s clear to me that the each level features animated backgrounds and there is a variety of monsters that some artist probably put a lot of effort into, it’s just that the game gives you no room to appreciate it. Throughout the entire game my focus was entirely affixed to the bottom portion of whatever character I was currently using, I only stole a few glimpses to the sides to see what elemental type my enemy had and how much HP I was on. It’s a game that demands focus and thus I’d have to watch a Let’s Play to really argue if the backgrounds and enemy designs are particularly good. I have my screenshots, but those lack the animations.
What I will say is that I found the character design of our heroes… troubled. The few cutscenes that we get to see feature 2D character sprites in a visual novel-style setup. The voice-acting is okay here, it’s just that the characters look off. The design of their costumes is nice, but their faces and poses are really basic and don’t look good. The eyes, the mouth, it’s just kind of bad, which is a shame because the art-style is really easy on the eyes.
Presentation score: 8/10
Always enough monsters to kill
Besides the main songs you can finish, the game offers optional content in the form of side-quests. Here you’ll be asked to replay a song with a specific goal or extra condition, which will either reward a guaranteed item drop or street cred, which can be exchanged for additional features and new team attacks. One such extra feature is the arena, where you can (again) replay older songs with extra challenges in place, though here it also forces you into specific team compositions and load-outs. This also rewards street cred and items, but I found these a bit obnoxious to play because I suddenly had all my moves mapped to different tiers.
The game also challenges you to get better by offering 3 different difficulty settings for any song, which will increase the amount of notes you’ll have to deal with. While this increases the risk you’ll mess up an ability, it means passive skills get a lot more chances to trigger if you are playing well. Of course there is also a leaderboard available, which will kindly remind you just how many thousands of people are doing a better job than you.
Extras score: 8/10
Metronomicon reminded me a lot of Before the Echo, except it’s a little more developed in the gameplay part, at the cost of the story being not nearly as interesting. It’s a fun game to play and it’s wacky concept is remarkably well-developed. The soundtrack is also strong and its tracks are generally pleasant enough that most people will find it bearable to play through, with a few highlights here and there. I can honestly recommend it, whether you just want to play through it once to experience the crazy take on RPG combat or if you really want to commit to it and see if you can get somewhere decent on the leaderboards.