Patapon is a rhythm-action RPG developed by Pyramid and published by Sony for the PSP in 2007-2008. It later received a PS4 port in 2017. Following a period of great prosperity, the Patapon tribe has suffered many losses and become opressed by their rivals, the Zigotons. In their darkest hour, the player enters the picture in the form of their ancient god, "Almighty", who must lead them to Earthend to fulfill their destiny by using 4 special drums to guide and empower them.
The story of Patapon is simple, but has more to it than one would think a story about singing eyeballs would have. To start with, I appreciate the weight put on assuming the role of Almighty. The air of reverence the Patapons have for you is very much on point for a god game like this. After watching the intro detailing the legend of the ancient Patapons, you have to sign a contract before playing. After that, you gather a small group of Patapons and set them out to escape their confinement at the hands of the Zigotons.
But once the game gets rolling and you interact more with the Zigotons and their general, Hawkeye Gong, it becomes apparent that the Patapon's quest for Earthend isn't entirely a good thing. Beyond the fact that your Patapons murder Zigotons by the dozen and force them into more and more desperate tactics to try and survive, the Zigotons are also convinced that disaster will befall the world once the Patapon reach Earthend.
As such, it isn't difficult to understand their position and determination to stop the Patapons. Really, it's a game about tribes going to war because they cannot make peace over their beliefs. The game is generally upbeat and silly, but I gotta commend them for adding some shades of gray to the story.
The gameplay of Patapon is unlike anything I've ever seen. While ostensibly being a rhythm-game, it's more like an action-RPG/RTS hybrid controlled via a rhythm interface. Suffice to say, it's very weird, but the game is easy to understand once you've given it a try.
The game is separated into different missions, most being hunts, fortresses to topple and boss fights. Before each mission, you pick what Patapons to send out depending on the mission. For example, ranged units are best suited for hunts, since the melée units scare away prey, while shield-bearing Patapons are great for protecting your back row during sieges.
Once a mission starts (and with it, one of the game's catchy songs), your Patapons stand around doing nothing until you command them. You do this by playing a measure of four beats using the drums assigned to the face buttons. Once you've finished the measure, the Patapons will sing it back and follow the command, with the goal being to use the appropriate commands while maintaining rhythm.
The commands are very simple to both remember and choose between (march, attack, defend, run, charge and such), so the meat of the challenge is in keeping the rhythm and picking the right Patapons for the mission.Though for certain bosses, even picking commands can get difficult, since you want to use the attack command as much as possible, but getting greedy and not defending properly when they're winding up for an attack will get your Patapons squished.
Still, I'd say actually keeping the rhythm is the hardest part, since if you manage to do perfect measures, you'll kick the Patapons into Fever Mode, which quickly becomes vital, since it really boosts the offensive capabilities of your army. And if you perform too poorly, you'll lose Fever and have to build a combo again, which can spell your doom in the worst of circumstances. I'm fine with the game rewarding better play with quicker Fever (especially for people who want to use the supportive miracle spells, which break Fever as activation cost), but to have it break in the middle of a boss because you didn't focus enough on one single measure among dozens really sucks. Maybe I'm somewhat rhythmically impaired, but it still lessened the experience for me.
While fighting can be rough in places, what really drags the game down is the way loot is handled when you're trying to build up your army. To make new Patapons, you need to offer two materials and an amount of Ka-ching (life-energy/money) to the magical Mater tree in Patapolis. The combination of material decides the resulting Patapon and the cost to create them. I have multiple issues with how this is handled.
First of all, getting basic material is much harder than it should be, making it hard to even make an army, nevermind a good one. Branches and stones are needed to make regular Patapons and outside of the non-repeatable fortress missions, they are quite rare. Equipment is even worse, since it can only be found during siege missions.
Medium-tier material is generally easier to get, but that raises the cost of the resulting Patapon and until you know what Patapons to aim for with every class, its unclear if you should even make it, since the basic Patapons have an extra equipment slot. The material combinations are thankfully completely predictable (item rank + item rank = resulting Patapon, so 2 + 1 gives you the rank 3 Patapon), but you are given no information on what the resulting Patapon can do. And to even change your lineup, you have to kill old Patapons to make room.
So if you're unhappy with your set of 3 rank 2 horse-riding Patapons and decide to kill one to make a rank 3 one instead, only to find out that the buffs it gets are ill-suited for the class, you're unable to go back without making a new rank 2 Patapon. It really disincentivizes experimentation, especially when it comes to rare material, which is a real crap-shoot to aquire, since each material type is spread among a few bosses, making their possible range of drops pretty varied. If you know what Patapons you need when, you won't need much rare material, but to get that knowledge, you have to play the game and potentially get stone-walled in a late-game mission and go back and grind material, like what happened in the playthrough I did for this review. Not to mention that you can lose Patapons if you let them get eaten by a boss!
There are a few mini-games available meant to alleviate material grinding (provided you find the hidden Patapons that oversee them, which isn't easy), but even then, you can't use them to get everything. And some of them are a bit difficult, so save-scumming is basically a requirement for the stuff you can get from them, particullary the legendary weapons. Everything in the game is neat and inventive, so it's a shame that it gets brought down by having such an annoying progression system.