Comedy RPG Athenian Rhapsody is a child of Undertale with GBA visuals in which playthroughs become postcards

I have a couple of takes on Nico Papalia’s new RPG Athenian Rhapsody, which launched on Steam yesterday and still has a demo. The first is that it’s a brighter, glitzier version of Toby Fox’s Undertale that looks like it belongs on Gameboy Advance – a retro parody created in GameMaker whose turn-based combat houses many an inventive minigame, and whose writing doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as moonwalk along the parapet, showering the player in poop, anime tropes and off-colour mental health advice.

The Steam blurb describes it as at once “zany”, “goofy” AND “wacky”, an unholy trifecta that would typically have me reaching for the hose, but here’s the thing: some slightly overplayed toilet humour aside, I did find Athenian Rhapsody’s demo quite funny. There’s an enemy you can befriend by plying it with conspiracy theories about cats, for example, and the “Thunder Goober” who presides over the first dungeon gets mighty passive-aggressive about you skipping tutorials.

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The combat minigames are a hoot, too: one floods the window and has you dodging projectiles while battling the aquatic physics. I haven’t reached it yet, but there’s another in which you have to paint your own picture. I also think that Athenian Rhapsody has that undertone of earnestness any parody needs to stave off obnoxiousness. The earnestness comes across especially in the detail of the top-down world – there are bell-shaped flowers that jingle when you walk through them, for example. In general, every character and interaction feels very considered, however spun for giggles.

I could see myself enjoying the reported 10-or-so remaining hours. But the bigger draw for me is what comes after you finish. Athenian Rhapsody’s signature quirk is the titular Rhapsody system, whereby every decision, action or event in a playthrough is supposedly recorded and alchemised into a glittering collectible postcard, which you can then lovingly decorate with unlockable badges, postmarks and patterns, and which plugs into a wider metagame. Here’s the full explainer from the Steam page:

The information contained in a Rhapsody ranges from each character you’ve interacted with as well as how many times your protagonist has farted.

Each time you complete a playthrough, you’ll receive a Rhapsody. Each Rhapsody acts as a way to take something tangible from your experience with your playthrough, and hold onto it forever. There are even ways to create new Rhapsodies by combining them, to multiply their complexity and create something absolutely insane!

You’ll be able to use these Rhapsodies in various ways such as socializing with friends, accessing special timed in-game event adventures, and maybe even something outside of the game one day. Who knows! The sky is the limit!

If you’re like me, you’ll be squinting at the reference to “something outside of the game” and speed-dialling the NFT police. But Rhapsodies don’t appear to be a cryptocurrency: Papalia says the chief inspiration was collecting and sharing Pokémon.

“As a huge Pokémon fan, I knew the feeling players had when completing a playthrough with a Pokémon and having a special bond to the character you own,” they observe in a recent chat with Game Developer. “It serves as a token or relic of your adventure through a region that reminded you of all of the challenges and shenanigans that happened during that time.

“I wanted to somehow combine the feeling of having a special Pokémon of your own with which players build a relationship with and cherish but without the actual Pokémon, since I was making Athenian Rhapsody and definitely don’t have the rights to add Poliwhirl into the game.”

All told, I think this could be one of those “quietly revolutionary” projects that doddery old critics like me tend to miss – its biggest failing, perhaps, is that the cleverness at work gets lost behind the insatiably jocular presentation and barrage of competing concepts. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to play more.

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