Patapon: How I Learned To Love Rhythm Games

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I never really liked rhythm games. It wasn’t because I didn’t like music; I’ve been writing and playing music for over a decade now. No, it was mostly because every rhythm game I played, whether it was Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero, seemed to revolve around a goal that I just had no interest in: getting a high score for the sake of getting a high score. Despite the history of the high score and its importance to video games since the dawn of arcades, nothing about seeing my name up there in the top 10 ever appealed to me. It’s for this reason that I always avoided rhythm games. That is, until I played Patapon.

Playing through the Patapon series has given me an appreciation for the patience and exactness that rhythm games ask of their players, something Rock Band never really provided. Sure, it’s satisfying to 100% a song like Jordan on Expert but after that, then what? You’ve hit the ceiling and the ride was frustrating as hell with basically no pay out.

Maybe that’s the reason that I’ve always liked RPGs over arcade-style games. At least with RPGs it feels like you’re getting somewhere, even if it’s only a small step in the right direction. Growing from level 1 to level 2 at the beginning of an RPG is probably the most gratifying feeling when I play a game. It feels like I’m actually getting somewhere.

So why does Patapon break the rhythm game mold for me? At its core, Patapon is a dungeon-crawling, party-building RPG in the truest sense of the genre. You gather “crafting” items to build up your army and customize each member of your 20 Patapon party. What’s more, you can choose between builds immediately before entering a dungeon, opting for fire-resistant archers and fast-but-weak foot soldiers (if you’ve unlocked and upgraded those builds). Everything about this game–except the gameplay itself–is the same as your Final Fantasy Tactics and your Fire Emblems.

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It was because of these RPG elements that I gave Patapon a chance. At first it was frustrating, cringing through the dungeons, trying desperately to match the beat and get into a groove when all I really wanted to do is get back to the main camp so I can start to apply my newly-found items towards customizing my little eyeball dudes.

After playing through Patapon for a while, I wrote an article on the subject of music-based games and realized that my interest in rhythm games has significantly evolved from what it used to be (namely, watching sweaty teenagers play DDR at the mall). I bought Elite Beat Agents and have been playing like crazy, not even realizing that beating a level has no real payout other than opening a new level. The stories aren’t even connected and I don’t care at all.

Patapon really forced me to engage with something that I hated and eventually taught me to appreciate the intricacies of the genre: waiting patiently for combos to appear, keeping those combos going, strategizing even as you keep the beat while triplets snap across the screen. Overall, I’d say that I’m pleased as these types of in-roads don’t come along every day. It might even be worth investigating what other genres I’ve ignored and seeing if I can find a middle-ground game that’ll introduce me to it.

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