Athenian Rhapsody Review: Go Make Some Friends Your Own Way, Cornball

Choices to matter as they'll shape you fate in off-the-wall wacky adventure, Athenian Rhapsody - available for all platforms!

Athenian Rhapsody has been my nightly read come bedtime these past couple of weeks. No, I’m not one for sniffing the insides of Lee Child’s 44th Reacher novel with my Horlicks, but, as a gamer, I’m likely to put on my Steam Deck to rock me off to sleep.

That tends to be a qualifier with reviews: can I play it on the plastic Valve? If not, it drops down the priority list. That said, I’m losing patience with the device and its inability to compromise with so many games, that a ROG Ally is on the cards. Fortunately for Nico Papalia’s hilarious RPG, it plays beautifully on the Deck.

That’s good, as reading through the quirky dialogue or dunking my head into another abstract mini-game battle in the guise of Knuckle Sandwich made for many a good night’s sleep of joy, absurdity, and imaginary friend-making. However, it’s a bit different from the journey expected.

Alarm bells might be ringing for Nico or Top Hat Studios, but compose yourselves as it’s not a negative, just an observation. Based on the off-the-wall trailers (do check them out), there was an assumption that Athenian Rhapsody would be more quick-fire with completion tokens flowing faster than the escalating drama between the big three in hip-hop. It’s much more orchestrated than that.

Athenian Rhapsody Review - Pump!
Pump! Source: Steam

First, it’s pretty challenging. Moving your chap around a poppin’ 16-bit top-down isometric RPG is easier than skimming through a video game review on an indie website, yet the combat is not. Your little hero will shrink to fit within the confines of a battle arena, and the enemy you’re battling will join you and launch, poke, snarl, or fire all manner of projectiles for you to evade in real time. It’s challenging yet entertaining. 

Commands are similar to most: attack, consume, flee, friend up… Friend up, you say? Athenian Rhapsody promotes violence and friendship, as you can woo your enemy with quips that relate to their tastes. Either reduce their energy bar or fill their friendship bar, and it’s a win all around—unless you die. Challenging as it may be, you’re offered a chill mode after a couple of deaths, but hang in there, Pickle. I believe in you.

Aside from the basics and opportunities for companionship, each character has specials that can offer offence, defence, and support. A gauge refills each time you complete a particular move, adding plenty of variety to a mechanic that could quickly become monotonous. It doesn’t, as Athenian Rhapsody is fun throughout, and it bloody well knows it.

Where variety is key, the comedy makes this a speedy recommendation for anyone even remotely interested in the genre. The Thunder Goober character, similar to Whisper from Yokai Watch (nobody will get that reference), a pair of gym bros named Richard and James with their narcissistic tendencies, and a save function that congratulates you for saving the world each time you do it truly make for an immersive experience. Nico has nailed the entertainment value.

So this is the bit where I release the poo and drop it from a good height. Wrong author – that’s not going to happen. My only negative criticism would be the unpredictable elements of the battles, where they’ll verge more on chance than skill. Additionally, as witty and self-aware as the game is, it does get repetitive. But hey, that’s on the genre in general. If you’ve got beef with that, write to your local council or send Richard and James around to duff them up.

Athenian Rhapsody is funny, unpredictable, and responsible around small children but does not socialise well with other pets. The anticipation for this game came from the excellent promotional material, and it delivered. There were no cinematics, ‘not actual gameplay footage’ sub-text or mis-advertising; it fulfilled every word apart from being able to whiten my teeth or lower my cholesterol.

The verdict?