Kabuki Rocks - Staff Retroview  

Rock & Roll Music
by Mike Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Nutty game world and story
+ Unusual systems and abilities that work
+ Combat moves quickly and effectively
- Language barrier makes the nuttiness hard to grasp
- Enemies run away instead of fighting
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   Red Company has been responsible for a lot of RPGs over the years, few of which have ever made it into English. The Tengai Makyou series is a personal favorite that exemplifies this unfortunate trend, and Kabuki Rocks seems as if it began life in the Tengai Makyou universe. Atlus published Kabuki Rocks while every Tengai Makyou title was released under Hudson's auspices, suggesting why the game does not take place in Jipang. The game's sustained silliness and ability to try new things is what makes the game memorable, even though penetrating the language barrier to unravel its happenings is a challenge.

   The stars of Kabuki Rocks are Rock and Macky, flamboyantly dressed musicians extraordinaire. They are joined by a number of other characters along the way, and the game's cast is a predominantly nutty one. The world they explore is nearly as nutty: instead of a single planet with multiple regions, Kabuki Rocks showcases a total of seven wildly different topographies that are traveled between using a spaceship of some sort. The general plot travels down the familiar path of evil people needing to be beaten, but the atypical setting is a welcome change of pace.

   At first glance, battles proceed like they do in many RPGs. Enemies are randomly encountered and the turn order of combatants is somewhat unpredictable. An unusual nuance to skirmishes is the manner through which money is obtained, where a meter on the right side of the screen goes up as the player lands hits and down as attacks are missed. The meter's height at the end of the battle plays a large role in determining the monetary gain. Also of note is the very high likelihood of enemies running whenever possible, which makes grinding essential since it is often impossible to kill everything in a battle before the enemies act.

   There are spells in Kabuki Rocks, but they operate differently from any other game. Rock and friends are part-time musicians, and they need musical instruments equipped in order to use their powerful songs to affect the landscape. These are acquired early on, but to learn more songs the group has only one option, and it is singing karaoke! After gaining a few levels and visiting the closest karaoke operative, new songs that can be used in battle will be learned. Annoyingly, the bad guys have a knack for closing down karaoke establishments, making songs impossible to learn for stretches of the game.

Vicious footwear is just the beginning of the odd enemies in this game. Vicious footwear is just the beginning of the odd enemies in this game.

   Certain character abilities deserve mention in Kabuki Rocks. Enemy souls sometimes linger for a moment on the map, and if the mysterious Kagekiyo is currently in the party, speaking with the enemy soul will allow the player to fuse it with a character for permanent statistic increases. The character of Fujimusume will always counterattack any physical strike for half the damage dealt to her, which comes in very handy at times. Yuunagi has the ability to join the souls of party members who died in the story to the living, further enhancing combat prowess. These are the most notable of the unexpected qualities characters possess that make the game stand out.

   What is unfortunately something of a detriment turns out to be the visuals. There is very little animation in battle, and outside of battle Kabuki Rocks could have come out with the first generation of Super Nintendo titles instead of in 1994. There are charming touches throughout, such as having every battle take place on a Kabuki stage with a backdrop that looks to have come from a stage production, but the graphics are overall disappointing.

   Sound definitely could have used some kooky voice acting as most games in the Tengai Makyou series received, but like Zero, Kabuki Rocks is on a cartridge system and thus cannot be expected to reproduce voices. The music is at least enjoyable, and most of it sounds distinctly Kabuki-esque. It is somewhat disappointing that the use of music in battle as a magic surrogate does not produce different compositions interjected into combat, but as this would probably have been very annoying it is understandable.

Though speaking during a live performance is quite rude, Rock will not be silenced. Though speaking during a live performance is quite rude, Rock will not be silenced.

   Menus are simple enough to navigate with item descriptions visible at all times, the effects of new equipment visible prior to purchase and equipping, and song-spell effects displayed whenever one is about to use them. Shop menus do have a trick to them that might be vexing, in that everything the player wants to purchase must be selected and then bought as a lump, instead of purchasing specific quantities of one item at a time. This is not a hard adjustment for the player to make and ceases to be an issue swiftly.

   Equipment can be expensive in Kabuki Rocks, and the aforementioned tendency of enemies to run away often will drag out the time spent scouring the land for cannon fodder. Even with this length increase, twenty-five hours will suffice for completing the game. Bosses do pose a moderate threat, but regular enemies pose little challenge and the game as a whole is not difficult. No side quests are readily apparent, but the game does offer the feature of continuing after the final boss is defeated and exploring the world further, which in 1994 was unusual.

   The biggest flaw in Kabuki Rocks is its all-around goofiness that players fluent in Japanese will not have a problem with. The RPG market having been small back in the Super Nintendo days, it is unsurprising that Kabuki Rocks never made it across the Pacific, but some of the game's appeal is lost when the zany onscreen happenings are predominantly inscrutable to the player. Nevertheless, Kabuki Rocks is not a difficult import, and the game does a lot of things that are most enjoyable even through the language barrier, making it a hidden gem in the import catalog of the Super Nintendo.

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