IAN BLUM·SATURDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2019
It’s kind of a 2D pixel Metroidvania, Nier Automata; minus the androids/giant mechs, replace them with anime bunny girls, add +8 fan service points, and you have Rabi-Ribi.
(That being said, Rabi-Ribi was around a good year and a half before Nier Automata.)
Rabi-Ribi is a game whose most interesting dynamic blends hack and slash, action rpg, beat/rhythm game, visual novel, and bullet hell elements, in a genre smoothie that games were not offering a few years back. This entwined with the anime bunny girl theme, and I almost want to liken this idea to the song Old Town Road; taking elements from (at least) two seemingly opposing or different genres, and casting them under a symbiotic spotlight where they can both shine; without taking the focus away from either inspiration. Nobody thought they would go together, yet here we are, and it just works, and the combination feels so naturally established and classic right off the bat.
Rabi-Ribi follows the seemingly nonsensical adventures of Erina, only the most kawaii of all the bunny girls, and her trusty sidekick Ribbon, a little fairy with a snarky attitude, who shoots magic lasers at your command.
The story begins with Erina, once a regular bunny rabbit separated from her master, finds herself waking up from a cardboard box, in an unfamiliar place. That, and she’s no longer a bunny, but a human dressed in very suggestive outfit and bunny ears. Confused and scared (and rightfully so), Erina realizes she’s gained the ability to talk, and sets off to find her master. Along the way she finds herself in a dangerous world (though colorful and extremely cute nonetheless), eventually acquiring a giant mallet (similar to Harley Quinn’s) for protection.
It’s not long before she learns that other humans have become obsessed with bunnies, and will dress up in almost identical outfits as Erina (bunny ears and all), hunting down any poor unsuspecting actual bunny. Somehow these malicious bunny imposters are able to tell Erina is actually a real bunny, though she’s currently a human?? Not that it makes much sense, but there definitely seem to be various levels of perception and reality in play here. Soon enough she encounters Ribbon, who she quickly befriends and sets out with Erina in search of her master; rumored to be in Rabi-Rabi Town.
(The jovial sense of humor of the narration helps bring a more mature yet good hearted touch to the story.)
Rabi-Ribi is a game for an avid gamer. If you were ever a teenager playing multiple genres of video games, RPGs, bullet hells, platformers; and ever fantasized there was vastly more amounts of fan service in any and all of those games, this is in fact the title to pick up.
This is not a title however, that I would recommend for beginning gamers, unless you’re already extremely obsessed with anime bunny girls, and were thinking of making the switch from watching them in TV form to playing as one on the go, or hooked up to your TV in the living room. That being said, this feels all around like a game best experienced in handheld mode… by yourself… where no one can see or hear you.
After you’ve chosen your ideal remote location, enjoying (or at least no longer feeling inherently repelled by) scantily clad bunny outfitted anime girls, whose ages are a bit more ambiguous than many will feel comfortable with, is surprisingly easier to come to terms with than one may have previously thought. This all in thanks to the awe-inspiring solidness Rabi-Ribi exhibits in the gameplay department.
You can really tell when love and care are put into a title like this, where the developers are most probably big gamers themselves and understand certain nuances of games; how to translate that in development, and make it a point to deliver in those areas. If you’re someone who’s played countless games that contain small issues or annoyances that don’t ruin the game, but definitely put a damper on the overall experience, you will feel catered to by Rabi-Ribi.
Your average playthrough will consist of Erina progressing through different 2d platformer landscapes, encountering a boss, with a multitude of bullet hell inspired attack patterns, beating the boss, befriending that character, unlocking a written cutscene (all visual novel), and then progressing on to the next landscape. All this, while discovering various power ups, and eventually retracing your steps to these areas where you’ll be able to access extensive hidden locations, which you couldn’t reach before, that play just as long as the main paths in that area.
Keeping an eye out for Erina’s stamina and Ribbons mana points are also key to staying on top of combat and not being mauled by an enemy. Overall, you’re gonna be mashing through all the adorable evil bunny girls your heart desires, with your trusty rabbit hammer, firing multicolored sparkly neon lasers, with different status effects, jumping around frantically to dodge enemy lasers, and most importantly appreciating how cute Erina looks in her little bunny outfit (in the most wholesome of ways).
All jokes aside, gameplay is where Rabi-Ribi shines, the boss battles specifically being the main attraction; though a couple hours in and the regular enemies become challenging enough, where it holds a little more of the appeal than before. The smooth blend of action RPG, hack and slash, bullet hell and the use of what I would chalk off as a rhythm game inspired combo system, based on a letter grade, is what defines Rabi-Ribi. From all the structural components that set this game apart from Nier Automata, at its core (for me) was the application of this extremely difficult and necessary combo system.
Erina and Ribbon gain combo points each time they hit an enemy, gradually building up a score bar, until it is reset, or upon reaching the next letter grade. Starting from E-A (I assume, I’ve never gotten higher than B), the combo bar will quickly drop while Erina is idle, or will lose an entire letter score if hit by an enemy. This can prove to be a pretty harsh punishment for a feature that is crucial in keeping up in boss fights, as the higher your combo chain, the higher attack and stat multiplier you are rewarded; and in most instances is the smartest way to beat a boss. You’ll most likely become frustrated with this hoop to jump through, as you’re attempting to dodge every single tiny laser on the screen of a bullet hell, while continuously hitting your opponent for sometimes a drawn out 3-5mins. This is in fact excruciating; and presumably would elicit the respect of any “true gamer”. It’s really an arcade game when it comes to its bullet hell delivery, and how skilled it requires players to be, if they want to be good.
The graphics are adorable little chibi renditions of their otherwise anime/visual novel looking depictions, shown throughout the various cutscenes. While most everything is in pixel form, the use of neon low poly graphics for lasers, adds a nice contrast to the colorful pastel aesthetic of the backdrop. The graphics match the story perfectly, a bubblegum pop wonderland, unapologetically sugar coated, founded on extravagant fantasy, and all in the name of quiotixism.
The music in Rabi-Ribi is outstanding, reminiscent of various platformers, you just can’t put your finger on, but somehow know the tune fits perfectly for the landscape its matched with. Featuring a wide variety of tracks for each setting, the soundtrack is arguably as classic as the game itself; and if gameplay is it’s first leg to stand on, the music is it’s second, all held together by the adorable bunny girl world. Sound effects are pretty standard but compliment the playthrough.
The only complaint I have, literally the only negative detail, is a semi frequent glitch I encountered; where after jumping and landing, I found while pressing the left joystick to move, my character stayed frozen as if there was an invisible wall in front of it. Only till I quickly released the joystick and tried to move that same direction was I able to. I had this happen at least 15 times over 5-6hrs of gameplay. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was just running into an enemy, since sometimes there are some short enemies that you can walk into, creating a similar stalling effect; but over time I realized there was in fact nothing visually represented blocking my way, rather the programming itself (this and it was recurring in some of the same locations). I hope there will eventually be a patch for this, as it seems like a fixable bug. Amazingly, this wasn’t a big enough issue that it really pulled from the game. As mentioned before, there are so many obvious efforts that went into Rabi-Ribi to make it a crystal clear playthrough, this was by no means a deal breaker.
In the end, Rabi-Ribi is a really niche game; practically the cornerstone of 4-5 unrelated game genres, existing together with its ultra fan servicey skin. This is not a game for everyone, this is not a game for kids, and this is not a game you want to play in broad daylight! That being said, this is a beautifully crafted and deceptive game, that’s easy to write off from surface level assumptions, but given the time, Rabi-Ribi blossoms into a solid, addictive playthrough, that I could see having enough potential for a series. It really is iconic in it’s own right.
Story: Decent 4
Gameplay: Strong 8
Graphics: Decent 7
Music/Sound: Strong 7
Overall: Lite to Decent 7
Hopping in at $29.99Rabi-Ribi is available on the Nintendo eShop as of October 17th.
A special thanks to Jim Novak and Thomas Whitehead from Circle Entertainment for the download code!!