Viola: The Heroine’s Melody is not a game about the sort of music produced by a class A drug, but once I’ve described the ‘out there’ premise of the game, you might come to doubt that. In Viola: The Heroine’s Melody you play as the titular Viola, a young girl who’s struggling to learn how to play the violin her mother left her. After a few failed attempts at a particularly non-beginner friendly melody (sort of like she’d picked up a guitar for the first time and decided the classic frat boy Wonderwall wasn’t for her and she’d rather start by rearranging the entire orchestral version of The Four Season into a solo guitar piece) Viola is sucked into the violin where, like in all violins, there is a rhythm-action RPG platformer filled with a cast of part animal, part human musician fighters – like a D&D bard meets an Animorph. With the help of three of these companions, Viola will form a team and fight her way through the violin world to find the way out, stretching her musical legs and finally getting comfortable with her rhythmic abilities.
The platforming in the game is more of a vehicle to get you between fights than the main mechanic but it does feel really nice. Using the platforming well can help you avoid fights between the start and end of the level (Dark Souls-style bonfires) and allow you to explore additional areas with various goodies – mostly potions you can use in combat to restore health and magic, and gems you can equip to your party to boost certain skills. The platforming has an interesting jump mechanic where you must hit the jump button exactly as you hit the ground from a previous jump to initiate a new higher jump, tying into the game’s rhythmic control system. It’s a little unusual and the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining it to you but you can get used to it pretty quickly. There are also wall jumps, Viola-firing-cannons and various other platforming paraphernalia to scratch your Mario itch (which I keep saying you should go to the clinic to get checked out).
Even the most godlike of platforming deities will still end up in fights with the enemies dotted around the map. These fights are where the game shines, they are your classic turn-based RPG fights, with 5 options for how each member of your team will spend their turn:
- Flee – the enemy remains on the map but you exit the fight and can return to it later, like a coward.
- Potion – use a potion on yourself or an ally to restore health and magic or boost stats, like a student at a skyrim nightclub.
- Defend – choose an ally to defend. Any attack directed at them this turn will hit you instead and the attack will do reduced damage, like Captain America weilding his mighty shield.
- Attack – choose an enemy and attack them with your instrument (not a euphemism, for example, Viola’s violin quite literally turns into a bow). This is where rhythm action comes in – you will need to hit a series of random buttons to a beat (think QTE), the better your timing the more damage the attack does, like a particularly savage rap battle.
- Magic – there are various magical options, from buffs for yourself and allies to debuffs for enemies to straight-out attacks. All spells have an element associated with them and elements are weak and strong against certain enemies, like using pasta in a fight against a coeliac versus using pasta in a fight with an Italian.
All together these options make the combat complex and thoughtful, with a wide variety of options that allow you to employ some real strategy. The rhythm action component is also really nice and adds an element of action and skill to something that would otherwise be completely strategy, with the end result being a fun to play hybrid.
The only criticism I have against the game is its keyboard controls, which aren’t particularly intuitive if you can’t incredibly rapidly identify where certain keys are on the keyboard, which even as a ‘writer’ I’m ashamed to say is a weakness of mine. As the rhythm action sections are effectively quick time events, I found these sections a lot easier on a controller. Unfortunately, if you decide to use a keyboard when you start a game you can’t change your mind until after the first level, as the option is on the main menu and quitting to the main menu loses your progress before a save. This meant I had to play half of the first level twice after deciding to switch – just a slight awkwardness in starting the game.
All in all Viola: The Heroine’s Melody is an excellent and novel game that combines good platforming with great turn-based RPG combat. There are a few areas of awkwardness in controls but these pale in comparison with the quality of the rest of the game. I had a lot of fun with Viola and her musically gifted half-animal friends.