A few hours in
Readers! Bad news: I’m almost out of my good whisky. But also, good news: I managed to play my way through most of Frederic: Resurrection of Music. These two facts may be related.
When we last left our noble Frédéric, he was about to face off against Rob, the Jamaican stereotype. And he did! Perhaps surprisingly, Rob’s remix of Polonez A-dur Op.40 Nr 1 was also really good, perhaps even better than Jean’s electro-babble.
After that, Frédéric-me moved to an American-Mexican border town, to face off against a banjo-playing trigger-happy sheriff. After that, it was hip-hop in the New York inner city against rapper N-N. Then, a Japanese video games demon. Then, a Russian pianist. And then, and then, and then…
Suffice it to say that Frederic: Resurrection of Music offers a wide, interesting range of music styles to remix Chopin with. And while I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to say this at the outset, almost all of these songs are really quite good. Some are better than others, obviously, but all of them are at least decent listening. It’s the Chopin-element, it has to be. In fact, I am now convinced that Chopin is to musical remixes what vermouth is to cocktails.
As a result, I’m mostly pretty positive about Frederic: Resurrection of Music. The music is good, the gameplay is solid, and the graphical style is unique and interesting. It does have one big elephant-in-the-room that we’ll come to later, and that may or may not ruin your enjoyment of the game overall… but now I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the good stuff first, for a change.
Gameplay-wise… having played quite a number of musical rhythm games ever since coming into contact with stuff like Guitar Hero, I posit that there are two basic types of rhythm game. In one type, the ‘good’ type, there is a direct connection between your success or failure and the state of the music. The notes you ‘play’ and the buttons you press map directly to the key musical beats. Guitar Hero and Rock Band are probably the most well-known examples of this type. In the other type, the ‘bad’ type, this connection is absent: notes and buttons do appear in a sequence, but there is very little connection between them and the music being played. I made this same observation back in my ye olde Sequence review: so many ‘cheap DDR knockoffs’ forget the vital importance of matching the music and the gameplay. Without that match, you’re just pushing buttons. If I can turn the music entirely off, and play your rhythm game, and get comparable scores to when I play it with the music on — if the music doesn’t actually help in the gameplay — then your rhythm game is of this type. The ‘bad’ type.
For the largest part, Frederic: Resurrection of Music is the good type of rhythm game. As I’ve mentioned on the previous page, music and gameplay are connected in that bad notes lead to aural error cues, and good notes lead to music. It doesn’t actually work that way 100%: missing notes entirely actually still causes the music to be played, leading to this weird situation where your ears can be telling you everything is going well even when you’re literally not playing. Correspondingly, good button presses don’t actually make the music appear as much as that they don’t impede with it, and the timing of your button presses doesn’t seem to influence the flow of the music as long as they’re technically ‘correct’.
Still, the obvious error-obvious penalty connection is there, which I appreciate. And in most songs, the notes you play do clearly map to notes being played in the actual music. Even the pitch differences are taken into account.
As with most (good) rhythm games, this play note-musical note connection gets stronger on higher difficulty levels, when more and more individual note changes that lower difficulties gloss over are made explicit. Frederic: Resurrection of Music does this to a limited degree as well. Which, that reminds me: I played through the whole game on Chopin difficulty after all, and it wasn’t even that much more difficult!
Higher difficulty levels do feature more notes, and quicker notes, and even double notes, and as a result, they match the actual music being played just that bit better. But for the most part, the increased difficulty of Hard and Chopin modes comes from the fact that the game becomes less generous with points for success, and more punishing with regard to failures.
See, the thing about Frederic: Resurrection of Music is that it’s actually just a big game of musical tug-of-war. The bar at the top of the screen starts out half red, half green at the beginning of every duel: playing notes correctly pushes the green towards the right, making mistakes pushes the red towards the left. If, at the end of the song, green comprises over 50% of the bar? You win! Combos and scores and streaks and accuracy are all ancillary mechanics, playing less into ‘actually winning’ and more into personal leaderboards and those optional stars.
(And, as a quick aside: I’m still note sure what the deal is with those slidey arrow notes. Missing them does very little. I’ve been told you can ‘catch’ them with your mouse? But the reality of the situation is probably that Frederic: Resurrection of Music on PC is a bit of a lazy port from the mobile touchscreen version, and nobody really considered how to implement this functionality in a two-handed keyboard setup.)
The bar systems also seems to be the prime determinant for that ‘press space to play animation’ system I briefly mentioned earlier. It seemed random at first, but through replaying one level over and over — blasted Vasili and his blasted ‘easily one of Chopin’s more well-known compositions’ Nokturn Es-dur Op.9 Nr 2 — I found out that this system is actually highly deterministic: at set points during each duel, the game checks who is currently in the lead, and then either gives you the option to attack or initiates an attack against you.
And these attacks seem to do… er, absolutely nothing? I’ve tried looking for any kind of effect, but I couldn’t find anything. I think they’re supposed to play into the promised, but conspicuously absent multiplayer mode. Either that, or they’re even more of the graphical filler this game loves so much.
Because, guys: this game loves its animated graphics so much. I’ve already talked about the background stuff going on in the Paris duel against Jean, but every duel has oodles of things going on. It’s an interesting design decision for a game like this really: it’s something you can only really enjoy either if you’re too bad to possibly ever win anyway, or if you’re so good that you can play these songs eyes-closed. Or if you’re a bystander, I guess. I usually don’t have any bystanders when I play weird rhythm games at home, at night, in my underpants, so I can’t really judge that part of it.
Speaking of the graphics, though: I have to say that, for the most part, I quite dig Frederic: Resurrection of Music’s odd, unique graphical style. It’s clear, and colourful, and exaggerated to the point of caricature. The worlds are alive and happy, even the grey New York inner-city one, and the looks do a lot to brighten up the cutscene where the awful, poorly directed, wooden voice-acting tries to break it down.
Which is why it’s such a disappointment that these graphics are so often used to enable this game’s hilariously awful, almost cartoonishly bad racism.
Almost every character you meet or duel in this game is some kind of awful, over-the-top stereotype caricature. Not all of them are equally ‘bad’: the Frenchmen, Jean, is a coward, the American sheriff is a trigger-happy gun nut, the Russian pianist isn’t bothered by the cold, and the game’s main villain turns out to be a soulless, money-obsessed music composer. And then there’s Rob, the Jamaican guy I just showed you. Just… look at him, for a second.
Done looking? Here’s what he looks like in-level:
And Rob is far from the only hurtful ‘joke’, here. In Tokyo, you fight a videogames-obsessed demon called Otaku. In Ireland, you run into a bunch of overtly racist leprechauns. And in one of the optional, unlockable arenas, you face this guy:
Oh, and going back to those leprechauns for a bit: in the Ireland level, you briefly run into a few Polish people, before said leprechauns chase them off. They complain that Polish migrants are taking all their skilled, high-paying jobs: CEOs, computer scientists, lawyers…
And they look like this:
Hey, do you want to guess the nationality of developer Forever Entertainment S.A.? Go on, take a shot. I’ll wait here.
I don’t really want to assume too much intentional malice behind these representations: both because I’m an eternal optimist, and because it looks for all the world like this is less the result of actual hate and more just childlike tasteless incompetence. But simultaneously, this is not something I can just let slide. Going for exaggerated stereotype shorthands in this way is hurtful for everyone involved, and at best, it displays a staggering ignorance of the changing ways of the world, and the degree to which this kind of nonsense just isn’t acceptable anymore.
Plus, they don’t even get their lazy racist stereotypes straight. Jamaican Rob is back-up by Hawaiian hula dancers, and the Irish leprechaun gang has one member play the bagpipes. While the Loch Ness monster watches on in the distance.
It’s this level of ‘messing up’ that makes me believe the developers were just intending to have a little fun with things. Which means I also have good hope that there is no actual deep-seated malice involved, and that they’ll be receptive to the kind of criticism that points that out.
So, Forever Entertainment S.A., if you’re reading this? Don’t do this kind of stuff in the future, okay? You’re better than this. Visual shorthands and stereotypes are one thing, but there’s ‘having fun with expectations’ and there’s accidentally creating promotional material for neo-Nazi groups. Be careful with how you guys represent yourself, okay?
To re-iterate: mechanically, I had a lot of fun with Frederic: Resurrection of Music. It’s fairly good for a rhythm game, keeping the important connection between play and music decently in mind, and having that elusive ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ appeal that actually made me go back to higher difficulties after completing it. The gameplay is entertaining, the graphical style is neat, and the musical accompaniment is excellent. Plus, I just now found out that the soundtrack to Frederic: Resurrection of Music is actually a free part of your game purchase, placed inside the FredericROM folder as a series of free-to-use MP3 files. Which means I might actually have a new alarm ringtone in mind…
Whether or not Frederic: Resurrection of Music will appeal to you depends both on how much you enjoy rhythm games, and how resistant you are to lazy cartoon racism. If you find yourself interested, the game can be bought for a variety of mobile devices from the developer site, from Steam, or from Desura, all for no more than about six dollars in cash money. Both Steam and Desura offer demos, too, which give you a good impression of what the full game is like.
But wait, what’s this? An additional bonus review page appears!