Breaking My Backlog is a semi-regular features on Troamm.com in which I attempt to complete my entire backlog before buying any new games. You can read more about the quest and see my backlog here.
Frederic: Resurrection of Music and its sequel, Frederic 2: Evil Strikes Back, are both games about musical anachronisms. When classical composer Frederic Chopin is resurrected in our modern time, he must learn to contend with current pop music, but more importantly, current pop music must learn to contend with him. Both titles are interesting games that tell the story of Chopin travelling the world trying to determine who brought him back, why they brought him back, and what they want him to do, or not do.
The gameplay is fairly basic for a rhythm game. While music plays, notes scroll down the screen and the player presses piano keys on the touch screen to keep within the timing of the music and make magic. As the player achieves consistency with their rhythm, the combo meter goes up and they earn more points for successful notes, etc, etc. Where the Frederics set themselves apart from other rhythm games is in the duel system. In each level, Chopin duels a different musician and the player’s success or failure in defeating the opponent is dependent on a duel bar at the top of the screen. Keep your rhythm and you earn more of the bar, but miss notes and the little divider moves back toward your side of the screen, giving your opponent more of the bar. What results is a tug-of-war throughout a 3-4 minute song, as the bar bounces between the two sides depending on how successful you are at keeping the beat. If at the end of the song, you have more of the bar on your side, you win. Otherwise, you have to repeat the level. Outside of the duel system, like most mobile games, the player earns points by playing well, which contribute toward a star rating for the entire level.
This actually leads me to my first complaint. The two measures of success are a little confusing. There were numerous levels where I maintained decent accuracy, hit most of the notes, and achieved a score high enough to earn a 3-star ranking. But, because I had had a couple of stretches where I missed a few notes, and the duel bar was slightly more toward toward my opponent’s side at the end of the song, I failed the level and had to repeat it. Dropping the difficulty to easy does solve this, as the dueling bar doesn’t drop when you miss notes, but the trade-off is that you lose points during the final tally. It seems like an unnecessarily complicated way to judge success in each level, and it actually frustrated me more than once.
My other major complaint is about a weird design choice. As with most rhythm games, when the player does well, the game praises them. This is in the form of words that appear on the screen, such as “Perfect!” or “Outstanding!”. In the Frederics, these words appear right in the middle of the screen, in the same area where the notes scroll down. While this may not affect early levels so much, since the notes are fewer and far between. In later levels, which require quick jumps from one end of the keyboard to the other, and even double notes, these words block important information. I’m like, I get it: praise me, I love that. But, seriously, developer. Try to think a bit about how the game works when we play it. I found I could only beat many of the levels if I sat and grinded them out, memorizing the note patterns to the point where I did not need to pay attention to the notes scrolling down the screen.
That said, there’s not much else to complain about. The game is actually a lot of fun. All of the music involves modern takes on some of Chopin’s great works, and it’s fun to hear the songs recreated using modern styles. The story feels fairly well-done, though it feels a little heavy handed at times, since much of what Chopin fights against is the monetization and computerization of modern music. That said, I can always dig a game that wants to say something, even if it veers too close to preachy at times.
I do wonder how much the developers intended a double-meaning in the story, though, as much of what they had to say in the game could apply to the video game industry as well. I mean, rest assured, I’m well aware that I’m not exactly unbiased in this topic, since most of what I write about are the evils of the corporate video game machine, and the unimpeachable brilliance of the indie video game scene, but much of what the Frederics say the music industry should strive for — creating something that’s unique and has a message to give, worrying less about the bottom line, treating people as more than commodities — are all things that make the indie video game industry so interesting to me, and why I choose to spend so much of my money in that scene, as opposed to buying the latest AAA game. Wow, that was a long sentence. Pynchon, eat your heart out.
Look, both of these games are great. You can get them on your phone or your Nintendo Switch, which is the system I played it on. The story is buckwild, but it has something to say, and that is always respectable. At the very least, I’d recommend playing them for their music alone, even if you pop the game on easy and skip the cutscenes.
Mini-Review: Super Galaxy Squadron Ex Turbo
I don’t get shoot ’em ups, or ‘shmups as the kids call them. I do, however, get war. And I think it’s fucked up how easily we, as gamers, accept the idea that the enemy is the enemy without any background on the conflict or alternate perspectives. All of that aside, Super Galaxy Squadron Ex Turbo is a good ‘shmup. You fly around. Shit flies at you. You dodge it and shoot shit back. Stuff explodes. Credits roll.
Three more games down. I feel like I’m actually making some progress.