JPRG’s have a special place in my heart but as I’ve grown up, I appreciate games that don’t ask me to completely grind out battles for hours and hours on end. Viola The Heroines Melody is a streamlined JRPG made by a single person. It brings a great story, cast and battle system together and executes it all in under 10 hours for the main story. This is a great bite-sized introduction to the retro turn-based battles of old.
Viola’s story sees you play as a titular character who has lost her mum. She used to play the violin and now Viola wants to learn to play too but just can’t get into the right headspace. She’s lost and unsure of herself. Transported into another world, where she can use her violin as a bow and arrow in battle alongside a party of 11 other characters you can meet along the way. It is a tale of self-assurance, respect, self-love and awareness. It doesn’t smack you over the head with things and whilst it deals with lots of deep themes, it never does so in a deep dive way. That keeps things touching but light.
Viola brings a few really great twists to the JRPG genre. The first is in its turn-based battles. Here you have the usual menu selections but you can also play as a rhythm game. Each attack or magical ability requires you to input commands on time. You’ll button press, mash or hold your way through patterns to execute the attacks. Fail and you’ll not make a dent in your enemies. It raises the stakes and some characters have quite quick gauges to work with. This does slow your battles down a little but makes the game far more engaging.
Turn-based battles are fun with a party of up to 5 in battle for you at once. Each character has their own defined move set that unlocks as you level up. That means one character will have fire magic, another water, wind and so on. You can swap party members with ease outside of battle to suit the area you are in. You can also unlock bonus moves by chatting to characters and completing their personal quest when you’ve become friends. These act as boosted power moves that come in very handy in boss fights. Characters are predefined largely by their class and magic element but you can add two gems to them to buff certain stats. I found the gems very handy early on in the game but as they only affect stats by a few points, later in the game these gems lose their power.
The traversal in Viola also switches things up. Its a 2D platformer with very light puzzle mechanics to keep you moving forward. Viola has a triple jump mechanic where if you jump consecutively for three times in a row, each jump goes higher. Most of the platforming revolves around this mechanic and blasting yourself around the screen in cannons. The cannons move so its all about the timing. Nothing is every hard but it is nice to play instead of walking around a map. I did run into some bugs where Viola fell through walls and this meant I’d have to restart the area again.
This leads me to only a couple of down sides of Viola. Firstly, the game only saves at the end of areas of shops. This means if you get hit by a bug or need to leave the game, you can’t save it anywhere. I also found that a lot of enemies are recoloured versions of previous ones. These are only small niggles but I’d have liked some more enemy variety.
Overall Viola was a delight to play through. I really appreciated lots of little details. For instance, you play music to open doors and each piece has various versions depending on who is in your party. This is also reflected on the games intro screen. It is little things like that which makes Viola clearly a labour of love. Great fun, easy to enjoy and doesn’t outstay its welcome. A musical JRPG – mini-series edition.
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