Taiko no Tatsujin may be best known for its arcade-style rhythm game action, but it’s also a series with a long history of RPG-style story modes, at least in its console releases. Meccha! Taiko no Tatsujin DS: Great Adventure of the Seven Islands! established a RPG-rhythm mash-up formula that’s been deployed in numerous games since, though until now, none have been released outside Japan and Korea. Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack finally changes that, bundling two of the more recent Taiko RPGs together for a Switch release, (as well as individual releases as Rhythmic Adventure 1 and Rhythmic Adventure 2), and with it, their western debut.
The core taiko rhythm game in the Rhythmic Adventures sticks close to the series’ established formula of drumming along to all manner of pop music, anime openings, game tunes, and classic arrangements. Its design around two basic inputs—”don”, or striking the surface of the taiko, and “ka”, or hitting the rim—belies a game that can get frantic and fiendishly difficult on harder settings. The best way to play is with a taiko controller like the one that released alongside Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun a couple of years ago, but even without that, a variety of button, motion, and touchscreen inputs allow a more than adequate approximation of the taiko experience.
Where the Rhythmic Adventure games differ is in their story modes, which take that rhythm action and build an RPG around it. Each game sees Don and Katsu, Taiko‘s adorable mascots, getting swept up in some sort of adventure to save the world, journeying through time and fighting all sorts of enemies along the way. There are monsters to recruit, levels to gain, treasure to find, equipment to wear, side quests to undertake, random battles and symbol encounters—classic JRPG stuff.
But when it comes to battles, rather than selecting attacks from a menu or mashing away on an attack button, you fight by drumming. Hitting notes and building big combos prompts your party to attack, while missing notes will give your enemies the opening they need to take a swing. Depending on stats, different party members will behave slightly differently—quick, agile fighters don’t deal much damage per hit, but can charge up with a relatively short drum combo; big, bulky types hit hard, but need a long chain of successful notes in order to attack, and have to start again from scratch if you miss.
It’s a fun, creative way of turning Taiko no Tatsujin‘s core loop into a combat system. Hitting notes successfully and building combos is inherent to Taiko anyway, but here, it directly relates to how quickly you can take out your foes (or whether you survive at all) and how much of a beating your team takes. Different scenarios encourage different team composition; a power-hitter team is often a good way of dealing with regular encounters where you know you can reliably hit every note, but for trickier songs or those you haven’t played before (boss battles, typically), it’s often better to have a mix of quick attackers who can keep the damage up even if you find yourself missing lots of notes, and tanks to help weather the incoming damage.
In Rhythmic Adventure 2, party formation is also important, with the group split into three rows that affect damage dealt and received. Party members have different roles that interact with the rows in different ways—close range fighters get a damage bonus when they’re in the front row, mages can attack from the rear with no damage penalty, healers can heal the row immediately in front of them, and so on. It takes the basic Rhythmic Adventure combat setup and adds a welcome extra layer of strategy.
Boss fights are a particular highlight, with each one bring some ability into play that obscures the note track, making it harder to see what’s coming. In some cases, bosses will even steal notes entirely or rearrange them on the fly, so you need to be ready to adapt on the fly to a note sequence that might look very different by the time it reaches the target. And to dial up the intensity even more, each boss has a unique music track that’s not available in free play mode until after you beat that boss in the story—ensuring that your first time fighting said boss is your first time playing that piece of music at all.
Outside of combat, Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack offers a fairly simple, straightforward experience. Dungeons are generally linear, with a handful of basic puzzles at most, and recruiting new monsters to your party is simply a case of defeating them in battle and hoping they decide to join. Different outfits and skill books give you a limited amount of freedom to customise your party, but it’s far from extensive. This isn’t necessary a problem; the Rhythm Adventure story modes are short-form, no-frills RPGs that exist to put a fun twist on Taiko no Tatsujin‘s fundamentals rather than deliver a grandiose, deep role-playing experience, and in that they succeed well.
That sense of simple fun also comes into the stories themselves, which take a light-hearted approach. Whether travelling through time to team up with everyone from Nobunaga Oda to Marie Antoinette in Rhythmic Adventure 1 or going on an archaeological journey around the world to stop an ancient, world-ending prophecy from coming to bear in Rhythmic Adventure 2, Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack never takes itself too seriously, and leans into every opportunity for humorous exchanges between people who’d normally never be in the same place at the same time. Coupled with Taiko no Tatsujin’s usual colourful, mascot-inspired art style, these stories make for a welcome few hours of playful, carefree fun.
Beyond the story modes, both Rhythmic Adventures also offer the classic, arcade-style Taiko no Tatsujin experience in “Taiko Mode”. Here, you can just play the rhythm game to your heart’s content, with some 130 different tracks in total across both games. It’s the usual eclectic mix of J-pop, anime themes, game music, classical, and “Namco originals”, with some nice crossovers among them—Monster Hunter, Yokai Watch, Ace Combat, and SoulCalibur II all get a showing, among others. With songs ranging from very easy to extremely challenging, and plenty of other optional modifiers (4x speed!), there’s plenty here to offer for rhythm game fans of all levels.
Taiko no Tatsujin is a delightful series in general, and one that’s finally getting the localisation attention from Bandai Namco that it deserves. Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack brings another two Taiko games to the western world, and with it, the rhythm-RPG fun that’s been a staple of Taiko’s console ports for a long time. The RPG side of things probably won’t make a convert out of anyone with no interest in rhythm games whatsoever, but for anyone who’s at least a little bit curious, the Rhythmic Adventure Pack is a wonderful introduction to the world of Taiko.
Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack is developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed).
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.