Kabuki Rocks (カブキロックス)
Released 3/4/1994, published by Atlus
There’s a band called Kabuki Rocks in Japan, that uses kabuki costumes, makeup, and dancing on their stage shows. This game seems to have been made to capitalize on their popularity, but the designers (or band) made the decision to make it basically unrelated to the band. Apparently the lead singer makes a small cameo in one area, but other than that they mainly took the kabuki aesthetic and made a game where magic is done by rock songs and where there are a lot of kabuki trappings to the game (both in the story and the visuals).
It’s interesting because if I had played this game before I started this blog, I would have considered it an average or even below average game, since my points of comparison would have been FF6, Chrono Trigger, Lufia 2, etc. But having 42 previous SFC RPGs under my belt at this point, it now seems much better.
The story seems to be (maybe intentionally?) a very direct good vs. evil story, perhaps following in the footsteps of actual kabuki plays. The game takes place on a series of connected platforms in space, each representing a different old area of Japan. For a while now the lands were ruled by a wise ruler, but he suddenly died, and the new ruler Tensai is a despot. The main character Rock, along with his friend Macky, decide to go on a journey to rid the lands of Tensai’s dictatorship.
Rock quickly discovers that the former ruler of the lands was actually his father, who secretly took over from the real ruler who wanted instead to enjoy life. This gives him an even stronger reason to want to defeat Tensai (who may have killed his father).
The battle system is pretty standard AMID. Despite the music theme, when you use magic there’s not actually any music that goes along with it. One welcome feature is that you actually have enough MP that you don’t have to save every bit of it for a boss fight. You’ll also see that the fights take place on a sort of kabuki stage. When you win, fans throw money on the stage to represent the gold you get, and your XP is kabuki experience which then raises your actor level.
Anyway, Rock heads out on the adventure and crosses the first cave. When you are walking, you can press the Y button to change between normal, Search (which shows hidden passages), and Look for Enemies (which increases the encounter rate). At the next town, Rock sees Benkei in a performance but then is captured and thrown into a prison forest, supposedly for fighting the monsters outside the town. Escaping, he goes back to defeat the local ruler who is using the monsters for his own purpose.
Even though we have the help of Benkei, this is a very annoying battle because he puts your guys to sleep. I had to try this battle 6 or 7 times to get through it — like most bosses he has an attack that hits everyone, and that plus sleep can make it hard to win. The game is divided into 18 short chapters, and that’s the end of chapter 1.
Chapter 2 introduces the musical instruments, which you equip to raise your magic power. Then to learn spells you visit a karaoke box.
I’m not sure what actually influences learning new spells — whether it’s magic power, level, or just reaching new areas in the game. But everyone gets spells (Benkei gets them late because he’s tone deaf). The characters also have these powers called “eighteenth” but I’m not sure what they do; they often seem to have no effect. This is a place where the instruction manual would probably help.
The next person to join up is an old man Hokkaibo. He has very useful buff spells. After that we get Jiraiya, a young thief, and Kagekiyo. He has an interesting power — when you defeat monsters that are below his level, they will sometimes leave behind a soul he can take, and attach to one of the characters. This gives them additional stats (a lot!), that last until the character (or Kagekiyo) dies. I found this incredibly useful.
After a few dungeons and towns the party gets access to a ship, which lets us travel between the platforms. There’s also a “black jizo” house in each town that lets you revisit any town you’ve been to so far.
We beat up four women in the next area to recover a giant sake barrel.
They tell us we need to save a merchant who they serve, by feeding him fresh water to overcome his hangover.
The next new character is Fujimaru, a crossdressing man who looks like a woman. She (not sure about her pronoun preference) isn’t all that strong but has an interesting power that whenever she gets hurt, her fans throw a zabuton cushion that hurts all the enemies.
This may all sound pretty silly but there’s a lot of death in the game too. On our way to find a local corrupt leader Kurotsuka, we have to go through a have that has exploding “mine grass”. Jiraiya throws himself on the grass to save Rock, killing him.
So that’s down one kid. Fortunately Kurotsuka isn’t that hard, so we take him down and get revenge. This will not be the first party member to die.
We finally reach the capital, where Tensai is. There’s a big party; unfortunately the ship gets used as a float in the party and ruined, and Tensai recognizes Rock in the crowd. Benkei sacrifices himself so we can get away.
But a new companion arrives as well, Jirokichi. How long will he stay around? In any case, he helps us sneak into the dock where the ship is being kept, and we repair it and take off for the next area. The main goal now is to find better song magic and weapons, and strengthen the party to take on Tensai.
Overall this is an entirely playable game — it’s no masterpiece, but I definitely think if some romhacking group wanted to take it on it would be well worth it.