Imagine you are strolling through the streets of Japan, and you notice a giant corporate building towering high into the stormy clouds above. You foolishly wander into this high-tech skyscraper out of curiosity and take the elevator straight down to the lowest level. Once there, several men in white lab coats brush past, and your gaze is drawn to a glowing plastic case resting on a marble pillar in the very center of the room. As you approach the strange item and peer at its casing, you hesitantly read aloud the unfamiliar words, “RABI-RIBI”. And that’s the tale of how I discovered Rabi-Ribi right out of the inner workings of the Japanese covert market.
Jokes aside, Rabi-Ribi is your typical, modern-day Metroidvania title with a side of Japanese humour. While a slick storyline keeps your adventure on track, maze-like exploration is at the forefront of gameplay. Rabi-Ribi implements all the standard Metroidvania concepts such as RPG-style character growth, platforming, expanding map progression, epic boss battles, and a whole lot of replayability. It doesn’t hesitate to throw a few curve balls here and there, but the game stays true to its inspirational genre as a whole. Although Rabi-Ribi is quite similar to the slew of other recent Metroidvania titles such as Axiom Verge, Hollow Knight, and Ori and the Blind Forest, our cutesy Japanese game here might top the list.
Its story takes place on a magical island where bunnies have gone extinct. Our main protagonist Erina, a human-rabbit, is trying to uncover the secrets of her past, all while protecting Rabi Rabi Island from the forces of evil. Erina’s master’s sister was kidnapped by a mysterious force, and it’s your job to save her. Along the way, you meet Ribbon the fairy, who joins forces with Erina to form a tag-team duo. I should mention that almost everyone on the island is not only a female, but a weird animal humanoid wearing hardly any clothing. The borderline nudity sums up how random the game truly is. Rabi-Ribi makes fun of itself for all these strange quirks with pervy jokes and fourth wall breaks, but it might have been better just to keep things a little less bizarre in the first place.
During your time on Rabi Rabi Island, you simultaneously play as both Erina and Ribbon. Controlling two characters not only fosters some great one-on-one chemistry in dialogue, but also creates an interesting combat mechanic where Erina acts as a melee weapon while Ribbon provides ranged support. Learning how to use both entities optimally serves as a nice challenge for players of all skill levels. I found myself naturally ignoring Ribbon except in boss battles. In Rabi-Ribi, bosses intentionally make it very difficult to fight solely with melee attacks, especially in the beginning of the game where your abilities are quite limited in close-combat. Later on, Erina’s hammer combos start to get pretty powerful though, and Ribbon is actually disabled in one specific battle in order to demonstrate this point to the player.
A subtle attention to the user experience is what makes Rabi-Ribi a phenomenal entry to the Metroidvania genre. Whenever I felt confused about how a certain quest worked or where to go, some NPC would show up just moments after my thought in order to answer my question. This freakishly accurate timing keeps the player engaged, but the game doesn’t necessarily hold your hand unless you’re having trouble. For example, if you lose to a certain boss a few times in a row, you’re given the option to equip a special Halo Buff which gives you just a bit more power. Also, NPCs will offer specific stat boosts for a relatively low price. Overall, Rabi-Ribi stays balanced to perfection by understanding and intervening where players might get stuck or feel disengaged.
While Rabi-Ribi never fails to tie loose ends in regards to gameplay, the raw storyline is filled with plot-holes and random narrative. I don’t think it’s just me, since every other line of dialogue is either some obscure reference or completely fruitless in advancing the story. Pointless topics range from how bunnies are cute to a debate about cosplay. Conversations tend to lead nowhere, as does the plot as a whole. Right out of the gate there is this whole compelling mystery about why Erina is a rabbit-human, but it never gets resolved. When the credits started to roll, I was just as confused story-wise as I was when Erina first wakes up in the opening scene. Perhaps there’s just tons of muddling symbolism, but Rabi-Ribi doesn’t make any sense most of the time.
The game’s art style is primarily 16-bit and switches to anime-style during dialogue sequences. I enjoyed the crisp and colorful visuals that the game offers, especially during the bullet-hell boss battles that frequently occur. All sorts of fluorescent lasers dance around on-screen as you try to dodge as much as possible all while desperately throwing everything you’ve got at the enemy. There’s a sense that Metroidvania has reached a new standard with Rabi-Ribi’s stunning display of lights and color. Heck, there’s even a seizure warning presented every time you boot up the game.
Although Rabi-Ribi presents itself as a light-hearted adventure about chibi animals, it’s actually a frantic, bullet-hell RPG under the hood. Constantly forcing this drastic contradiction prevents the game from reaching its full potential and finding a target audience. Fans of Metroidvania games will probably feel pretty uncomfortable playing as a naked teenage girl, while other audiences might not expect complex action and combat. Nevertheless, the game is rock solid when you ignore the loose story and themes. There’s no doubt in my mind that most players can look right past the randomness and have a blast exploring the vibrant world of Rabi-Ribi.
Rabi-Ribi (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Although Rabi-Ribi presents itself as a light-hearted adventure about chibi animals, it’s actually a frantic, bullet-hell RPG under the hood. It might be the best modern Metroidvania title we've seen in years.