Warning: I will actually spoil Deemo‘s ending, since I wanted to also discuss the story of this game.
The Mobile game industry is infamous around the gaming community for rarely having good games. Most games that end up popular are just cheap cash-grabs at best or horrifying bootlegs at worst. However, this doesn’t mean the mobile industry is entirely bad. It simply follows Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of anything is crap. The other 10% is gold. Except it seems to follow 99% of anything is crap, the other 1% is gold.
I could list a few games that I feel are a lot better at being good games rather than cheap cashgrabs. Fire Emblem Heroes (which I feel does “Free to play” well), Mystic Messenger (which is actually an awesome visual novel with a unique idea), and the one I’m talking about today, Deemo.
Rhythm games is one of those genres of games that I don’t pay enough attention to. Yes, I have played the Project DIVA series, but that’s about it.
Rhythm games do a good job of hooking you in: Especially when you first suck at it. Deemo, however, instantly sucks you in with its charm and story.
Right, onto what is Deemo. Deemo is a Smule-like rhythm game, developed by Rayark Games over in Taiwan. It was released on IOS back in 2013, where it slowly grew in popularity. While it isn’t as popular as Touhou (in Japan, at least) or Pokemon, it does have a devoted playerbase.
The game became so popular, that it reached seven million downloads, and got first place in the “Music game” subsection of the Apple App Store.
And for good reason: Deemo is actually an awesome rhythm game. Now, let’s talk about what transpires in Deemo itself.
Unlike many other rhythm games, Deemo actually has a plot that isn’t easily excusable or non-existent. Deemo tells the story of, well, Deemo, a shadow-y but kindhearted creature who lives in a massive castle. He plays piano nigh-endlessly, and is quite lonely.
The first few songs are soothing, mainly featuring the piano. Of course, I kinda sucked at first, seeing as I wasn’t proficient with the gameplay at the time. Why does this game feature piano so much? …Because reasons (other than that the piano is my favorite instrument and is really pretty sounding).
After a single song, the game introduces two new characters into the fray: The Little Girl, who falls into the castle one day from a strange windowsill, sobbing. She has lost her memories. She’s actually adorable, and her attachment to Deemo is just- d’aww.
The other character is The Masked Lady. She’s probably the other most mysterious character in the story, besides Deemo. She wears an all-white robe, and at first, doesn’t even speak.
Deemo and the Little Girl soon discover that playing music in the center room of the castle makes a small tree, placed on the piano, grow. Their goal? Make the tree grow to the windowsill, so that the Little Girl can leave the place, and perhaps discover the truth of why she’s at Deemo’s castle. Playing music makes it increase ever-so-slightly, so be prepared to waste hours of your life away trying to get a decent score on that one song.
The gameplay of Deemo is fairly typical of IOS rhythm games. Notes (represented by line-like objects) fall from the top of the screen, and when they reach the white line at the bottom of the screen, you tap them. Hitting multiple notes in a row makes a combo, which increases your score, represented by a percentage meter. Golden notes sometimes appear, which means you have to slide your fingers to catch them.
Of course, it’s quite addicting. Nothing is more satisfying than getting a full combo on one song. Unless if you manage to perfect the song by having an endless “Perfect” (Charming) note streak. That’s more satisfying, but practically impossible (normally). Unless if you’re ultra-super-amazing at Rhythm Games. In that case, I congratulate you.
However, one complaint I have is regarding the music. Now, the music in this game is amazing- But it has to do with the tracklist. In-game, there are many locked tracklists that you have to get via money. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. You can still increase the tree’s height. It’s just a lot less noticeable compared to when you first complete a song. One problem is that the game’s starting soundtrack is very small. The tracklists are actually quite cheap, but this may be a problem for players who don’t like paying.
Now, you could just play the PS Vita (what’s that again?) port, Last Recital… If it was available in America. To rub salt in the wound, it has fully animated cutscenes, three other new cutscenes explaining a plot-twist near the end of the game, voice acting, and stuff that is inaccessible unless if you’ve imported the game to America.
Otherwise, the default song-list is still amazing. And as you continue on with the game, you unlock more.
Oh yeah, this game’s presentation is amazing. The art used for the castle Deemo lives in and the art for the songs is nothing short of beautiful. The songs themselves are also memorable, as per usual rhythm game.
Favorites of mine include: 9.8, Yubikiri Genman, Reverse- Parallel Universe, Saika, Run Go Run, Magnolia, Evolution Era, Sairai, Entrance, Leviathan, Suspenseful Third Day (which is one of my favorite songs in all of gaming), Legacy, Sunset, Sakura iro no Yume, Anima, Myosotis, and Altale. That’s a lot.
This game’s soundtrack is amazing, okay? It’s also surprisingly varied, much like Project DIVA. Yes, piano is present in almost every track, but there is some electronic and even dubstep music in the soundtrack too. I would also like to highlight the small piece that plays when you’re exploring the tower. It’s a lot like Breath of the Wild‘s ambient piano, but more connected than spaced out.
Alright, next up is the matter of the game’s ending and story. Please don’t read any further if you don’t want to spoil yourself. If you’re just fine with that, or have already beaten Deemo, feel free to read ahead.
Deemo has a subtle, somber, and easy-to-understand storyline. What I gave you earlier was a simplified version of the story, and for the most part, that’s what it is. A cute little piano game with cute characters doing cute things playing lyrically dissonant songs. But then the ending comes.
At the end of the game, after growing the tree to its maximum height, and building the staircase to the platform that will bring the Little Girl to the mysterious windowsill in the sky all by playing the piano, you are greeted by one final song: Fluquor (another favorite of mine). It’s a beautiful send off, the vocals are perfect, and-
It all goes downhill from there.
Haha, you thought Rayark was writing the happiest, most heartwarming story in the world? Just kidding! While this isn’t a Yoko Taro level of downer, it’s more of a bittersweet, mainly focusing on the intensely sad part of “Bitter”.
The ending cutscene plays, and it’s revealed that Alice is the real name of the Little Girl. Oh, and that’s not it. Right afterwards, Deemo’s shadow form fades… To reveal a young man.
Apparently, this young man (named Hans) was Alice’s older brother, who served as her only parent-figure for all of her life. One day, while they were walking, they got involved in a traffic accident, and Hans, to protect Alice, pushed her out of the way to save her from being hit by a truck.
Now, one could argue that this came out of nowhere. And it follows one of my least favorite tropes (Adventures in Comaland). But in this case, it’s actually FORESHADOWED, and for once, well-done as an emotional twist on the heart. (And not some crap Game Theory)
Let’s make a list of the moments that foreshadow this twist:
- In two rooms, you can find two seemingly-random numbers: “121.518549” and “25.040854”. A little bit of research can get you to the location of… Taiwan’s National Hospital.
- In the Attic, sometimes when you examine the windows, you can hear a fuzz sound, and even more infrequently, you can hear the sound of an IV and some people (presumably the doctors looking after Alice) talking.
- At that same room, you can find a wheel. Examining it gets you the song Electron. But the highlight here is how Alice reacts to the wheel. She’s noticeably shaken by it, and finds it creepy.
- Even the songs get in on this!
- Pulses depicts Deemo and Alice connected by wires. Specifically, if the title is anything to go by, an IV. This is an obvious foreshadow to Hans sacrificing himself.
- I Hate to Tell You is not-so-subtlety talking about death in its lyrics.
- 9.8 is about suicide by grief. This connects to the Masked Lady, who I’ll talk about in a bit.
- Yubikiri Genman‘s title is Japanese for “Pinky Promise”, if playing Project DIVA F2d teaches you anything. Thankfully, this song is genuinely sweet, and doesn’t focus on the dark origin story of the saying. The art depicts Alice and Deemo making a pinky-promise, foreshadowing the sister-brother relationship they had.
And I could go on. Heck, I could make an ENTIRE blog post about this. Even though I’m making a blog post about this game. Which is what you’re reading right now.
Back on the main story. The Masked Lady removes her mask, and her hood, to reveal a girl who looks just like Alice. This is unfortunately not a question answered in the mobile version of the game. This is one thing that is quite irritating to me.
You know about Deemo: Last Recital, the Vita port I mentioned earlier? Welp, that has the answer for you!
In that game, it’s revealed that the Masked Lady is named Celia, a side of Alice who wanted to remain in her coma to stay with Deemo (Hans). She represented the part of Alice who couldn’t accept that Hans died, kind of like how the Shadow selves in Persona 4 represented personal feelings the protagonists couldn’t accept.
And it was, guess what? It was never released in America!
Welp, nothing I can do about it.
Anyway! Alice wakes up in the real world, with the knowledge that Hans is dead. The game closes with her sobbing on the floors of her hospital room, two nurses comforting her before it fades to the credits.
Alice Good Night plays in the background of the credits. …Geez, thanks Rayark. You made me sad. AND THIS SAD CREDITS SONG ISN’T HELPING.
“To the lonely, lovely stranger and my dearest brother: Hans.”
ALICE NOT YOU TOO DANG IT
Deemo is a solid rhythm game for mobile devices. With a heartwarming (and heartwrenching) story, simple but fun gameplay, and a wonderful list of tracks, I’d highly recommend Deemo to any rhythm game fan. Right now, it’s my favorite mobile game.