Full Disclosure: I’m a Christian. Southern Baptist, to be specific.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I have to admit I opened up Rejoice: The Gospel of Matthew with a little trepidation. As far as the popular culture goes, Christianity usually ends up on the short end of a very big stick. Seriously, other than Art Mullen from Justified (watch that show if you don’t already), when has anything related to the Christian faith not been tied to wild-eyed fanatics, all-out hypocrites, the Catholic sex scandal or someone who has been ‘misled’ by one of the three and just needs a worldly friend to guide them? So I would be lying if I didn’t say that as I started a journey that would take me the better part of two hours, a small part of me was waiting for the other shoe to drop and make me regret downloading it.
But, I was wrong. Thank God in Heaven, I was wrong.
Rejoice is a very faithful adaptation of the first book of the New Testament: Matthew. The visual novel chronicles the birth of Jesus Christ, His baptism, ministry, death (SPOILER ALERT) and resurrection. It is told in a pretty condensed form; covering major points of His life and sermons. To be fair, most already know the story, so there won’t be anything to ruin here. That said, watching everything unfold, this is not what even I would’ve expected it to be.
While not everyone is a biblical scholar, even us Sunday regulars, most people have a rough outline of the Ministry of Christ. The majority know about the miracles, the parables, Jesus walking on water, etc. etc. You will still see great interpretations of those miracles and parables takes place, but that is about one-third…maybe even one-fourth of the story. This visual novel actually includes a great bulk of the sermons Christ spoke and spends a lot of time showing how He dealt with the constant disbelief of who He was from not only the people, but His own disciples. Anyone who has a soft, demure vision of Christ has not read Matthew 10 and I nearly jumped out of my seat when I said it included in this VN;
Matthew 10:34 ~ “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
On top of that, Rejoice includes a feature that both Christian insiders and outsiders will appreciate. Certain moments in the visual novel are marked and the reader is given an opportunity to read the scriptures being referred to by either Christ or one of the Pharisees come to confront him. This is an important feature because Christ’s entire life and resurrection was done in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Every moment that is directly linked to the Old Testament is highlighted here and I cannot begin to imagine the time it took to ensure accuracy, but the VN would not be the same without it.
The level of depth and research used to make Rejoice an accurate retelling of the Book of Matthew is impressive in and of itself. The fact that they could do it in the short amount of time that they did is extraordinary.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
Rejoice opts for a very simple, nearly 8-bit presentation which places the VN in modernity rather than the past. As a sucker for the historic surroundings of that time period, that kind of sucked. Outside of Jesus Christ, there is little variation in the types of sprites you see and the backgrounds are usually a non-descript room, street or other opening in order to. Interestingly though, for what it was it worked very well and everything came together to tell the bigger story.
Rejoice is fully voice-acted…only the voice actors are all Indonesian and are speaking what I believe is Tagalog. It’s pretty fun to hear some very good performances that feel true to the material…and yet you have to read the subtitles to know what they’re saying. According to the maker of Rejoice, there won’t be English dubbing anytime soon so I’ll just have to keep happy with this. It was risky to do, especially knowing the bulk of your audience probably wouldn’t be able to speak the language, but it came together very well.
That story, by the way, is mostly animated. This title is mostly animated with very few still scenes. This is where gameplay takes a back seat, as there are no choices to make and you’ll instead watch everything play out. A case could be made that more could have been done here and it would be a solid case. While I enjoyed the story, there were a few times I mentally checked out because A: I knew what was coming and B: Nothing was provided for me to interact and maintain interest.
Of the visual novel’s many strengths, this may be its only weakness. While you feel the story and enjoy how much work has been done to do it right, you’re never taken out of the role of a reader. You are watching everything go down and that is it. It isn’t a heavy strike against Rejoice or anything, but as the story ended you can’t help but wish you had a few more things to do in it…but more on that later.
Overall this is an incredibly well done presentation with one small gripe from the man behind the curtains.
There is some replay value here. As I said, it took me about two hours to go through it and this is where the gameplay criticism comes into play. A deeper level of interaction would have locked me into a strong Replay Value score, because with the amount of research put into it, anyone would want to go back and re-explore Israel during the life of Christ. While I definitely think I’ll be picking it up again, it’s not that I have to come back to every day.