The gameplay itself has taken several step up the difficulty ladder, too. Patapon 3 demands absolute perfection from you in the rhythm stakes if you stand any chance of success. You have to hit the drums right on the beat every time to pull off special attacks, the windows for attack-dodging are often tiny, and a single mistake is usually enough to necessitate a restart. But even when you've mastered all of that, you'll still often lose.
There are two ways to fail a mission in Patapon: losing your entire army, or failing to protect its flag-bearing Hatapon. Nine times out of ten, you'll lose the second way. No matter how strong your quartet of Heroes is, a rogue attack will sometimes catch your defenceless standard-bearer off-guard, and it's curtains for you.
It doesn't feel fair. There are certain Hero skills and class combinations that make the Hatapon immune to damage, but figuring out what they are is a formidable task in and of itself. You'll take on quests that are supposed to be appropriate to your level, play perfectly in rhythm, fail, and not ever really be sure what you're doing wrong. Are my Patapons the wrong class? Are their skills levelling up properly? Is my equipment inappropriate? How would I know if it was?
It constantly makes you feel like you're missing something, and you probably are. On top of all the character management, there's a very detailed inventory and crafting system, with tons of weapon classes and effects. The PSP screen isn't physically big enough to display all the stats for a single weapon, and Hero stat screens feature endless lists of numbers that are difficult to decipher.
It gets a little better with time and practice, but only a little. You usually fall back on grinding and trial and error when you get stuck, neither of which are particularly fun. Good loot and experience rewards only come from level-appropriate missions, so replaying earlier ones doesn't serve much purpose. Because you're constantly up against it, Patapon never settles into a comfortable rhythm. You never really feel like you're getting anywhere – and crucially, you don't feel powerful.
Despite all of that, it's wickedly compelling once you break through the pain barrier. Lose yourself in the menus and you'll enjoy customising and micromanaging your Heroes even if you still aren't 100 per cent sure what an Attack Strength value of 82-848 offset against a shield breaker effect of 10 per cent means, or whether it's a good idea to change shields and sacrifice crush damage resistance for an 8 pet cent damage bonus against the undead.
For those who persist, its longevity is no doubt greatly extended by an array of co-operative and competitive multiplayer modes, which are a first for the series. Sony sadly hasn't made these available to test in time for this review, but it's safe to assume that online co-op would provide a welcome break when you hit a difficulty wall. Like Monster Hunter, this could be a game that really comes alive with friends.
Patapon 3 is, in many ways, a typical third instalment: bigger, prettier, more difficult, and much more complicated. But that often works against it rather than in its favour, diluting that brilliant and unique rhythm-action strategy gameplay. Many series veterans will be glad that there's more to get their heads around, especially with multiplayer – but I can't shake the conviction that Patapon was at its best when it was simplest.