Can wild and wacky games from the far east sell well in America? Well, this is a question Atlus of America is about to find the answer to and who knows, if Rhapsody does well it could pave the way for other Japanese games like anime adventures and dating sims.
Well, not so fast. Before Rhapsody can sell millions of copies, doesn't it have to be a good game first? Darn right! Is it? Well, read on to find out.
I will start this review off with Rhapsody's sweet and simple storyline. Rhapsody's story kind of leaned on my bad side right from the beginning. At the very start you are thrown right into the game without having a lot of things explained to you. I found myself scratching my head wondering what was going on; many things were happening that would only be explained much later on and I really hated that.
Rhapsody's storyline is a very cookie-cutter RPG story, only flip flop genders with you being the girl instead of the guy. You play the role of a young girl named Cornet who is searching for her one true love. Fortunately, she has the power (through her magical horn) to talk to puppets and have them help her in her battles. Though the story is mainly about Cornet and her prince, there are a few sub plots that are decent, but they are all fairly predictable. I really don't think you will play Rhapsody and be shocked at any of the plot twists. Rhapsody's story is very straightforward and if you don't go into the game expecting a soap opera then I don't think you'll be let down.
Rhapsody's gameplay is just about as simple of an RPG layout as you will ever encounter with: towns, dungeons, overworld maps, random battle encounters, etc. The only difference between Rhapsody and other RPGs is its somewhat unique battle system. In Rhapsody's battles, instead of your characters just sitting there and hitting the bad guys and them hitting your characters, you have to move to the bad guys and hit them (just like a strategy/RPG).
If you're familiar with past import RPGs then you would remember that this is the exact battle system that Poplocrois had, and I must add that Rhapsody did a much better job than Popolocrois in this area. However, the problems with this type of battle system (whether executed greatly or not) are sometimes a pain. The worst part of this type of battle system is the boredom factor that sets in when you're just walking around a dungeon. Sure, you get the same effect with other RPGs' battle systems, but Rhapsody's is far worse because the battles involve a lot more than just hitting the attack button. As I said before, you have to move your characters towards the bad guys, so it takes a lot longer than normal battles systems would. Fortunately Rhapsody's battle maps are very small (10-15 steps) so as long as you have at least one shred of patience, you should be fine.
Overall gameplay is where Rhapsody really shoots itself in the foot, absolutely wasting its awesome potential to be a really solid RPG. Instead of sitting here and singing the praises of a well-executed masterpiece (like I had hoped I would before I started the game), instead I'm forced to point out the many flaws that haunt this game. Even though it pains me to put down this cute little game, it's my duty to say it like I see it.
The most glaring fault that Rhapsody possesses is its painfully short game time. You will have no problems ripping this game to shreds from the very beginning and after about 10 hours of playing it you'll find yourself watching the credits roll and wondering to yourself "Did I really just beat the game?" One of the main reasons why Rhapsody is so short is because it's way too easy.
There are many different symptoms that combine to cause Rhapsody's short playing time: easy bosses, small overworld map, and fewer battles in dungeons, some are good and some are not. Rhapsody's bosses have to be the easiest bosses I have ever encountered; they could be handily defeating by any type of gamer in any age group. You could make the argument that Rhapsody seems to be aimed at kids, but even so, this game's bosses are still too easy and can be beaten in as few as 3-5 turns. And what makes it even worse is that some of the bosses have super moves that could really hurt you if used frequently, but most of the time the boss will only use its super move once and then just wuss out.
Another problem is the lack of many different places to go. The overworld map has just a handful of various places to go to, making the game way too easy and predictable. There are only about half a dozen towns in Rhapsody and a few more dungeons, so you can see how little time it would take to go through the game. The one favorable thing I can say about Rhasphody's gameplay is the random battle encounters (or lack thereof). When you are in a dungeon, you won't encounter a bad guy every step or, for that matter, in every room. Sometimes you can go for minutes without running into a bad guy, and I really liked it a lot, however, this really affects game time. By doing the battle encounters this way, Atlus took off about a hour or two and all I have to say about that is thank you.
Rhapsody boasts one unique feature that is very foreign to RPGs and that is having characters singing and dancing in parts of the game. I won't talk about it here, though, you'll have to keep reading down to music part of the review for a more in-depth look at it.
Before I conclude talking about gameplay, I must mention one other problem that Rhapsody has. There are many times in Rhapsody when you will get lost and not know what to do next, because you were never told where to go. It gets very aggravating sometimes, but fortunately Rhapsody's world is so small that you can find out what to do next just by going everywhere in the world, so to speak. It's just a very small thing, but when you don't know where to go next, you won't think so, believe me.
Overall Rhapsody's gameplay is child's play and I mean that literally. This is a game that is (or should be) aimed towards kids and RPG newbie's, because it's just too easy to give a veteran gamer any satisfaction after beating it.
Rhapsody's graphics might be the only reason I'd recommend major RPG fans to purchase it, because they are very good. The backgrounds are highly detailed and have gorgeous environments loaded with rich colors, and the character art is of very high quality, shown off in the character portraits during talking sequences. Rhapsody takes the sprites and puts them on hand drawn backgrounds, and that's a wonderful combo in my book.
My only complaint about the graphics is the dungeon backgrounds. Most of the cave and castle backgrounds are repeated a lot throughout the game. It seems like there are only a few different backgrounds for Rhapsody's dungeons and they keep getting repeated over and over again only changing in color, but keeping the same appearance. Just a few more dungeon backgrounds would have really helped out a lot, but without more backgrounds the dungeons tend to get boring quickly.
Rhapsody's music is very lovely, especially some of the town tracks which were perfect and an absolute joy to listen to. Most of the music is very calm and relaxing and keeps the mood of a cute child's love story very well. I liked it, but I wish I could say the same for Rhapsody's Broadway-like musical numbers. I think the Broadway scenes in Rhapsody are a decent idea, it's just such a shame it was executed so poorly. I must admit, it's a cute idea having characters do a song and dance number during different parts of the game, but it starts to seem silly after a while. The characters can't really dance that well (not enough movements) and just about all the songs are just gosh-awful. There was only one song in the whole game that was pretty good, but the rest were very bland and uninspired.
Bringing Broadway to video games may be unique, but I really don't think it is a very good idea. Even if it were executed perfectly in Rhapsody (which it wasn't), it still chases away many "macho" guy gamers who don't like that sissy song and dancing stuff and wouldn't touch a game that had it.
I'm not sure who Atlus is aiming Rhapsody towards, but I would hope it's small children and non-gaming savvy girls, because I really don't see experienced male gamers flocking to this game in huge droves. For the most part I think Rhapsody will do very well with children, but not so well with most of the older gaming crowd. If you're looking for a great birthday present for your child or little brother or sister, I think Rhapsody would be a great choice. However, if you're looking to buy Rhapsody for yourself, I would suggest renting it rather than buying it. It's just too short to warrant a "must buy" static when there are so many great RPGs coming out around the corner.