One can only wonder what the motive for releasing Marl Oukoku no Ningyouhime in North America was. Did John Yamamoto and the people over at Atlus possibly think that this rather niche title would do anything but fail like countless other anime-inspired RPGs? Rhapsody will do nothing but bore you to death and enrage you unless you're a big fan of Japanese culture or can take a short, ridiculously easy storybook romp with enough cuteness to burn all teenagers to a crisp. But if you fit into that category, this is one game you shouldn't be without.
Story : 95%
The story starts off when you awake in your hometown of Orange. Greeting Cornet, the dashing femme protagonist, as she awakens, is her flying, talking, cocking puppet Kururu. After Cornet ventures downstairs, she is greeted by her grandfather, who follows the stroke of friendship with a request for Red Inotium, which can be obtained in the nearby Wonder Woods. After you arrive at the end of one of the easiest dungeons since Bledavik in Xenogears (which was a city, no doubt), the Wonder Woods, an occurrence, uhm...occurs. Out from the bushes comes a lady with three cats, Miss Myao, who threatens Cornet to give her the Red Inotium. After Cornet refuses, Myao and her deadly (hah!) cats get into a big scuffle and Cornet wins. After Cornet's win, the Cat lady summons a big dragon and Cornet and Kururu fear for their lives. Then Prince Ferdinand comes out and rescues the two, and Cornet sees the Prince of her dreams. This is where Cornet's journey to make the Prince notice her begins, and soon becomes a journey to save the Prince from an evil witch.
Rhapsody's 15 hour completion time both raises and lowers the overall quality of the game. On one hand, it makes this a game you can literally complete in a day, unless you have social attachments, which means you should complete it in a week. This limits both the replay value and makes this more of a rental than a purchase, since it's not worth the full price unless you're a collector. But on the other hand, the short length ensures that the storybook adventure that is Rhapsody will never seem like a dry and monotonous quest. And this also allows for some significant character development, especially concerning Cornet and her dearly departed mother.
Despite some long stretches of boring dungeon crawling and miniscule plot development, Rhapsody still manages to draw the gamer into its simple, yet lovable world without ever becoming too overly convoluted or stupid. There's some really good character development here, along with some nice plot twists and memorable personalities. Though I would have wanted Golonzo, a main baddie, to become more involved in the plot besides everyone just calling him evil.
The hand-painted towns and dungeons make Rhapsody fun just to look at, while the various characters are both unique and subtle in their design. Though I would have wanted the characters to be more detailed, possibly using more than a few colors in the final design of the sprites, they were passable. Surprisingly, Rhapsody has no anime outside of the game artwork hidden in dungeons. While it would have been better if there were anime cinemas in Rhapsody, that would also mean that terrible voice-actors like the ones in Thousand Arms and Grandia would sound-off and make this childish RPG seem stupid. I can only hope that the next Rhapsody game will have both anime with dubs, and more colorful and lively sprite characters, like the ones in Grandia.
Most of the music in Rhapsody is really good, especially the original Japanese songs with lyrics, though some of the melodies may be a little too emotional for the fragtastic Quake gamer. The English music is where Atlus wasted all their money hiring English voice actors that no true fan would care to listen to. Though, for what it's worth, these voice actors aren't terrible. There isn't much special about the overall soundtrack for Rhapsody, but it fits the mood of the game perfectly and never grates on the nervous system.
The sound in Rhapsody is very typical, almost to the point that no one realizes it's there. When doors open or magic spells burst the battle area into flames, it all sounds right and doesn't get repetitive because you never even notice the sound effects.
The gameplay consists of a Front Mission-type battle engine that is extremely simple and lacks originality. When a character's turn comes up, you move that character on a grid similar to the one from Final Fantasy Tactics, but it never goes up and down hills and doesn't have any objects that stand in the way of the battle. After you've moved your character to that spot, you can attack with either melee or magic, you can defend or use items, or you can stand there like an idiot and do nothing. Then, after all the characters in your party have selected their temporary battle positions, it's the enemy's turn. This process repeats itself until you've won or lost the battle.
After the battle, you get experience points and level up if you've reached that point. You also receive Inotium to buy all sorts of wacky stuff and, if you're lucky enough, one of the beasts from the opposing party may join yours.
While the battles are very easy to get into, they lack any form of strategy at all and are almost always VERY easy. During the last battle of the game, my characters all walked in with 400 HP, and all walked out with 400 HP. There is almost no need for leveling up in Rhapsody, the game is so
pathetically easy that just having a level 30 party will be enough to let you beat the game. This poses a problem to anyone who desires a challenge to go with their RPG, especially those weened on Legend of Oasis and Lunar games. I didn't die or come close to dying once, not even during the boss battles, never. Had there been more strategy to the battle engine, and had the magic system been done in a more Grandia-esque fashion, Rhapsody would have looked like more of a dignified game than a child's play thing (this game is easy even on the HARD setting!).
Navigating the menus is easy because like in Atlus' other awesome US release, Ogre Battle 64, the different headings like Status and Equip are spaced out well and clearly written. The menus are also some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in an RPG. Equipping weapons and armor is worthwhile, but just serves to make Rhapsody that much easier. With enemies never topping the 2000 HP limit, and your attacks sometimes reaching 600 HP damage, Rhapsody almost begs you to not equip anything and barely level up.
The rest of the gameplay isn't worth mentioning, partially because it's either just average or doesn't contribute or detract from Rhapsody at all. The gameplay here is only average RPG fare and is so damn easy that it takes away form the fun in Rhapsody. I am almost steaming mad that the developers saw this brilliantly-written RPG as some kind of bloody kid's game and made it this easy. Rhapsody is a great RPG if you don't consider its only glaring flaw, gameplay. So if you can do that, this is one supreme RPG choice.
Considering that in Japan, Rhapsody was made for the tykes and the girlies, the game's lack of fan support on this side of the swamp is understandable. Kids don't like RPGs because they don't have enough gameplay and "growed ups" could care less for this game's weeping moments that run far too frequently. To "borrow" a quote from PSM magazine, this game is cute, its characters are cute, and any minute now they'll all start singing a cute song. That's about the gist of Rhapsody, if you can stomach the cuteness, you may just find a very well done RPG underneath.