Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is the domestic release of Nippon-Ichi’s Marl Oukoku no Ningyouhime (The Puppet Princess of Marl’s Kingdom), brought to the States by none other than Atlus. The game has an irresistible charm that really drew this reviewer into it. Relying heavily on musical elements and song to develop its fairy-tale story, Rhapsody is a refreshing change of pace reminiscent of old-school RPGs.
Rhapsody’s story begins in the world of Marl’s Kingdom. It stars Cornet, a young girl living in Orange Village with her grandfather. Having lost both her parents at a very young age, she remembers very little about them, aside from the magical horn her mother left her. Cornet’s usage of this horn possesses a unique ability; she is able to understand Puppets and converse with them. Her best friend is a fairy Puppet named Kururu who always travels along Cornet’s side, provides much of the game’s humor, and eventually develops into a significant role in the storyline.
One morning, Cornet’s grandfather asks her to run an errand for him. She is asked to venture into the Wonder Woods and gather some Red Inotium, a crystal-like substance used both as a source of energy and as a form of currency. Cornet optimistically agrees and sets off on the task. After battling a group of toads, eating lunch, and singing Kururu’s favorite song, the two eventually come upon a patch of Inotium in the woods. Kururu notices that the area looks as if it has been picked clean, but finds some of the valuable Inotium nevertheless.
Rhapsody’s plot thickens when Myao, a female feline, and her troop of cats arrive. They demand that Cornet relinquish her Inotium so that Myao can give it to Marjoly, the head of the game’s comical quartet of villains. When Cornet refuses, she is attacked by Myao’s band of cats, which are easily defeated. However, Myao then summons a large dragon to attack the heroine, from which she is saved by the valiant Prince Ferdinand. Myao and her entourage retreat, and Cornet instantly falls in love with the Prince. She later learns that Ferdinand is looking for a bride, and that there will be a competition among many girls to win his heart. Cornet eagerly travels to his kingdom to do just that, but how Marjoly and her companions will play into this story remains to be seen.
Despite its enchanting storyline, Rhapsody tends to lack the most in the gameplay department. As in Grandia, traveling from location to location is done via a large world map. Selecting a different area puts you directly in it, so there is no overworld to traverse.
Rhapsody’s battles occur as random encounters in the form of a Strategy RPG. Cornet’s party and the enemies fight on a relatively small grid. These battlefields tend to vary from terrain to terrain, depending on where the characters are fighting. Puppets can utilize the standard commands of Move, Attack, Item, and Magic, while Cornet has the addition of the Horn command, boosting the attack power of all puppets within a certain range. Using the Horn command successfully also contributes to an increasing Reward meter, allowing her to unleash devastating special attacks such as “Sugar Candy” and “Pancake”.
While ingenuitive and cute, this battle system, reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, becomes rather tedious and tiresome towards the latter part of the game. I would have preferred standard RPG battles, which are, thankfully, implemented in Rhapsody’s sequel, Little Princess: Marl Oukoku no Ningyouhime 2.
Upon the completion of a battle, monsters sometimes ask Cornet to join the party. If she gives her approval, a generic monster will join as a party member. Monsters can be used just as Puppets can, or they can be sold in towns for various prices, depending on their level.
However, this system is somewhat flawed. Monsters tend to be inferior to most Puppets in the game, and the rate of their offering to join seems rather low. When I played through Rhapsody, only four monsters actually joined my party, all of which I sold for menial amounts of Inotium.
While in town to sell monsters, Cornet can also go shopping for equipment. In Rhapsody, all equipment is of one generic accessory type, and each character can equip up to three pieces of equipment. Most equipment is used solely as modifiers for the four main stats of Attack, Defense, Agility, and Intelligence. Fans of the Lunar series will be pleased to hear of the Illustrations, a set of items found only in dungeons that are similar to character Bromides. These Illustrations, as well as other items that reduce MP consumption, restore HP every turn, etc. are generally very rare and can only be found by thoroughly exploring the game’s dungeons.
Unfortunately, Rhapsody’s dungeon design also leaves much to be desired. Most of them are designed poorly, either being completely symmetrical, or having a frustrating number of dead-ends to confuse the player. Also, many of the dungeons are graphically identical to each other, with the exception of being a different color. The design aspect of these areas seemed very rushed and left me unsatisfied.
While dungeon graphics could use some improvement, the rest of Rhapsody is aesthetically pleasant. Characters are in the form of sprites, all of which animate well, but are nothing extraordinary. The background scenes, however, are generally vibrant and bursting with color, similar to the style of art found in Square’s Legend of Mana. One area that had particularly nice graphics was Cape Hope, a beautiful area with a shrine on a cliff looking out over the ocean.
For the most part, I had no problems with Rhapsody’s controls. They are very responsive, and the Dual Shock support added feeling to the battles. A few times, I had a little trouble aligning Cornet with certain objects in town while searching for hidden items. Standing in front of a bookcase and pressing the action button would reveal nothing at first, but barely adjusting her position half a step and searching again would reward me with 78 Inotium. However, this is a very minor complaint, for the game’s control was fine overall and served its purpose well.
Since Rhapsody has been advertised as being a “Musical Adventure”, how does its music fare? The vocal songs were done excellently. The game even includes a feature allowing you to select from English dubbed singing or the original Japanese vocals. Needless to say, I opted for the latter, although I did listen to a couple of the dubbed songs and found them to be done decently. The parts in the game where these songs play also display their lyrics in the corresponding language that you selected originally.
As for the rest of the score, most of Rhapsody’s music is very pleasant listening, especially a few of the town themes. The battle and dungeon songs quickly become repetitive and tiresome, however, but nothing that necessarily detracts from the game.
Although a satisfying RPG experience, hardcore and veteran RPG gamers will probably not find either the challenge or length desired from Rhapsody. Even though there are three available difficulty levels, Easy, Normal, or Hard, the game is incredibly easy on all three. Without even spending time to level up, most bosses are easily annihilated in under two rounds, including the final boss itself.
Rhapsody is also extremely short. I was able to thoroughly complete the game in under nine hours, finding almost all of the Illustrations and hidden Puppets.
Overall, Rhapsody is a solid, but short RPG experience that’s plagued with a few flaws. It will definitely attract a younger, less experienced RPG audience, but also appeal to fans of the classic 16-bit RPGs. Rhapsody has a unique charm and style to it that I was really fond of, but I would still recommend a rental of this one first to make sure that it’s for you.