Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is a game I’ve had on my to-do list for a long, long time. I came across it during my time with Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. In Disgaea, I learned of an unlockable character named Marjoly: the villain of one of Nippon Ichi Software’s previous games called Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure. I wondered how the two were linked, if at all. I was also curious if I’d enjoy the game as much as I enjoyed Disgaea at the time. I located a copy, gave it a spin, and decided it was far too cute and simplistic for me then. It sat on the shelf for nearly twenty years. However, as it’s the latest entry in the Nippon Ichi Software Classics collection, the opportunity arose to give Rhapsody another shot on a modern platform.
The game’s subtitle: A Musical Adventure, is a perfect descriptor. I never really understood just how important the word Musical was when I gave the game its brief chance years ago. I’d always figured it was a game about musical instruments due to Cornet’s usage of a horn. Much to my surprise, the game is very much a musical. There are numerous song breaks with singing and dancing, and oftentimes the NPCs add their voices to the songs. The other piece of the subtitle: Adventure, represents the other component of Rhapsody. Throughout the course of the game, players go on a grand adventure across the kingdom.
In Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, players take on the role of the young Cornet. Having lost her parents when she was just a child, she grew up with her grandfather and her best friend: a puppet named Kururu. Cornet has the unique ability to speak to puppets, and thanks to a magical horn that grants wishes, she can even bring them to life. For much of her life, Cornet dreamed of falling in love with a prince and having majesty and riches. However, the moment her dream starts to come true, her prince is stolen away by the villainous Marjoly after being turned to stone. As she follows her heart, she sets out on an adventure to rescue the prince, break the curse placed upon him, and give Marjoly a swift (and well-deserved) thrashing in the process.
The story is whimsical, lighthearted, charming, and incredibly fun. From the very first scenes, the game presents itself in a more comedic manner. The relationship between Cornet and Kururu is akin to a comedy duo, with Cornet often being the butt of the jokes. The pair also takes their act on the road while they travel the kingdom of Marl. Their journey takes them over perilous snow-capped mountains, across pirate-filled seas, under blazing volcanoes, and through monster-filled forests. Each location has a charm that makes it memorable due to its layout and the many townsfolk within. Each town has their own troubles and fair share of rude people, but they have a lot of heart. Rhapsody is one of those games where talking to every NPC is both encouraged and rewarded.
Releasing five years before Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Rhapsody isn’t nearly as complex or mechanically dense as Nippon Ichi Software’s flagship series. Movement in dungeons and towns is free-roam upon painted backgrounds. Battles, however, take place on a grid with the camera locked to an isometric view, similar to most other tactical RPGs. Characters move a number of spaces, can attack within a certain range, and… that’s about it. Rhapsody‘s combat is incredibly simplistic, to the point that the tactical RPG grid is pretty much pointless. In later games, this has been stripped out in favor of a standard 2D battle system, and the DS remake also uses the newer style. In this port of the original, the battle system is simply shallow.
Combat in Rhapsody is also extremely easy. Enemies go down in one to two hits unless they’re a boss, allies level incredibly quickly and gain access to rather devastating moves, and resource management is practically an afterthought. Throughout the entire game, I used one healing item on an underleveled ally I’d just recruited. Terrain means nothing, nor does height, as all battle maps are flat. There are a few rocks obstructing some cave maps, but that’s the extent of the obstacles the game provides. Additionally, there is no meaningful positioning as units approach each other in combat.
Combat essentially boils down to using Cornet’s horn to power up allies and then sending them out to use powerful AoE spells or just swing at the enemy for 2-3x their HP. There’s also little reason to use different characters, as elements don’t seem to make a functional difference in battle. Occasionally, defeated monsters may join your side, but this mechanic also feels relatively useless. Thankfully, as mindless as battles are, they’re both brief and visually pleasing, with a number of rainbows, stars, and lightning bolts flying around.
Rhapsody‘s art style is incredibly charming, and it’s aged well. The towns are all vibrant and have a unique layout and tone to them. The character designs are wholesome and cute, and the art used in character portraits evokes the wonderfully ’90s anime aesthetic of Slayers and Sailor Moon. The best part of this style is the large number of unique character expressions that add the perfect amount of charm and emotion to every scene. This port comes with the addition of a rather pleasant-looking CRT filter, as well as a smoothing filter that should be considered a crime. The game looks quite nice without any filters on, and the image truly shines when played on the Switch in handheld mode.
While the towns and characters are a treat for the eyes, the dungeons stick out like a sore thumb. Within the first forest, the reuse of map screens is immediately noticeable. This can be confusing when players exit west near a river, cross through a small clearing, and then end up back at the eastern entrance of the river. Unlike the usual ‘lost forest’ trope of teleporting players back to the entrance, in this case, it’s literally just a reuse of the map. This happens with every single dungeon, over and over and over. It becomes confusing, especially in caves and towers. It can be easy to get lost when you pass three similar cave maps, all of which have the same pixel error on the leftmost side.
The music in Rhapsody is perhaps the essential piece. The instrumental themes in each town and dungeon are quite nice, and the battle theme itself is rather pleasant. Where the game excels, however, is in the musical sections. While the DS remake stripped out the English vocal songs, this port of the original keeps the songs intact, ensuring that players can enjoy the songs about love, courage, and just how manly mountain men can be. The lyrics to the songs are whimsical and amusing, and I found myself excited whenever a musical number came up. The songs are full of charm and bound to get stuck in your head.
Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is a wonderful little treat, and I’m glad it received a modern port. The game is blissfully short and quickly paced – coming in at around 12-13 hours – but it’s not without its faults. With extremely easy combat, an absurdly uneven encounter rate, and heavily reused maps for dungeons, the game operates almost exclusively on its charm. With how short it is, overlooking its flaws is easy as players zip from one location to the next, listen to musical numbers about how great frogs are, and learn the meaning of true courage as they help Cornet rescue the love of her life. Rhapsody is definitely worth playing, though it’s little more than nostalgic novelty some twenty years later.