Rhapsody III: Memories of Marl Kingdom

 

Review by · April 16, 2024

The Rhapsody trilogy recently had its 25th anniversary, yet for 24 of those years, we’ve only been able to play one of the three games. Thanks to Nippon Ichi Software’s recent push to remaster, re-release, and localize their back catalog of games, fans of the original wondrous musical adventure are finally able to play these entries in English. With the previous games being the most charming RPGs I’ve ever played, my expectations for the third entry in the series have been high.

While Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure and Rhapsody II: Ballad of the Little Princess were linear adventures with a small cast on a grand quest, Rhapsody III: Memories of Marl Kingdom follows a wildly different approach. The game is more episodic, taking place all over the general Rhapsody timeline, and feels more akin to a nonlinear game such as Live a Live. Throughout Rhapsody III, players control both past heroines and former enemies as they partake in small side adventures, learn the value of friendship and family, and discover the history of the Marl Kingdom as a whole.

Although the first half of Rhapsody III‘s story could be considered frivolous side content, the chapters are focused on worldbuilding, digging into the lore of the Marl Kingdom, and answering questions players may have had since the first game. The latter half of Rhapsody III focuses more on the Ancient Civilization and what brought it to ruin and gives players a chance to finally play as Cornet’s late mother. However, before digging into the real meat of the game, a handful of side stories act as the appetizer. These chapters follow the series’ protagonists Cornet and her daughter Kururu, as well as the villainous Marjoly and Arkujo families alongside their mischievous minions. Once again, the story is a mixture of light-hearted whimsy with a sprinkling of darker and more serious subjects.

Rhapsody series protagonist Cornet speaking to her friend Etoile.
Once more, character portraits serve as perfect reaction images.

Rhapsody III‘s general gameplay loop is largely in line with the original games, yet its structure is more bite sized and focused on vignettes. Rather than freely wander the world, the game is split up into smaller sections that focus on a handful of areas. Each chapter follows different characters, though the monsters recruited in one chapter can be summoned for use in others with the only caveat being a minimum level requirement. While it’s great to be able to continually strengthen a favorite set of monsters, it can be daunting to reach a new chapter and be unable to summon those monsters due to them being dozens of levels ahead of the player. This unfortunately encourages grinding to get new allies or reach the levels needed to summon the aforementioned monsters.

The battle system in Rhapsody III is an evolution of Rhapsody II‘s with a touch of Rhapsody sprinkled back in. In Rhapsody, battles took place on a tactical grid with Cornet and her puppet allies. You could move each puppet and give commands such as attacking or using spells. In Rhapsody II‘s revamped battle system, puppets were no longer party members but instead acted more like spells or gear to be equipped. Rhapsody III combines these elements by introducing four Leader slots, each with three Partner slots. This brings the total party size to a dizzying 16 characters in battle. However, only Leaders need to be given commands, and their Partners will act on their own unless manually given commands via the menu.

Combatants are divided into categories such as Human, Puppeteer, Puppet, or Monster. As expected, only Puppeteers can give commands to Puppets, yet some Puppets may also act as Puppeteers. Humans and Monsters can issue commands to all but Puppets. With such a huge party on the field, battles can take a bit longer than expected due to each character needing to fire off a spell or an attack. Add in the higher-tiered spells with longer animations and a round of battle can make the fight drag. On multiple occasions, I found myself setting the Steam Deck down and letting the party auto battle until I ran out of SP.

Rhapsody III screenshot of characters exploring a dungeon.
The 3D dungeons are a godsend compared to the original Rhapsody’s copy-pasted dungeons.

Much like the previous games, monsters have a chance to join the party after battle. Each monster comes with an elemental type, and stacking elements can influence what spells a leader can use. Additionally, players can have specific configurations of monsters that unlock special skills, such as Kururu and three Elinger mushrooms unlocking a super attack once they reach a certain level. Capturing enemies and setting up teams adds a touch of monster collecting that could lead to nearly infinite theory-crafting and team-building strategies, yet team composition only becomes a concern with a handful of boss fights. There are a lot of systems at play in Rhapsody III‘s combat that feel unnecessary until a boss comes along.

Visually, Rhapsody III remains a gorgeous game. Much like its predecessors, the game has aged ever so gracefully. Character sprites are rife with personality and style while maintaining the perfect amount of detail. The shift from 2D fields to 3D is flawless thanks to the game’s colorful art style. As Rhapsody III was originally a PS2 game, the visuals are a touch more modern and serve as a perfect example of how to remaster a game with character sprites on a 3D background.

Like the rest of the Rhapsody games, the OST is a genuine treat. Once more, Tenpei Sato’s team created an incredibly fun and bouncy soundtrack that radiates a sense of whimsy and joy. Of course, as Rhapsody III is still a musical, the array of vocal tracks and meticulously crafted song and dance sequences are ever impressive. It’s incredibly easy for songs to become earworms, yet a few small issues remain. While the musical numbers are voiced in Japanese with English subtitles, there are still a handful of pre-song lines that remain untranslated. Additionally, due to the frequency of battles, players are forced to hear the first minute of an ambient track over and over as the player jumps in and out of combat.

Rhapsody III screenshot of the party in battle
The screen quickly becomes crowded with character sprites once getting a full party of sixteen.

Despite being the most modern entry in the Rhapsody series and resolving many of the headaches from its predecessors, Rhapsody III introduces a few new frustrations of its own. While combat in Rhapsody was a complete afterthought but vastly improved in Rhapsody II, the third game’s combat is little more than serviceable. Rhapsody II featured an interesting mechanic that issued a direct monetary value to spells via the game’s Inotium currency. This created a unique balance that made players think twice about burning their big spells if they were close to a new gear purchase or needed to stock up on healing items. It forced the player to get a bit more creative, and as Inotium was rewarded after every battle, there was a sense of resource replenishment after every fight. Naturally, the costs became negligible by the end of the game.

Rather than iterate or fine tune the Inotium-based resource system, Rhapsody III does away with it completely and introduces the ever-familiar SP mechanic. This system only applies to the leaders in battle, meaning that monsters, puppets, and supporting characters have infinite SP essentially. Most battles—outside of boss fights—boil down to mashing the attack command and letting the AI spam whatever magic spell they want. Despite all these systems at play, battles are still a touch too easy and make element levels, positioning, and party composition feel unnecessary. However, bosses provide a challenge with powerful AoE attacks that may wipe out Partners. I found myself having to adjust my strategy on the fly and scramble to slap on status effects and heals.

A screenshot of Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles.
Fans of the previous game can hear this image.

One minor headache is that Rhapsody III is simply a product of its time. Without any maps (including minimaps), navigation can be a bit of a pain—especially when roaming around a cave with similar-looking layouts. Pair this with a frequent encounter rate, and you have a recipe for entering pushover battles every minute or so. With sixteen characters in battle and the ability to summon older monsters from other chapters, enemies get steamrolled and begin to feel more and more like a waste of time when simply trying to travel from point A to point B.

Ultimately, Rhapsody III feels simultaneously like a prequel and a spinoff. It attempts to answer questions about the world while also trying to tie up loose ends, but it mixes in a bit too much filler. Additionally, the new battle system also introduces a layer of complexity that sounds good in theory yet adds little to the experience. Rhapsody III is still a step forward in most cases. With a new engine, the 3D environments are leaps and bounds above the previous two games, and while the dungeons can still be a bit confusing, they’re far more engaging and full of life. Even when the story is covering relatively pointless fluff such as the Nyanko storyline, it’s still as charming and whimsical as ever.

Rhapsody III is a fun and breezy musical RPG that is both cute, simplistic, and amusing. While it’s not the best of the trilogy, it serves as a solid capstone to the Marl Kingdom trilogy. It gives a peek at the often unnecessary and over-the-top mechanical insanity that Nippon Ichi Software later became synonymous with. I can only hope the recent remasters are a teaser for a new entry in the Rhapsody series.


Pros

Lovely spritework, vastly improved dungeons, catchy musical numbers, expanded combat compared to previous games, charming and hilarious characters.

Cons

Disjointed story with some chapters feeling like filler, combat still too easy, huge party size can make some battles take a while, monster party members encourage grinding, confusing systems that see little use.

Bottom Line

Rhapsody III is a serviceable entry that manages to maintain its humor, whimsy, and charm while experimenting with a few new ideas with varying degrees of success.

Graphics
85
Sound
85
Gameplay
75
Control
70
Story
70
Overall Score 72
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Des Miller

Des Miller

Des is a reviews editor, writer, and resident horror fan. He has a fondness for overlooked, emotionally impactful, and mechanically complex games - hence his love for tri-Ace and Gust. When he's not spending hours crafting in Atelier or preaching about Valkyrie Profile, he can usually be found playing scary games in the dark. With headphones. As they should be played.