Rhapsody - A Musical Adventure is an old school Japanese RPG which first appeared on the original Playstation and has since been ported to the Nintendo DS. This is great news for European RPG fans as the Playstation version never made it over here. It really is sad how many good RPGs never reach our shores. I guess it has to do with the fact that these type of games don't sell in huge numbers which is needed to justify the translation of a text heavy title into multiple languages.
I must confess that I was reluctant to buy this game as it looked like something aimed for girls. The box art has a very girly vibe to it with the game's heroine Cornet posing beside her fairy companion Kururu. After searching the net for more info (on what is a fairly obscure release) I learned that Rhapsody is a RPG made by Nippon Ichi Software so I was sold. Nippon Ichi is aftar all the company responsible for making the brilliant Disgaea series.
Nippon Ichi games are known for their 2D anime art style and healthy dose of comedy which both feature in abundance in Rhapsody. The game's story follows a girl named Cornet who has the ability to talk to puppets and even bring them to life using her magical trumpet. Cornet has a big crush on the kingdom's prince, but unfortunately for her during a contest to find a wife for the prince he gets turned to stone by a witch named Marjoly. In order to save the day Cornet sets off in search of five elemental stones which can break the curse. She will however have to move fast as Marjoly has dispatched her group of half human/half animal lackeys to take the stones.
The game plays like most retro JRPGs. You go into a town, help the inhabitants with whatever problem they are experiencing and move onto the next location. Combat is a turned based affair were your characters can choose to attack, use magic or an item from your inventory. A party of four characters can be used in battle and one of these has to be Cornet. The other three slots are filled by puppets. When the game starts you only have Kururu the fairy, but as the story progresses more puppets join your ranks. Some you recruit at certain points in the adventure, whilst others are optional characters which you will have to find.
In total there are sixteen puppets which can join your team each with their own abilities. In true RPG fashion there is one that excels at healing, others which have elemental magic attacks and a few physical fighters. As you walk through dungeons you randomly encounter enemies and beating them earns you experience points. Once you earn enough experience you level up which makes your characters stronger and sometimes unlocks new spells and moves for them to use. The puppets at your disposal include a baby dragon, knights, axe wielding eggs and even a boxing glove wearing dog.
Graphically the game reminds me a lot of another Nipon Ichi game called La Pucelle. The 2D sprites Nipon Ichi uses look a little basic on console releases, but are well suited for a handheld game were people expect less in the visual department. The game's music is cheerful which suits the tone of the story. The game is subtitled "a musical adventure" so be aware that there are a few places were characters burst into song and dance musical style. The songs during the musical sequences are Japanese with subtitles which may not be everyone's cup of tea, but thankfully they can be skipped.
I really enjoyed the game as I am fond of old school RPGs. These days developers seem to be straying away from turn based combat so this was a true blast from the past. If you are not fond of this style of role playing game you may however want to stay clear. This is especially true if you dislike random battles. Every few steps your party will be thrust into a fight which can get annoying in the later dungeons were it is easy to get lost. Thankfully battles don't take very long to finish and the game gives you an "auto" option which speeds things up even more. If you use it your characters automatically attack which saves time as you don't have to select any commands.
Although this game isn't anything special I had a lot of fun with it and was tempted to give it five stars. I think a big factor in my enjoyment was the exchanges between the characters. The puppets don't have much character development, but the banter between Kururu, Cornet and Etoile (a rich spoiled brat who is Cornet's childhood friend turned rival) will put a smile on your face. I however had to deduct a star from the game's rating due to a few problems which cannot be overlooked.
The biggest flaw in the game is the lack of challenge. I was surprised at how quickly my characters would level up, especially in the early chapters. This meant my team became way more powerful than the enemies you face (be they lowly monsters or end of level bosses.) I personally don't like games that are so tough that they get frustrating, but this one was far too easy. This is further compounded by the game's length. I managed to beat it in just over eleven hours which is extremely short for a RPG (normally games like this take around forty hours to finish.)
I could probably have finished the game in under ten hours had I not got lost on a couple of occasions which brings me to another point. There were a few times were I had to consult a guide to find out what to do to advance the story. Normally you can talk to Kururu to get a hint of where to go, but sometimes it was not obvious what you had to do. This is especially true when certain events only trigger when you speak to some random townsperson who is otherwise not important to the quest you are on.
One final issue I have is the game appears to have been released with some bugs. From reading gaming forums I hear that some players have experienced crashes whilst playing. I myself had a problem where the game would always freeze when I tried examining a gravestone in one of the dungeons. Thankfully it wasn't something that stopped me from finishing the game, but it prevented me from recruiting two puppets which was a bit of a let down.
I would still recommend the game to JRPG fans. The game's short length isn't a big deal as it was released a couple of years ago. Had I bought it on release at full price I may have felt it wasn't value for money, but you can now go online and pick it up for around six pounds which is more than fair. The game won't go down as a classic as it's nothing original, but it's a fun light hearted romp which is good enough for me. Rhapsody is a good choice for a RPG player who doesn't have the free time required to tackle some of the more epic games out there. I liked the game so when the musical adventure ended I was left wanting an encore.
Review originally posted on Ciao (September 2010)