Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure – Staff Review #2

Several years ago, a company called Nippon Ichi Soft decided to deliver a game called Rhapsody to North American shores. While the company would later be responsible for such successful titles as Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Rhapsody was not met with much fanfare. In fact, the PlayStation game was regarded by many to be glitchy, lazily built, and not all that much fun. An important question arises: Has anything changed after almost a decade of time with the DS remake of Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure?

Rhapsody gets off to an interesting start, at least. The game revolves around a girl named Cornet who has the power to grant life to puppets using a sort of magical horn. She has a best puppet friend named Kururu and a puppet-obsessed grandfather whom she lives with. Cornet happens to pine after the prince of the kingdom, however, and when he is turned to stone and taken away by a group of witches, she takes it upon herself to go after him and rescue him from their clutches. In an attempt at being a true “musical” RPG, Rhapsody tells its story by occasionally breaking into songs complete with Japanese vocals (featuring English subtitles) and through sometimes very entertaining dialogue. The game is funny because it doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, and doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at itself or RPG stereotypes if it will add to the humor in any way.

This is the ''openings in every direction'' room found in most caves.
This is the ”openings in every direction” room found in most caves.

For all of the good, however, there is some bad. The storyline itself seems interesting and slightly nontraditional on the surface. In execution, however, it is awkward at best. The people who designed this game often seem to expect that players are able to read their minds in order to progress the storyline; the question of “what to do next” is at times terribly unclear. Also, the randomness of the game isn’t so much of a hoot when it seems that events or characters are just SO random that their significance is dubious at best. Take Cornet’s allies, for instance. It is possible, upon running across a doll in some corner of a dungeon, to bring them to life, whereupon they will join your party forevermore. There are several noticeable attempts at character development here: Sometimes, puppets in your party will know new puppets that come along, and others form groups that are apparently associated with one another – for example, a threesome of egg-styled puppets known as the “Egg Brothers” – and when they join, there might be a scene that indicates the relationship. Unfortunately, character development just isn’t possible when these are the ONLY scenes, seemingly randomly placed throughout the game, in which Cornet’s allies get any airtime at all. Indeed, Cornet and Kururu, along with a few NPCs, are the only characters that are truly fleshed out; at least this is something that is done fairly well.

Characters aren’t really differentiated by battle, either. Sure, some are touted as physical attackers while others are dubbed magic users. At the end of the day, though, the distinction isn’t necessary 98% of the time, for combat is egregiously simple in Rhapsody. Battles are set up in a traditional, turn-based way, and generally, a party of four allies will have it out with a party of up to four enemies, all of whom will almost certainly fall over dead within a couple of turns’ time. Healing is extremely cheap and usually not required. Strategy is rarely necessary. Recovery items are inexpensive, plentiful, and almost never needed, since Hit Points and Skill Points are refilled to maximum upon a level-up and level-ups occur frequently. Most boss battles are a joke, and random encounters, of which there are plenty, border upon triviality. The only mildly interesting aspect to the battle system is that as Cornet uses horn-based skills, a gauge fills up; after certain benchmarks are passed, she may use special attacks, most of which involve dropping enormous slices of cake, pancakes, or various other confections upon her foes for bigger-than-normal damage. As mentioned above, there is little interest to switching characters out very often, because battles are too easy in the first place, and despite having different skills, allies don’t really feel noticeably different from one another anyway. In summary, for anyone who feels that combat is a very important aspect of an RPG, this would be a great place to stop reading.

For those of us who aren’t so hung-up on an oversimple battle system, there are many other reasons to dislike this game. One needs to look no further than the areas in which these battles occur. The dungeons in this game are hideously lazily-designed. In the entirety of Rhapsody, there are approximately eight different possible square-shaped “types” of rooms, featuring such interesting designs as “passageway going from west, turning to north” or the exciting “hallway going from west to east.” These square shaped rooms are patched together, maze-style, to create every dungeon in this game. As an incredible twist, some of these rooms might contain a treasure chest with a nigh-useless item, or a flight of stairs… but it is impossible to be fooled by this glass mask. It often seems that the bottom priority of this game’s developers had to be making interesting dungeons; even the graphics don’t change from one cave to the next! For heaven’s sakes, the insides of an earthworm should NOT have the same graphical representation as a cave to an underground lake (and that’s just one example). Exploring every nook and cranny inside each one of these dungeons is made more brutal by an unavoidably high random encounter rate, and is unsavoury in the first place since any treasures and/or new puppet friends discovered will almost certainly turn out to be not worth the effort. To make things worse, the arrangements of these uninteresting cave-squares are also, unfortunately, quite labyrinthine. Coupled with the frequent trivial battles, the result of this is that physically surviving the trip through a dungeon without falling asleep in real life is incredibly more difficult than surviving the trip in-game without seeing a Game Over screen. Thank goodness that the current dungeon’s layout along with Cornet’s current location is always displayed on the upper DS screen, for if it wasn’t there, the game would be made nearly unplayable, this review probably wouldn’t exist, and the St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital in St. Thomas, Ontario, would have one less empty bed.

After that paragraph, it would seem that no other aspect of Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure could possibly be quite as bad as that one. Luckily, this is true. The interface is not horrendous; it is merely fair. The touch-screen based controls are fairly intuitive, though the menu screens are sometimes oddly hard to use, especially when scrolling. Moving and talking to random NPCs is easy enough, though, and there’s nothing truly worthy of complaint in this department. There’s a simplistic mini-game that surfaces every now and then after reading certain signs that requires players to blow into the DS microphone in a specific way; it is more addictive and satisfying than much of the rest of the game. There’s a save-anywhere feature which will be welcomed by pick-up-and-play proponents and loathed by those who feel that a game’s challenge is sacrificed by such a system, though since the game already has such tiny challenge as it is, there isn’t much point in getting angry about this one.

Battles are straightforward but completely uninspiring.
Battles are straightforward but completely uninspiring.

Graphically, things are a notch above horrible. As mentioned prior, there is almost no variation in dungeon graphics at all, which seems a travesty in a game that feels like it should have a wide array of different environments. The visuals that are there could have been created easily on a Game Boy Advance eight years ago; they make absolutely no effort to push the capabilities of the DS at all. Reaching for something good to say, though, it is true that some of the character models are fun, and the anime-styled close-ups of talking characters can be entertaining at times.

Soundwise, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, ironically, fails to impress.  It’s not really that any particular theme is notably bad- it’s just that the music that is there is flat, boring, unmemorable, and overused.  There is a single town theme outside of the main castle town.  There is a single dungeon track outside of the final dungeon.  There is one unexciting random battle theme, one nearly-as-unexciting boss battle theme, and a final boss theme that doesn’t manage to hide the fact that the final battle felt like every other battle in the entire game. The voiced songs that occur from time to time are definitely the best aspect of the sound in Rhapsody, but even some of these are repeated- and often last a few minutes. It seems wrong to skip them, given that the point of the game is to be a “musical” adventure, but most gamers probably won’t be able to help pressing Start to jump past them before too long. The sound effects are arguably the worst thing, technically, about the entire game. Cornet plays a musical instrument to pull off many attacks in battle, and yet NO sound effect illustrates any of these attacks… not even a simple “bling” or a “beep.” Most attacks from either the enemy or allied side don’t come with sound effects except for a half-pop/half-tap sound in the case of a critical hit… and the very rare sound effects that do occur could without exaggeration have been performed by an original Game Boy almost twenty years ago. A musical adventure? Yeah… don’t get too excited.

It is, sadly, very difficult to recommend Rhapsody to just about anybody. It’s just too infuriating for all the wrong reasons, too lazily-made, and altogether too disappointing. The bad aspects of the game – the complete lack of challenge, the outlandishly horrible dungeon design, the patchwork storyline, and the weak presentation – all unfortunately overshadow the game’s good parts. And Rhapsody DOES have good parts… it can be really funny and cute at times, honestly. It’s just that these moments just aren’t worth the drudgery that is the rest of the game, especially for those who are looking for a solid RPG experience.

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