Retro RPG Spotlight / Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure

With the impending re-release of one of my favorite RPGs growing up, I was delighted to dig Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure out from my bookshelf and bring you, dear readers, a glimpse into its charming little world. Well, it’s more than a glimpse. It’s more like…another Retro RPG Spotlight!

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (Japanese title: The Puppet Princess of Marl Kingdom) is a strat-RPG from Nippon Ichi that is well-known for its musical cut scenes and lighthearted story. The characters were cute, the music was fun, and the story was easy to understand. While it didn’t fit into my normal gaming itinerary with its simplicity and all, it remains one of my favorite PlayStation experiences to date. Sometimes all you really need for a great gaming experience is a piece of fluff that offers little challenge–this game definitely delivers.

You fill the role of Cornet Espoire, a young girl who is skilled at playing the trumpet (get it? Cornet? eh…) and who…talks to puppets. Her best friend is a small puppet named Kururu, who seems to be hiding something. Most of the game involves Cornet and Kururu traveling around the in-game world to save the handsome Prince Ferdinand, who Cornet happens to be head-over-heels in love with, even though she has only spent a total of fifteen minutes with him, if that. You see, the evil witch Marjoly also happens to be in love with the prince, so she has stolen him away to her Beauty Castle where he stands beside her, petrified.

It’s a very straightforward story that doesn’t take a lot to understand, which is part of its real selling point to me. I generally like more diverse plotlines but in the gaming industry right now, we have plenty of those. It’s a breath of fresh air to play a game that has a shoujo-esque feel to it. I’m not constantly scratching my head trying to remember who the bad guys are and why they need to be defeated (like admittedly I’m doing in FFXII right now). It seems to be geared more to children, but it’s a story that anyone can enjoy (even you, guys!). Even if the plot was simple, it was enjoyable – I saw it through til the end.

I’m not into games for the graphics, but I know there are many gamers who will pass up a great title just because it’s not so easy on the eyes. With that said, keep in mind that this is a PlayStation title that relies on colorful sprites and 2D to tell its story. The backgrounds and environments are lush and colorful. Remember that this is from the makers of Disgaea and La Pucelle Tactics – it has the same basic look to it. The characters are detailed and bright even though there is a sort of cloying sweetness to the whole environment. If that’s not your thing, you wouldn’t enjoy playing. I do have one gripe with the graphics – each and every dungeon or small path you enter has the SAME DESIGN. Over and over again, no matter what you’re traversing whether it be the Ice Temple, Tower of Wisdom, Inotium Mines, or a forest, you are face with the same brick walls, stairs, and intersections over and over, albeit with different colors each time.

You, as Cornet, are free to roam towns and dungeons in any direction, on a 2D background. Battles are executed the same way as many other strat-RPGs, with an allotted amount of squares to move each turn and an option to attack or use a special move such as Cornet’s Horn or Reward. The battles are nothing special, but when you do have to fight, you are not faced with an insane amount of HP to whittle away. No, the monsters are taken down quite easily. You can get through the game without purposefully leveling up and only fighting when a random battle comes up. I completed every random battle and finished the game with Cornet and three of her puppet fighters at levels 37 and up. There is no excess traveling, for there is a flat world map that lets you choose what location you would like to visit rather than trekking around the map ala Final Fantasy. There are no puzzles to be found – the only even remotely annoying aspect had to do with the dungeons. Like I said, they all share the same design. It can get more than a little confusing trying to figure out which path to take where, or what stairs to take, and frankly it discouraged me from playing more than once because I just didn’t want to look at another (differently colored) dungeon.

Ah, the music aspect of Rhapsody is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to play it. Along with a cute yet somber score, we have 12 different songs that are sung by the characters. You have the option to listen in either English or Japanese, or just mute them entirely. The most important song to the game, “Let’s Go On”, is tender and sweet, and is played at the correct times. Overall the songs were enjoyable but a few seemed they were just there because the creators called it a “Musical Adventure” and needed more than five songs to justify this somehow. You know, the same tacked-on feel that you get from Sonic in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Let it be known that Rhapsody is NOT a long game, nor is it difficult. I completed the game within 8 hours. However, that was because I went out of my way to collect items, level up, and explore since it was my first time playing. None of the “major” boss battles seem important, and monsters can be taken out with little or no strategy. Combat is fun, but the only part of the game that ever seemed hard was the final, final battle. You hardly have any use for healing items, so shopping is a moot point. Unless you just want to have a level 50 or higher party, there is no reason to level up any more than you absolutely have to. EASY, easy, easy all the way to the end, but hey, sometimes we really need a break from insanely challenging games. If you’re a hardcore gamer who needs a challenge at all times, though, steer clear.

Despite its shortcomings, I really enjoyed this game. I didn’t really want to quit playing at any time as I do with many longer games that have key points that annoy me to death, and I actually laughed at the story’s lightheartedness. It wasn’t hard, but it was fun. I feel this would be a great starter RPG for a child or non-gamer because it would be a wonderful gateway drug to games such as Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Disgaea, and all the other titles we’ve come to know and love. It’s not perfect, but its heart is in the right place.